Coming of age, again
We all buy into the ridiculous notion that women are defined by their reproductive cycles, and once you can no longer become pregnant, you become a sexless object of pity and derision
The marital bed: One partner is almost invisible except for a tiny outcropping of head, swaddled in sheets and down comforters, rolled up for extra warmth. The other lies supine and unsheeted, hair blowing in the Arctic blast from the carefully placed fan, sweating and cursing. Welcome to midlife!
Menopause occurs when a woman does not have her period for a year. It’s considered the end of her menstrual cycles. I am pleased to report that I have reached that beautiful moment. Yes, I am officially a dried-up old hag. Whee! I’m so pleased that I’m planning a party to refute all the bad press.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, time is marching on, death is approaching, blah blah. But more than impending oblivion, menopause gets all the blame for every mood swing, real or imagined. There’s no escape. When we’re young, we’re unpredictable emotional females because we’re on the rag, and later we’re unpredictable emotional females because we’re off the rag.
Examples abound everywhere. I just read an M.C. Beaton mystery for some light escapism, and here is what Constable Hamish Macbeth has to say about two of his suspects: “Angela and Betty Trent. Old maids. In their fifties, both. Angela the older. Live together…Nothing there, except women at the menopause can go weird.”
Yes, we can. And so can women not at the menopause, and so can men at any age. I’m definitely a bit moody these days, but I was often moody at age 13, 26, 34, 47, and probably will be at 103, if I make it.
This whole change-of-life business actually has quite a few advantages. Such as no more birth control, if you’re straight (but you still need to protect against STDs, so don’t throw away all your condoms, you frisky ladies).
No more menstrual paraphernalia. Imagine what a relief that must be for rural women who don’t even have paraphernalia, but rely on home-made rags that they need to wash and recycle, often in secrecy, because heaven forbid your in-laws or husband see any evidence of your femalehood.
Somewhere on an otherwise pristine, protected island in the Andamans, researchers of the future will find long-buried plastic tampon covers, and scratch their heads in puzzlement. Mea culpa, guys, I didn’t know what else to do, so I buried the evidence.
I don’t know about the rest of womankind, but my ovaries have always had a wicked sense of humour, and a perverse sense of timing. I wonder if the manly bankers and titans of industry who are reading this with horror and planning to write to the editor about the inappropriate subject matter are aware that getting your period can be a real pain, timing-wise. Even if your rhythms are reliably tethered to the moon and tides, they are thrown off by things like travel. So of course, just when I was on an aeroplane with a screaming baby I couldn’t leave in the seat, bingo, it would start. Wilderness trip to the Andamans? Yup, there goes the uterine lining. Job interview in a white skirt? And so on. Just imagine what life would be like if your beard suddenly sprouted 4 inches in 20 seconds and distracted you from the matter at hand.
On a serious note, I resent the constant message, everywhere from my mystery book to portrayals of middle-aged women in the movies, that this is The End. Yes, it can be a big, unsettling, hormone-laden upheaval. The last thing we need is society telling us that the party’s over, we’re no longer valuable, we’re kind of unreliable, so we should just sit quietly and take our oestrogen pills and act our age.
Most of us are quite unprepared for everything from the hot flashes to the odd tricks of memory, except with a handful of clichés, some inchoate dread, and vague memories of our foremothers. Why so taboo? Why am I a little uncomfortable at the prospect of my colleagues reading this over their morning coffee?
Perhaps it’s because we all buy into the ridiculous notion that women are defined by their reproductive cycles, and once you can no longer become pregnant, you become a sexless object of pity and derision.
Of course, it varies by family and culture. In India, you don’t necessarily lose your authority as you get older. Rather the reverse: My aunts and great-aunts all seemed to grow in stature as they aged, and we certainly didn’t dare show them any disrespect.
I know women who have had a very hard time with menopause. I consider myself lucky that I haven’t had any terrible symptoms. And I can’t help a gleeful feeling of triumph: I made it! I’ve lived long enough to be officially weird. I survived to enjoy this whole new stage of life. Frankly, it’s fascinating.
When my mother was still in her 20s, I thought my parents’ generation was old. Now I know better. The road is still full of surprises and delights and disconcerting twists and turns.
So, although I recognize it as a definite step in the direction of The End—and I wish someone would turn the fan on—I feel strangely merry about the onset of biological obsolescence. I would rather be young than old, but I would rather be old than dead. Things I will continue to do: Sizzle and kiss and offend and delight.
No doubt I’ll be writing a whiny column when I gain 50 kilos, sag in all the wrong places, and develop brittle bones. But for now it’s nice to pack light and not worry. And plan a party with lots of cake and champagne. And save all the paraphernalia in the back of the cupboard for my child’s 40-year journey of ovarian tyranny.
Sohaila Abdulali is a New York-based writer. She writes a fortnightly column on women in the 21st century.
Also Read | Sohaila’s previous Lounge columns
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