Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

by Patricia Yarberry Allen

It’s a thrill to pick up The New York Times in the morning and see the headline “Listen Up, Everybody: I’m in Menopause.” The story, in today’s Style section, is about women no longer afraid to publicly declare they are going through the menopausal transition — a completely natural stage of life that until recently was talked about in whispers, or referred to euphemistically as “the change.”

Indeed, I remember those days all too well, having experienced sidelong glances between female relatives and uncomfortable silences (not to mention a roll of the eyes here and there) while growing up in Kentucky.

And Women’s Voices for Change has the added delight of being credited with opening the closet, so to speak, when we held a very public, high-profile gala in 2005 celebrating women in menopause. That event was recalled at the end of the story:

At the memorial service last fall for Ann Richards, the former Texas governor, her friend, Liz Smith, the gossip columnist, recounted for an audience of luminaries — including the Clintons — the night in 2005 Ms. Richards brought up the M word at a gala.

In an e-mail message, Ms. Smith said that the event inaugurated Women’s Voices for Change, an organization promoting positive attitudes toward women over 40 and menopause in particular. Among the few male guests at the gala, nicknamed the Menopause Ball, was Vernon Jordan, the power broker and lawyer.

“I don’t think Vernon had ever expressed any interest in menopausal women before that night,” Ms. Smith remembered saying in her eulogy.

Millions of people watching C-Span “fell out of seats laughing,” Ms. Smith wrote, recalling the reaction to her anecdote. “They weren’t laughing about menopause. They were laughing that menopause was out of the closet and dragging along for laughs the likes of Vernon Jordan. Now that’s progress!”

The NYT does a good job tracing some key cultural markers of changing attitudes about menopause, recalling, for instance, a landmark episode of “All in the Family” from the early 1970s when “the normally meek Edith Bunker wreaked havoc on everyone around her because of a condition then delicately referred to as ‘the change of life.'”

Today women are not only communicating more openly with their families about menopause, but they are taking it public — as the article humorously points out — realizing they have nothing to fear or be ashamed of.

While I applaud the progress made on so many fronts that has led to more open and productive communication with doctors, friends and even strangers, I am concerned that the piece dwells a bit much on our biology as destiny and the negative stereotypes about women’s exasperated incapacity during menopause.

A hot flash is not “an opportunity to get away with saying stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” as one woman all too gleefully describes it. It’s not an excuse for impatience or rudeness. When menopause becomes synonymous with bad behavior, it takes away power from  women and undermines our credibility.

The NYT also fails to acknowledge that for many women menopause is more than an opportunity to bond over hot flashes: It is a time to celebrate new opportunities as we manage this important transition. For many this is a period marked by social and political activism, or a renewed excitement about work and new adventures.

No longer engaged in the care and feeding of young ones and often more financially secure than ever before, women of our age go back to school, travel, study to become expert museum guides, take up exacting and demanding avocations, and keep in touch with one another as unpaid analysts, marketing consultants and event planners. In short, we become employed in the worlds we create. Some of us even start blogs!

Thankfully the story does not portray menopause as “the end” of youth and vitality. And that is a huge step for which the Times should be applauded. But we still have a long way to go in representing the diversity of our experiences and the extent of our power as women in our 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond.

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  • hollywoodheidi October 19, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    Hi! I just found this forum and it looks really cool.
    Now, I gotta run off and read some posts. 🙂

  • Sadie June 15, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    I hadn’t seen that story- thanks for posting! It’s important that the media pick up stories about real women and real life. I’ve found More magazine to be a great source of inspiration and information on this topic, and important women’s issues in general.

  • Carolyn Hahn June 11, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    Oh,my God, Dee–how can anyone go through life without a sense of humor? But think about how little humor women are allowed..”belly laugh”== unfeminine. Giggle = girlish, stupid. Laugh out loud = loud, unfeminine. Chuckle, sounds manly. Humor for women = sly, slightly subversive (what ARE those women plotting that will undermine the established order of things?). And of course, it is subversive–society thinks we’re less attractive and should disappear as we get older? A laugh is a way to keep having a voice *and* a way of puncturing the self importance of the comb-overs in control.

  • Dee Adams June 9, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    The writer for that article called me at the last minute and asked me to send some of my novelty Minnie Pauz items, which I did and was happy to see them displayed in the article.
    I was happy to see a more balanced interview than some I’ve read lately, but I’m still not sure what the point was. Every time someone says something about how women are handling midlife or menopause, someone else says “no, that’s not the way it is”.
    I’ve had my site up since 1998 and I can guarantee you that every view point has been represented. Women come and go through my site, my newsletter and my message board, and no one is challenged on how they are experiencing this transition. It’s so individual as we all know.
    I’ve chosen to use HUMOR replacement therapy and I find most women that come to my site appreciate the release the humor and laughter gives, but I also know there are some who don’t find any part of it humorous and they have a right to their opinion. Obviously, they aren’t going to be one of the nearly 12,000 subscribers to my newsletter. 🙂 But I was amazed when Marie Lugano, founder of the American Menopause Foundation, actually said it was wrong to have any fun along with your menopause. I just don’t get that kind of thinking.
    Sorry that I’ve rambled on…just wanted to join in on your interesting discussion about the NY Times article.

  • Carolyn Hahn June 8, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    I was really glad to see the piece, and thank you to “Women’s Voices for Change” for spearheading the discussion. I imagine (sort of separate topic) that the article had to present things in a more zingy way–the hook–to see publication, but hey–it got published, and it was–how you say–a big article.
    Until recently, I still felt menopause was some sort of transition to being invisible, and this website has been an elegant rejoinder to that that. Thanks!

  • Dr. Pat Allen June 8, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Beverly, thank you for stopping by and your kind words — and your take on it all!

  • Amy Masterson June 8, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Bravo to everyone who dares to speak out! We should be beyond feeling shameful or “old” when we approach menopause, yet there are plenty of places in this country where “the change” is still the preferred term. We need more honesty from all women.

  • Beverly Mahone June 7, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    I, too, was interviewed for the piece and delighted to see it made the front page of the Styles section.
    I am someone who has chosen to embrace my new journey because hiding under a rock and being miserable accomplishes nothing but more misery.
    No, menopause is not an excuse for bad behavior but I’d rather use that as an excuse than the excuse of just having a rotten personality or being a difficult person to get along with.
    I applaud Women’s Voices for Change for spearheading a worthwhile cause for women 40 and over.
    Peace & Blessings,
    Beverly Mahone
    A Baby Boomer’s Journey Into Middle Age

  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger June 7, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    I’m delighted that Women’s Voices for Change has been cited for our celebration of life, a lifetime of experience, and the insight to become influential. But I’m less than pleased to be linked, even within the geography of the NYT article, with condoning menopause as an excuse for (expected) bad behavior.
    I try to learn from my own bad behavior, which is still too frequent for my comfort level, that I’d better keep working on my respect for others. There’s no room for inappropriate temper tantrums in government or in the home.
    And, at the risk of sounding school-marmish, I think that even though village elders have rights, no one has the right to create emotional tyranny.
    I think I speak for all of us at WVFC when I say that we hope you will join us in leading by example — wherever you are. Being identified as a grown up is a good thing.