I’m developing a conspiracy theory about menopause. It doesn’t include UFOs or assassinations or Elvis. My menopause conspiracy theory is that a couple hundred years ago, as women were becoming more educated and the Industrial Revolution was replacing men with machines, Mary Shelley put the cherry on top of men’s fear of being replaced when she wrote her famous book about sewing a big guy together from spare body parts and making him beg for a girlfriend. As her intelligence shocked the world men moved aggressively to stop women from taking power and becoming equal.
Frankenstein was published in 1818 by the daughter of the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft who died in 1797, eleven days after birthing the author. Yes, the first and most famous literary work of science fiction was written by a teenage girl, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. She wasn’t allowed to be educated at university, so she took it upon herself to study anatomy and electricity and imagine how they might be combined to create a man who wanted only to please.
In that era there was a broad social movement of men determined to stop women from becoming experts in any field. Pregnancy had been the way to control women’s lives. But once a woman lived past her childbearing years and had her own agency, she could compete with men for jobs, property and leadership. Hence the popular myth that menopause damages women beyond repair. Instead of allowing us to compete, they shunned us. If you think I’m exaggerating just google Freud and menopause.
Enter big pharma and menopause has become the Area 51 of medicine with alien forces sapping a woman’s hormones, rendering her unattractive, mentally weak, sexless and hysterical. Or imagine menopause as Mother Nature kissing off a woman’s reproductive obligations, launching her into a personal renaissance of wisdom, empowerment and independence. As with all conspiracy theories, you get to choose what to believe.
For example, tell me if this sounds familiar. A woman is very uncomfortable for many months, her body does strange things without warning, she is misshapen and loses her mind on occasion, followed by enormous doubts that she can really make it through the ordeal. And then finally she does, and she is a hero in her own mind because she knows the feelings she has managed and understands the extremes of physical and emotional change she can endure. When it’s over, she’s a different person living a different life in a different body, renewed by her own spirit, transformed by her experience, and enlightened by her connection to the life force. So — is this menstruation, pregnancy or menopause?
The conspiracy of men to hold women back from power by disparaging our minds and bodies is evident in the facts of history and today in the disproportionately small number of midlife women in leadership. The first step in overcoming the deep social prejudice engendered by this conspiracy is to celebrate the changes in our bodies as we age and appreciate how those changes build our strength.
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