Written by Anne Wray.
There is one universal fact: all females born into the world will go through the experience of menopause, provided they live to that age. Just like starting a first period or the development of breasts, the menopause is another inevitable life stage. Considering that almost half the world’s population experiences it and it occurs for the same biological reason, one could be excused for thinking that the experience is the same for all women.
The truth is…
Attitudes Towards Older Age
In societies where older age is valued and the elderly are respected, women tend to experience fewer troublesome menopause symptoms. In Greece, for instance, there is no stigma associated with becoming old. Their religious icon of the ‘Mother of God’ is known as the Gerontissa, or ‘elderess’. In Korea, younger people throw a party once their parents 60th birthday is attained. This is to celebrate their journey into their senior years. As the average age of menopause is only 51, there’s no suggestion that menopausal women are ‘elderly’, but if they live in a culture where the old are revered and they don’t fear getting older, menopause symptoms are easier for them or they may not get any at all.
In societies where being old is seen as a negative thing – such as the UK and the USA – women are more likely to relate menopause with becoming old and because they have a pessimistic attitude towards it, they can experience gruelling side-effects. This connection between attitude and physical symptoms was discovered by a team of researchers at Yale Medical School, headed by Gynaecology Professor Mary Jane Minkin.
A Woman’s Second Spring
In China, a woman’s menopause is called the ‘second spring’. It is viewed as a positive life stage. Northern Thailand have one of the few examples of a menopause ceremony. While it is universal to celebrate births and weddings, the Meo have developed their own ritual to celebrate menopause in an older woman.
Environmental Factors: Do They Make a Difference?
It is common knowledge that women in Asian countries like China and Japan suffer less with their menopause than western women do and this is thought to be due to dietary factors, namely a high consumption of soy produce containing plant estrogens that reduce low estrogen symptoms. However, it may not only be diet playing a role in this striking difference, it may also be because Asian populations welcome ‘the change’.
They refer to it as a ‘second spring’ because it is a time in a woman’s life when she can have freedom – freedom from the monthly menses and the discomforts associated with that – freedom from the fear of unintended pregnancy and freedom from the constraints put upon her by having to care for babies and small children.
During the second spring, a woman can enjoy sexual liberation as well as being able to focus her attention on the things she would like to do with her life – things that probably took a back seat when the children were young.
The Croning Ceremony
Women in pagan and wiccan religions and those who identify with being ‘spiritual’ may have a ‘croning ceremony’ to celebrate what they see as their initiation into older female life. Celebrant’s Associations and even humanists (with no religious belief) lead these types of ceremony to an increasing number of women who are refusing to see menopause as something to be ashamed of.
A croning ceremony is usually performed at the age of 56 or older and begins with guests being welcomed and a sharing of stories, poems and memories of the ‘crone-to-be’s’ life so far, in a similar way to ancestors who passed stories down the family line. Symbolic gifts that represent something special to the guests can be given during story-telling.
The older women of the group will then ‘crone’ the woman concerned, by placing a cloak around her shoulders, which she has chosen herself. Purple is a popular colour because of its spiritual overtones. A crown headdress is then placed on her head. This headdress is usually made by the woman’s daughter’s if she has any, or other female relation. She will then be formally presented and may be given a certificate to mark her initiation into ‘cronehood’. Some women like to give a speech at this point.
At the end of the ceremony, there will be a party with food and music, similar to that of a wedding celebration.
South African’s Making the Menopause Fun
South African writers, artists and actors have made menopause fun by making it the subject of a comedy play, ‘Menopause: The Musical’, a show that took a lighter look at menopause side-effects like memory loss, chocolate overdose, hot flashes and too much sex. The production was inspired by an earlier show called ‘Hot Flash and a Bottle of Wine’.
If more women around the world were to view menopause humorously or positively it may change public perception and give women an easier transition into mature life.
If you are going through the menopause and need tips for daily living, see ‘Living with Menopause’.