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Having Lost Something Important: Womanpause

I am post-menopausal for about a decade and find societal attitudes about women’s sexuality in this stage of life fascinating. Menopause is a new frontier. We don’t know nearly as much about it as pregnancy or diabetes or heart disease or even dying. Is it because its women’s health and thus a lower priority? Sure, that is part of the reason.

But we also don’t know a lot about menopause because we have never lived long enough to adequately understand it. We used to die a lot younger, often before we went into menopause. In “Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life” author Darcy Steinke calls it “an enigma,” and a rarity in the animal world. Few species have long post-reproductive lives. Most female primates in the wild die before they stop cycling.”

Menopause is best seen as a modern, human developmental phase, much like the onset of our menses in adolescence. It was not too long ago that women who were getting older- and perhaps more assertive or more melancholy- were written off as dingbats or hysterical or worse. How many were locked up? Now we know the change is a lot more complex, with many implications for wellness, aging and a woman’s personal reckoning with herself and her life.

Are we getting darn tired of the male medical gaze into our postmenopausal vaginas yet? Do we want our vaginas described as shriveled, dry and not necessarily receptive to {their} male organs? The male perspective makes us dismissed, invisible, and desexualized. In fact, when I searched for synonyms for the word ‘menopause’ in the online Power Thesaurus, the equivalent words appear to be the epitome of the male gaze:

Unproductive, Unfruitful, Sucked dry,

Unplowed, Dried up, Wasted,

Drained, Exhausted, Desolate,

Fruitless, Fallow, Dry

Jejune (meaning dull, flat, boring, banal, tedious, uninteresting, insipid, vapid)

Look around, fellows! Do women over 50- running companies and making art and leading movements and keeping it all going- deserve such descriptors? Does Nancy Pelosi or Meryl Streep or the late Toni Morrison seem fallow to you? What about the sexy Helen Mirren? We are also knocking it out (despite my dislike of sports metaphors) in the bedroom. The reported rise in STD’s in people over 60 attests to that.

How shall we seize and recreate the definition of menopause? What does the post-menopausal vagina feel like from the female gaze? Perhaps a bit smaller due to the converging forces of gravity and childbearing. Perhaps the vaginal tissue is a bit thinner with less estrogen circling about; often resolved with lubricants and specialized organic creams. What word honors the decades of fertility and menstruation that gives way to a new period characterized by confidence, calm, reflection, not putting up with anyone’s shit, and hopefully pearls of earned wisdom? Menopause- or perhaps womanpause- gives us the space to pause, take a breath, and proceed with absolute, quiet clarity.

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