The historian Susan Mattern argues there is no doubt there is some value to naming menopause as a concept. It has provided women with reasons and different perspectives and interventions on what can be sometimes very distressing symptoms. However she points out that modern medicine can have a tendency to locate cause and explanation inside the body vs society and environment.
Mattern writes – “for most of human history, people have seen menopause for what, as I argue, it really is: a developmental transition to an important stage of life; not a problem, but a solution” (2019, P. 6).
Mattern holds a space for the menopause (what she depicts as a post-reproductive period) as a significant life stage and essential for human flourishing. She argues that for much of human history menopause was not really considered a problem to be treated, and where it was considered it rarely had such negative connotations as it does today. She argues that for many this transition in life can be one of vigour and expansiveness. She uses the metaphor in the title of her book ‘The slow moon climbs’ as aligned with this phase of life.
In terms of historical and cultural meanings and understandings it does seem that our ideas around women’s experiences of menopause has definitely shifted over time. According to Mattern (2019) it is only in the modern era we have considered and discussed the menopause as a syndrome in need of medicalisation. She explores the influence of culture in the experience of menopause today and how the medicalisation of women’s menopausal experiences emerged.
Her book traces a plethora of historical aspects including evolutionary, philosophical, psychological and cultural understandings around the menopause and how meanings have changed. She gives insight about evolutionary theories of menopause, the role it has played in human society and strategies around reproduction and more general aspects of human society. She also dives into how modernisation has altered our experiences and notions of menopause quite dramatically. In my opinion it is a book packed with fantastic information and well worth a read if you are curious.
There are many aspects in both peri-menopause and menopause that can greatly impact our lived experience. This does not always have to feel detrimental. In some of my research many women have found it a liberating sexual experience whilst also struggling with some aspects. Often there are many different factors and impacts within the menopausal experience: physical, psychological, social, sexual, political, cultural and spiritual. Frequently they can feel like they are in conflict. Not knowing whether you should treat it medically or not can leave us at best feeling confused, at worst it can sometimes disrupt our whole lives in terms of its effect on personal relationships and work dimensions.
Whatever route you choose and whether you want to seek medical support, psychological support or just better understand the transition through your own enquiries, therapy can be a space to do this. I feel many transitional experiences can be incredibly meaningful and transformative despite the challenges they might bring. It can invite us to explore, challenge and question our beliefs and expectations and change how we feel, think and relate to ourselves and the world.
To enquire about psychotherapy sessions with Susanna, please contact her here, or to view our full clinical team, please click here.
Susanna Petitpierre, BACP Registered, is an experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor, providing long and short term counselling. Her approach is primarily grounded in existential therapy and she works with individuals. Susanna is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further reading by Susanna Petitpierre
Mattern, S. (2019 ’The Slow Moon Climbs’ The Science and History, and Meaning of Menopause. Princeton University Press: Princeton & Oxford.
(Book tracing historical and cultural understandings of this life stage.