Me-No-Pause! — Yes, You Can
Before the onset of menarche and after menopause, a woman’s body is the same non-blood excreting vessel. This, however, does not make one empty. Yet the long years which fall in between the two processes change how women see this blood and their bodies. So much that bleeding to death becomes the definition of being womanly.
In her powerful feminist oeuvre, which is nothing short of a bible for women’s studies, Simone de Beauvoir starts by describing the onset of menstruation as a young girl’s pride in becoming a woman, followed by the humiliation that their metamorphosis carries in The Second Sex. As they grow, young girls and women learn to be careful of concealing their monthly bodily processes. When time passes, the shame associated with the disgust around bleeding also percolates and elucidates further knowledge of being hollow without the presence of this blood. Bleeding or not, it’s as if women’s loss. And in either case, they are taught and shown to conceal. When Beauvoir addressed menopause she created something of a mystical account, which went like: “Whereas man grows old gradually, woman is suddenly deprived of her femininity […]. She is dead and risen again, she views the world [anew].”
This narrative was as contradictory then, as it is today. In a recent chat with Dr. Niveditha Manokaran, I had the opportunity of indulging some of my own questions. And in answering them, verily corresponding to what Beauvoir had once stated, Dr. Niveditha too reflected upon the modern women’s attitude towards menopause as vacillating.
Some women appear cheerful, others on the contrary show signs of melancholic dismay. There is even a lack of understanding about menopause and other menstrual pauses which may occur during one’s allegedly healthy bleeding years. But our generation has seen a surge in talking about menstrual health. Are we not talking enough in the twenty-first century about periods and the changes they bring upon arrival each month? Is it not enough to change this unnecessarily stigmatized topic?
Answering some questions as either yes or no is not enough. The silence of earlier, which was resonant through most of the eighteenth onto the twentieth century, even in the twenty-first to some extent, has now since the past decade definitely been broken. But what are we talking about, and what is happening as a result of it?
Social media has seen a surge in break-the-silence trends, something which was only hoping for Beauvoir and her feminist contemporaries. Through these internet revolutions, artists, activists, influencers have as if teamed up to normalize the signs of menstruation, by literally posting photographs of their blood-stained clothes and other such detailed discussions. This has set a Menstrual Etiquette, making one free to say anything about menstruation— appropriate terminology of what should be spoken and what not. And this menstrual etiquette in return has created an additional burden on women and girls where, as Sonia Kruks suggests, now they have to feel ashamed, not because of anything we have done, but just being what we are.
There is a new kind of empowerment in concealing, and revealing together as some women have made it apparent they don’t need to hear anything related to menstrual health anymore, as it is their domain and they’re aware of what persists. Their speaking is as if meant to speak for all the oppressed narratives of menstruation which remain unheard. Despite a factor of concealment buried deep, the major expectancy of such posts is to stop people— they may include other genders and non-menstruating groups of women— from defiling a woman’s uncontrollable monthly bleeding.
The Elephant In The Room
Resultantly, this generalized etiquette has assumed that most people know about the basic physiology of the reproductive system. Hence, based on age and requirements women now have the freedom and authority enough to make decisions about their sexual lifestyles. Our education fails at the point where it is assumed or even told that one *ought* to know, without the need for asking. Even popular culture tends to explain a woman’s bodily processes only through her sexual choices, obliterating everything else that constitutes being a woman.
Amid all this, left out most importantly are the pauses that a woman during her menstrual years may or may not undergo, and the final stages of menstruation known as menopause. The big elephant in the room, which no one wants to talk about, or relate with, because it’s a term allegedly concerned only with the graced-old age. At the mention of the word, one flees like it’s worse than the already stigmatized menstruation. Both of which—just a symptom of old age and a bane— it simply is not.
Needless to say, several women do not question the process of menopause or why periods abruptly stop sometimes, adhering to the depictions of women in pop culture and photographic trends.
What Is Menopause And Why Knowing About It Is Necessary Now?
By definition, menopause is the natural decline in women’s reproductive hormones which starts appearing by the age of 40 or 45. This does not, however, mean that women cannot experience premature menopause.
In the past years, Indian youth has seen a surge in growing mental health issues and stress which plays a prominent role in disturbing one’s menstrual health and trigger early menopause.
Not told with the intent of scaring anyone or adding to their distress, but knowing about menopause or early signs of it is necessary because it may become a factor affecting an individual’s bone health at a later stage— not before mid to late 50’s in this case.
Having Early Menopause means that one’s estrogen supply has stopped very early. By definition: Estrogen is a category of sex hormones responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. Oestrogen is also responsible for facilitating bone density. This may mean that in their old age, a person may become prone to fractures and osteoporosis. So, with the signs of early menopause, it is advised that they consult a doctor and take the prescribed estrogen supplements.
Another factor of early menopause, because of the stopped estrogen, is a thin lining— the same one which breaks to form the muscular and liquid excretion called a monthly occurring period. This causes the vagina to dry and cause irritation. Again, only a doctor may be able to suggest the right kinds of estrogen-containing lubricants (to be taken only upon prescription), which will assure a healthy continuance of one’s sexual health.
These are a natural process, and not a ticking bomb that suddenly devoid a woman of her identity. So, coming back to the question.
What Is Lacking And Why Is Necessary To Talk Now?
Because the normalization of menstrual health through photographs stands a chance of speaking for everyone, wherein the actuality remains that it’s the public spaces where we really need this normalization. And saying this obviously does not mean spreading misinformation for the sake of trending. But listening to as many narratives as possible and devising a commonly understandable mechanism about proper medical treatments and hormone replacement therapies. (Not to forget, developing unbiased provisions for those dealing with sundry kinds of economic battles.)
Menopause is also a part of the menstrual process, even if the final one. So, talk about it!
(NOTE: The author is aware of and empathizes with, individuals battling body dysphoria. With this note, she hopes to clarify that this article was not written with apathy towards any person’s trauma. But the aim here is to promote a sense of necessitated education about menopause and its effects on a person’s body.)
Graphic design by: Itti Mahajan