Tackling the menopause stigma

It’s great to have policies on the menopause at work, but first of all we need to get over the stigma attached to it so we can ask for any support we might need.

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It’s been great to see all the work being done over the last couple of years to highlight the issues associated with the menopause at work. A growing number of employers have policies now or are at least aware of how the menopause might affect women at work. It’s no doubt the tip of the iceberg, but at least it’s a start.

Yet it can be very difficult for women themselves to talk about menopause because of what it symbolises in our youth-obsessed culture. “In a society that reveres beauty and youth, the menopause can feel like some kind of deadline,” says Deborah Garlick of support organisation Henpicked. When it comes to work, she says, “many women don’t want to make a big deal about it for fear of being discriminated against or passed over for promotion or feeling they’re not up to the job anymore”.

It’s not so much the symptoms themselves that are the problem or lack of awareness, but the stigma around menopause generally.

We still tend to regard the menopause as a kind of quiet death. Women are so used to being judged to such a great degree on their looks – and I’d argue, as the mum of three teenage daughters, that this is even more the case now – that any admission that you are getting old can feel like a failure. So why would you want to draw attention to it?

The menopause is much more than hot flushes, memory lapses, exhaustion – or the feeling that you constantly look knackered, depression and all the other symptoms. It”s what it symbolises or what you think others think it symbolises. What comes first the symptom of depression or depression caused by all the other symptoms? It’s a big transition and, like all transitions, it takes time to come to terms with. In the midst of all of that life goes on and at a gallop these days. You may still have fairly young children or elderly parents that you are worried about, or both. There is little time to stand still and reflect on anything at all.

The transition to parenthood, for example, takes years to come to terms with, if you ever do…You are flung into a whirlwind of logistics, emotion and exhaustion and you scramble to understand who you are in the midst of the maelstrom. Then, when you have achieved at least a level of stability – and I mean this absolutely loosely – you have another child and throw yourself back into the whirlwind. It is only after at least a decade, maybe two, that you emerge with some idea of who you are. Then you hit the menopause. It is hard to prepare and there is little or no time to grieve for the past you, whoever she was.

The good news is that other women have gone through it and come out the other side. And after having doctors and nurses prod every part of you during pregnancy and childbirth and discovering a newfound respect for what your body can do and what you can cope with, you may perhaps develop a greater degree of self confidence or at the very least, after years of dealing with poo and the norovirus, a swashbuckling approach to bodily functions.

It is this self confidence and take-no-prisoners approach that we need to draw on to address the whole menopause transition and get the support we may need at work.



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