by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger | bio

Sunday night I clicked on the TV a little earlier than usual and happily attacked my stack of newspapers and magazines while waiting for one of my favorite shows, "Brothers and Sisters." It’s a weekly treat. The writing and acting are terrific — an ever-engaging storm in a loving and complicated family. Best of all, the matriarch, Nora Walker (Sally Field), is not afraid to show her characters’ complexities, including fear of aging.

"Desperate Housewives" is on before "Brothers and Sisters." I’ve watched it a couple of times but, in truth, I’m not that into the show or the characters. So on Sunday it was merely background to my reading, until I heard one of the stars, Susan (Teri Hatcher), flipping out when she’s diagnosed by the handsome neighbor-gynecologist as being in the early stages of menopause.

"Listen, Susan, I know for a lot of women the word ‘menopause’ has negative connotations. You hear ‘aging,’ ‘brittle bones,’ ‘loss of sexual desire,"’ the gynecologist tells her.

Of course she can’t fathom this and immediately questions the doctor’s credentials.

"OK, before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Just to make sure they aren’t, like, from some med school in the Philippines?"

Well, as you may have heard this week, that didn’t sit so well with Filipinos and American-Filipinos. Viewers called to complain and as of Wednesday evening, reports the AP, there were more than 30,000 names on an online petition protesting the scene and demanding an apology.

"A statement that devalues Filipinos in healthcare is extremely unfounded, considering the overwhelming presence of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the medical field," the petition read in part. It even became an international incident, with Philippine cabinet officials criticizing the show.

ABC responded on Wednesday with an apology: "The producers of ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ABC Studios offer our sincere apologies for any offense caused by the brief reference in the season premiere. There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines," the statement said.

"As leaders in broadcast diversity, we are committed to presenting sensitive and respectful images of all communities featured in our programs," it concluded.

I understand the outcry. But let me tell you, I’m outraged, too.

"Desperate Housewives" has garnered all sorts of attention for casting women over age 40 as in the lead roles. And for this I applaud it.

Now let’s get real: While the average age for menopause is 51, some women begin the transition in their early 40s. In fact, another hit show — "The Closer" — incorporated menopause as a storyline this summer for its lead character, LAPD Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), and got well-deserved kudos for doing so.

Sedgwick and Hatcher are both in their early 40s, as are their characters.

The ditzy Susan, however, didn’t handle it so well. Nor did the show itself. The doctor’s response lays out what he expects his scared-witless patient is thinking, but there’s no scene to balance out the litany of everyone’s worst (and often unrealized) fears.

Instead, Susan seems to imagine that she has fallen instantly into the Q-Tip generation of formless, grey- (or purple-) haired Old Ladies in shapeless ancient clothing. She nearly breaks down at a neighborhood party when the old gals invite her to sit at their table, and she tells her new husband — who is sensitive and supportive — that she feels "dry and dusty."

Of course by this point I was intrigued and watched the rest of the episode. And wouldn’t you know it, at the end the handsome doctor reappears to announce that he was wrong all along: Susan isn’t starting menopause; she’s pregnant.

Apparently, ABC thinks that only "old" women are menopausal. If you look like Teri Hatcher, then of course you must be fertile.

I’m glad I tuned in early to "Brothers and Sisters" and caught this episode of "Desperate Housewives." It clued me in to the attitude the producers have toward women in the menopause transition — we’re all a bunch of feeble old ladies staring cluelessly into the headlights.

Wait, that doesn’t describe you either? Then do what I did. Contact ABC to protest this outdated representation, and let the producers know that their fear of women who no longer menstruate turns plenty of us off to tuning in again.

Next Sunday I’ll do my reading without the TV — at least until "Brothers and Sisters" comes on.

ABC Corporate Mailing Address:
ABC, Inc.
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521-4551
(818) 460-7477
Email: Feedback form

Address of the producers of Desperate Housewives:
Desperate Housewives
Touchstone Television
100 Universal City Plaza
Bldg. 2128, Suite G
Universal City, CA 91608

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  • Faith Childs October 5, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you, Elizabeth,
    Activism takes work and requires disturbing the peace. So, too, does changing perceptions.
    Committed as we are to changing the perception of menopause and menopausal women, by providing the tools to protest within your post you are doubtless teaching others by your example how to create change.