In this week’s episode we talk with Jill Angelo, the Co-founder & CEO of genneve, an online clinic, resource center, and community whose mission is to empower all women in menopause to take control of their symptoms. In our hour-long conversation, we cover the stigmas and myths of menopause, the lack of resources and support for women going through the phases of menopause and the ways in which we can normalize and create greater visibility surrounding this natural life stage.
Stigmatization of Menopause
If you dig into the historical accounts and treatment of menopause, you’ll quickly realize that women going through this stage of life have been stigmatized since time immemorial across various cultures. In the book Hot Flushes, Cold Science: A History Of The Modern Menopause, author Louise Foxcroft recounts how many doctors in 19th century England claimed their menopausal patients were suffering from “hysteria.” While we’ve come a long way from this perception, our modern society still struggles to view menopause as a natural and liberating start to the second half of a woman’s life.
In cultures or societies where value is placed on women in their ability to be reproductive or to be beautiful and young, menopause has a stigma associated with it because it doesn’t represent those things.
The Power of Language
As always, it’s important to note the ways in which words and language as a whole shape our overall perception of ideas and topics, in both discreet and more not-so-discreet ways. To this day, menopause is still a victim to the language used to discuss its characteristics and symptoms. In the Western world, the medical language used to discuss menopausal biological processes is largely dominated by “negative imagery such as ‘reproductive failure or ovarian failure,’” implying that menopause is a malfunction of the body or a disease to be treated, rather than a natural life stage.
The Main Myths & Misunderstandings of Menopause
- Treating Individual Symptoms — There are 34 different symptoms of menopause, but so often these symptoms get treated individually instead of looking at the body holistically and understanding the correlation between symptoms.
- Fear surrounding HRT — After the Women’s Health Initiative published the report showing the increased risk of breast cancer and other life-threatening conditions related to HRT, women feared this treatment. In reality, there are now safe and healthy HRT options that alleviate many of the challenging symptoms.
- Viewing it as a Dysfunction — So often women think something is seriously wrong them, either mentally or physically, when they begin to experience menopausal symptoms. More work needs to be done to normalize this chapter in a woman’s life.
The Beginning of HRT
In the 1930s, the medical community began referring to menopause as a deficiency disease and by the 1970s estrogen hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was being touted as a “liberation” for middle-aged women. But HRT’s moment in the sun was shattered after the Women’s Health Initiative published a report showing that HRT had more detrimental than beneficial effects, namely increasing the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and blood clots. To this day, HRT remains misunderstood even though studies have shown ways to safely manage menopause with various HRT options.
The Upside of Menopause
All emphasizes the freedom of menopause — not only the physical liberation of no longer menstruating, but the emotional liberation of feeling wiser, more confident, and more powerful as a woman in the second half of her life.
We’ve also seen this notion of increased creativity and confidence — women doing new things on the other side of menopause…In the U.S., the highest rate of women starting their own businesses are women 50-plus.
The Upside of Menopause Cont’d
The Menopause Zeitgeist, a survey of more than 6,000 women in menopause, found that 72% claimed to be happier, 57% reported feeling physically stronger, 69% reported feeling more confident, and 54% felt more in control of their careers compared to 10 years prior.
The Need for Partner Support
The Menopause Zeitgeist also found that 94% of the women surveyed felt that they didn’t have enough support from their partner during the menopausal journey. Women reported three main ways for partners to be more supportive:
1. Not taking mood swings or other symptoms personally
2. Becoming more educated about menopause and its symptoms
3. Cultivating patience
There’s a relationship dynamic that we tend to see in women of this age where relationships degrade because they don’t have that language or don’t know how to talk about it or don’t even know that it’s a thing to understand.