Wage-earning women in Britain have found their voices in yet another singularly female affliction requiring workplace concessions – menopause.
Apparently, women of a certain age, roughly 45 to 55, are suffering consequential menopause symptoms in sufficient numbers to warrant accommodation. A report found that “droves” of women are leaving jobs and careers because they can’t take the heat, so to speak. Hot flashes, which occur when estrogen supplies naturally decrease with age, is the most-oft cited complaint.
Menopause, in other words, has become the latest special-interest category requiring consultants, legal teams and workplace seminars so that women can attain full equality while also demanding that no one notice that women have special needs. Actually, they do – and always have. I would argue – and most mature people of any gender would agree – that being a woman is immeasurably more physically and emotionally challenging than being a man, thanks to undeniable biological differences.
But not all special needs are equal. Nor are all women. Some suffer from more menopause symptoms than others. Some, yours truly included, hardly notice changes sufficient to warrant much attention. Most women of my generation, I’d wager, wouldn’t have considered mentioning any related grievance lest they/we be viewed as whiny babies who couldn’t compete with men on a level playing field. Upon hearing about this latest movement, a friend clucked her tongue and said, “Oh for God’s sake, I worked up until the minute I gave birth.” (I, on the other hand, had to spend the last three months of pregnancy confined to bed. So ... everyone’s different.)
Would it irk the younger generation of middle-aged gals to hear that they’re not as tough as their older sisters and foremothers were? Perhaps boomers were unlucky in their placement on the great feminist timeline, thinking as they did that being tough was essential to equality. In my first newsroom job in the late 1970s, I was one of only three female reporters. We all felt the waves of testosterone swirling around us, and did what any self-respecting, necktie-wearing plebe would do: We tightened our corsets, pulled up our big-girl breeches and became guys – cussing, smoking and slogging beers into the wee hours because that’s what the boys did. And because, of course, it was outrageously fun.
We wouldn’t have acknowledged a bad “female” day if you’d put a gun to our heads – and it remains that way for most of us today.
Not so a rising generation of women-of-a-certain-age, who will discuss their vaginas at the drop of a hankie. This is partly because they were weaned in a much more, pro-woman, go-girl world that celebrated everything their mothers had tried to conceal or ignore. Honorable mention here goes to Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” the 1996 play in which women shout about their private parts as a revolutionary act – a taking back of what man, and mankind, historically had plundered. Such talk is almost commonplace now.
Admittedly, menopause is a bitch. Hot flashes, mood swings, cognitive difficulties, depression, sleep disturbances, heart palpitations – all are listed as possible side effects and I’ve had my share. But are they simply consequences of estrogen fluctuations? Not according to Harvard Medical School, especially regarding depression.
“Over their life span, women have more depression than men,” reads the menopause section of the Harvard Health Publishing website. “But there is no evidence that decreased estrogen alone causes clinical depression.” Otherwise, all the other effects except hot flashes are also frequently found among men of a certain age, says Harvard. To be blunt, it’s called aging.
Flushing and sweating through a hot moment at work, or anywhere else, is obviously uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing, though most flashes come during the night, resulting in sleep loss and next-day mood swings. Put another way: Sometimes we don’t get enough sleep, which makes thinking clearly the next day harder. But must we revise workplace sensibilities and, possibly, policies accordingly?
The British menopause website Henpicked would say, “yes.” Aimed at employers, Henpicked promises to “make it easy to get everyone talking about menopause,” and offers seminars to get bosses and colleagues up to speed on the challenges that come with the change. A few related lawsuits have already resolved in women’s favor. And a top British executive brought attention to the problem in 2018.
Maybe it’s all for the good, but this chapter in feminist-driven social evolution only reinforces long-standing prejudices about women’s capacity to compete equally with men. Older women, meanwhile, have far greater concerns related to aging and job security than whether co-workers are sufficiently schooled in their hormonal constancy. We surely can’t afford to lose experienced women in the workplace, but one does rather miss the Brits’ famed stiff upper lip.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.