Because I’m fifty-three and recently released a book of personal essays, lately I’ve been interviewed by a lot of baby boomers with websites or book blogs. As a result, here is something that has struck me since I’ve visited more and more of these sites. An inordinate amount of boomer bloggers lead off in their “About Me” sections with words to this effect: “I am a menopausal woman…”
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but wonder why on earth would that particular fact be something you bother to share with the general public, let alone use as a hook in your website profile? Yes, I believe menopause and perimenopause and any other stage of menopause that might exist merits real attention, in the form of health news or medical research or, in my case, a race to find a cure for increasingly toxic levels of irritability at all the poor innocents who simply occupy space when I’m in a black mood.
But seriously. If you are a book blogger, for example, do you really want the first thing your fellow bibliophiles learn about you to be that you are no longer menstruating? What does that really say about your personality? What’s more, what does that have to do with your preference for genre or literary fiction?
Once I became attuned to how frequently the menopausal modifier appears on boomer blogs, I couldn’t help but notice how something similar also occurs in casual conversation, not just among my friends, but total strangers, as well. I swear, if I had a nickle for every time a fifty-something woman—most recently the new teller at my bank—brings up hot flashes for no apparent reason, I’m sure I could afford a facelift by now.
Making this phenomenon seem even more peculiar is that, for most of our lives, our gender hasn’t made a habit of defining ourselves in terms of our reproductive abilities. You don’t hear fifth-grade girls introducing themselves around the camp fire circle—“I’m a prepubescent eleven-year-old…” You don’t see young women write on their Facebook walls—I’m twenty-four years old and at the peak of my fertility… So why now, in middle age when we have a wealth of life experience and self awareness to draw from, do so many of us default to menopausal?
I have taught creative writing to adults for over fifteen years, and one of the first lessons I stress is the importance of details to characterize effectively. But not just any details will do. If you introduce your narrator “Jane” as a middle-aged blonde, for instance, you’ve already doomed her as nondescript. On the other hand, if you lead with the fact that she is a true believer in miracles, or that she cracks up at the corny way actors deliver dialogue in old movies, or that she has sewn her own cloths since she was a teenager, now that’s revealing something much more memorable and meaningful about the essence of Jane’s character.Right now you may be thinking, So what if a woman chooses to describe herself as menopausal. A blog isn’t a writing contest, after all. And besides, a woman should be able to share anything she wants about herself, on a website or at the local bank. But on the other hand, so many women our age complain about how we are summarily dismissed by the public at large. “It’s as if we’re invisible,” we whine. “No one pays attention to us any more, or sees us as attractive now that we’re no longer young.”
This is why I would argue that perhaps some of the reason for this invisibility is how quick we are to define ourselves in terms of our post-fertility, and its accompanying assortment of symptoms. To make this one of the first things we share, or drop into casual conversation, can’t help but suggest we see ourselves first and foremost as how we ovulate…or not. I mean let’s face it. If I were to lead with, “Hi, my name is Joni and I experience night sweats,” that isn’t exactly an invitation to see me as a hot ticket or engaging conversationalist.
Conversely, if you or I or any woman in her forties, fifties, sixties or beyond were to introduce herself as a true believer in miracles, or someone who laughs at corny dialogue, or a woman with the wherewithal to sew her own cloths, who wouldn’t sit up and take notice? Who wouldn’t want to get to know us better? Indeed, who wouldn’t find us attractive, given that real beauty comes not from our ability to produce eggs, but from our essence—those significant traits that deeply define us, regardless of our age or hot flashes.