by Susan Kim
Years ago, I spoke with a retired advertising executive of the Mad Men school, who confided that the key to a good pitch lay in the skillful manipulation of two emotions: fear and desire. Having just co-written a book on the cultural story of menstruation, I know that this has certainly been the case in the way hormone replacement therapy has been sold to women over the decades.
Estrogen was first synthetically isolated in 1929, but it took aggressive and often misleading claims to make HRT standard treatment for middle-aged and older women in America. The book that put Premarin, the pregnant-horse-urine-derived hormone drug, on the map was Feminine Forever, written by gynecologist Dr. Robert A. Wilson in 1966. The battered copy I read recently featured a dewy, 40-ish babe on the cover; and inside, Wilson used a potent mix of both fear and desire, promising women the moon while playing off their insecurities: “Instead of being condemned to witness the death of their own womanhood . . . they will remain fully feminine.” “Women… shouldn’t have to live as sexual neuters for half their lives. Many physicians simply refuse to recognize menopause for what it is–a serious, painful and often crippling disease.”