I am a pretty regular listener to the NPR program Here and Now. Recently I caught an interview conducted by host Jeremy Dobson with writer and actress Sandra Tsing Loh – author of a new book titled The Madwoman in the Volvo.
The segment was titled Why It’s Time to Talk About Menopause.
You can link to the audio of that interview here.
Based on the title, and my previous experience listening to the program, I had high hopes for a quality discussion about the complicated issues and wide-ranging experiences of women going through menopause. Surely NPR would treat this oft-neglected and/or parodied subject, where women are either portrayed as hapless idiots or raging bitches, with the sensitivity, nuance and depth of reasoning for which they are known as a news organization.
As a forty-two year old woman who hasn’t had a period in nearly a year, I am interested in a real discussion of the physical and emotional impacts of menopause.
Obviously I was out of my hormonal mind.
The interview begins with Ms. Loh describing how she went to Burning Man in Nevada – the annual festival in the desert that culminates with the burning of a large wooden effigy – had a revelation that she was in love with her best friend, and ended up having an affair that “blew up” her marriage – an obvious result of her “perimenopausal state” at the time.
Now, lots of crazy shit happens at Burning Man, but this may be the first time any of it was every blamed on perimenopause – unless perimenopause arrives in the form of a blotter paper embellished with a spaceship that you dissolve on your tongue.
Hey, have an affair if you want to. No judgment here.
Just don’t try and blame it on your ovaries’ lack of productivity thereby furthering the notion that, rather than rational human beings making decisions of our own free will, middle-aged women are unhappily married, sex-starved slaves with rapidly depleting hormones who throw all common sense out the window at the first sign of any available penis – or an In-N-Out burger.
The last part might just be me.
In the middle of the interview there was a lot of stereotypical talk about smashing plates and throwing good meat through plate glass windows.
Not that all stereotypes are bad.
Look, on any given day of late I could easily wreak nuclear destruction on a small village whose sole inhabitants are cherubic orphan children holding puppies in one hand and UNICEF collection boxes in the other – over a can of enchilada sauce spilled on the kitchen floor. So I can relate.
In the end of the interview she discussed how good it was for “middle aged mothers in menopause” to be released from that “nurturing, bonding estrogen cloud” that made them “automatically want to do” things like fold socks and cut sandwiches into little triangles when they were younger.
Whoa. Wait a menopausal minute.
Here’s where I get off this estrogen train.
I can deal with Ms. Loh attributing her personal choices to changes in her hormones rather than, say, any real conflicts that may have existed within her 20-year marriage.
I can even deal with Mr. Dobson actually asking Ms. Loh how family members can “help deal with this situation” as if menopausal women were a bunch of gender-bent Bruce Banners, caught in a blast of hormonal gamma radiation, relegated forever after to fighting off an aggressive transformation inevitably caused by their homicidal urges. Figure out how to keep them calm or BITCH SMASH!
Where I draw the line is at Ms. Loh’s notion that the disorienting emotions experienced by some women during menopause are the result of being freed from some ethereal estrogen cloud in which they were previously enveloped and that automatically made them want to get married, nurture children and make Mickey Mouse pancakes without committing hara-kiri.
Let’s get real for a moment please.
It’s not offensive for Ms. Loh to suggest, albeit in the most inadequate and poorly-phrased way possible, that the hormonal changes in women during their lifetimes may create conflicting feelings about the nature of their relationships, motherhood, marriage and/or the definition of what it means to be a woman beyond their capacity or desire to give birth – as well as what role we see for ourselves as we age.
I am making the assumption here that this is what she meant to suggest – let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.
Who can argue with the notion that as women, we all struggle with the choices we make throughout our lives? And, in that same vein, who can argue that if/when we choose to marry and/or become mothers, every day is not some Rainbow Bright, sunshine-filled utopia where unicorns prance across our wholly-satisfied childhood dreams?
What is offensive is for Mr. Dobson to allow Ms. Loh to paint a glib and reductive picture of women throughout this interview without ever attempting to call her on the laziness of her position – both in accounting for her own behavior and in painting a too broad and poorly constructed picture of the nature of menopause and the very real issues facing women as they age.
Because, while it may be fun to laugh at stereotypical representations of women in hormonal rages, it diminishes everyone involved in the discussion when that laughter isn’t used as a bridge to a greater understanding of a serious subject for which many women are longing for a real dialogue.
That’s why it’s time to talk about menopause.
But that’s probably just my hormones talking.