The idea of aging for women in North-American society is often closely associated with menopause, or as Lock suggests, the Menopausal Woman. (Lock 305) Through inquiries over different times and spaces, this figure has developed a negative connotation – an older and crankier woman who is no longer able to contribute to society reproductively, or productively, and who is physically and emotionally un-appealing to men. The very language Lock uses surrounding menopause is subject to negativity: ‘Let us trace the invention of the Menopausal Woman in Europe and North America, her reduction to the menopause, and still more recent demotion to a deficiency disease and an endocrinopathy’. (Lock 305) Lock uses this harmful language to reiterate menopause’s negative symbolism for women throughout history in Western culture.
‘Medieval descriptions of women in the autumn of their life’ depict aging men and women in very different realms, ‘whereas men at maturity were associated with wisdom and perfection, women were described as cold, dry (Younge cited in Dove, 1986, cited in Lock) (…) “and no longer pleasing to look on”’. (Dove cited in Lock, 306) Lock points out that this type of language and discussion of older women in science, medicine, and society ‘profoundly influence[s] the way the medical profession and the public respond to female life’. (Lock 305) This can be seen almost everywhere in today’s society, from anti-aging creams, to injections to reduce wrinkles and restore firmness of the skin, to styles of clothes intended to make you look younger, hair removal and dyeing hair color, to altering hormonal make-up, and most of these ploys are most harshly pushed towards women. Yes, in this capitalistic sphere men have aging prolonging tactics thrown at them too, however the weight of such markets and pressure is put primarily on women due to the prevailing image and thoughts about ‘the Menopausal Woman’. Men mature into beautiful creatures with exuberant knowledge about life, while women are quick to become cantankerous and ugly. This was the foundation for the negativity associated with women’s minds and bodies experiencing this stage of life.
In Lock’s chapter, ‘The Making of Menopause’, middle-aged Japanese women were unwilling to ‘postulate the existence of a universal experience’, when describing the end of menstruation amongst themselves and Western women. (Lock 303) Konenki, or the turn [change] of life; the critical age; the menopause, (Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary cited in Lock), is a word in Japanese for the experiential phenomenon of aging women. Some women believe it is directly associated with the end of menstruation, while others do not describe a direct connection. (Lock 3) The Japanese women that Margaret Lock interviewed were differentiating the aging experience of their cultures and traditions from that of Western women’s. Konenki and menopause are words with different emphases for women’s experiences in the aging process. Experiential accounts of menopause and aging among American women vary in levels of negativity, positivism, and mixed feelings. (Lock 381) Women have different experiences with aging and the end of their menstrual cycles within cultures, and across seas, this cannot be disputed.
Comment from Leslie
Excellent article – must read for women going into menopause.