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

Germaine Greer has hit a homerun with her take on "Menopause the Musical," published this week at The Guardian (and on the arts blog).

Greer is absolutely right that the musical — which has been playing to U.S. audience since 2001 and has now crossed the Atlantic — promotes outdated concepts about this transition to independence. It also sets up menopause as an almost totally negative experience, laced with a certain kind of humor that seems more creepy than comforting.

Let me say upfront that I am a gynecologist who specializes in menopause. For some reason a dear friend insisted a few years ago that I see this. I walked out after the firsts 30 minutes. It was just too trite and sophomoric, and I never understood who the intended audience is. As Greer writes:

Of course, it’s great to see a change from the usual mockery and humiliation so thoughtlessly dealt out to women of a certain age. However, we might have thought, as we now see older women playing alongside younger men in primetime TV dramas, instead of the other way about, that we were getting there. Menopause the Musical (a registered trademark) puts a hand on our chests and shoves us firmly back into the biology-equals-destiny dead-end. […]

A significant proportion of women will go through menopause with no symptoms whatsoever, but the show presents menopausal uproar as unavoidable, just as it presents a lust for chocolate as universal. Another piece of misinformation peddled by the show is that women do not discuss the symptoms of menopause and think they are alone, which would be a possibility only for women who never read the women’s press.

How completely true. In the U.S., at least, one cannot watch daytime television, read women’s magazines or even peruse the Wall Street Journal without a barrage of infomercial entertainment and discussions about menopause — some of it helpful, some of it confusing and some of it downright frustrating.

This transition that we embrace is indeed unique for each of us — and of course it can be hampered, as are all transitions, by the unexpected, the unknown, the uncontrollable. We benefit from a sense of community and support, and it seems that "Menopause the Musical" was a start in this direction.

But the reality is we need to hear the truth. And for that perhaps we need more Shakespeare and less Streisand.

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  • Dr. Pat Allen February 17, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Cassandra,
    I agree that we all have different responses to humor and a need for some bonding.
    As I pointed out in my post in response to Germaine Greer’s critical evaluation of this musical, “This transition that we embrace is indeed unique for each of us — and of course it can be hampered, as are all transitions, by the unexpected, the unknown, the uncontrollable.”
    However, I would like to see more women coalesce around the positive aspects of this transition — the idea that we have the opportunity for reinvention and, yes, joy. But just because I did not appreciate this theatrical experience does not mean that it could not be fun for others.
    I do remember in the 70’s that the feminist perspective on how to be pregnant, how to endure labor and how to be the “right” mother were ostensibly written in stone. I didn’t like it then and I don’t support it now. I fully understand that many women have negative menopausal symptoms and humor helps.

    Reply
  • Cassandra February 17, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Part of the problem many women experience in menopause is not being allowed to let a negative experience be a negative experience. Reminds me of the 60’s when you were supposed to understand that labor pains weren’t really pain. Yeah. Got it. The fact is, that for most of us menopause has some damn negative aspects to it. This show gave them a humorous side. At the end of the show when the audience members are on the stage dancing with the cast and celebrating a shared experience of life change all that went through my mind was how sorry I am for men that they do not have someone helping them make fun of hair loss and shriveling gonads. Women are good at getting together and kvetching and laughing about life and that is what this show celebrates. I’m not surprised you didn’t get that if you walked out after 30 minutes.

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  • Ellie Wilkie May 17, 2007 at 9:17 am

    If you liked the musical try my book “The Myth of the Vertical Stripe -poems for women of a certain age’ available from Amazon.com

    Reply
  • Elaine April 27, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    What exactly is the “typical woman over 40’s perspective”?
    I understand how the musical creates community for getting women to laugh at menopause, and can give it some credit for that, but overall I think the premise is more harmful than good.
    Menopause is natural. We’ll all go through it, if we’re lucky enough to live that long. Having a musical built around something so negative in the public perception — and yet so normal and even inconsequential for some women — is irksome.

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  • Cynthia April 27, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    I can’t understand these comments about Menopause The Musical. This show was FANTASTIC! We had a wonderful time! Before I saw this show I thought my symptoms of menopause were due to something much more serious, i. e. bipolar disorder or some such thing. Seeing this show brought about an epiphany for me. I was not alone and I was more normal that I thought.
    This is not a show that talks about terminal illness or anything like that. It takes the TYPICAL woman over 40’s perspective into consideration. I don’t think this show is meant to take the place of a doctors care nor is it meant to dwell on the darkside of menopause. In my opinion it does EXACTLY what it means to do, unite and ENTERTAIN! I think you two should look at this show for what it is, ENTERTAINMENT with a TWIST! Go back to see the show again and take a look at the audience members siting around you see the looks on their faces the laughter and joy there, see how they have been touched by it, be happy for the women that have found work in it and just plain relax!

    Reply