Ahead of world Menopause Day Caroline Harris, author of M Boldened: Menopause Conversations We All Need to Have, explains why she created the book and talks about the need for courageous conversations about menopause.
Caroline Harris met the experience of menopause with surprise: While the hot flushes were expected, the writer and former journalist was less prepared for experiences such as painful sex and vaginal dryness, which are rarely talked about openly.
“I realised I was very ill-informed,” says Ms Harris, who felt angered when she considered the knowledge gap she had encountered.
“Why is this not an issue? Why is menopause seen in such a negative way as well? And why are there such negative portrayals of women as they age?”
Ms Harris, who lives in the city of Bath, in the UK, began to research, and quickly sensed an opportunity to produce a book that could open up the range of public conversations about menopause.
“I wanted to hear a lot more about different sorts of experiences of menopause and hormonal transition, and I thought other people would too.”
The resulting work, M Boldened: Menopause Conversations We All Need to Have (Flint Books), fulfils that brief and more, exploring, across 21 chapters, how women, men (including transgender men), and non-binary people around the world are grappling with hormonal change.
Doctors, women’s health experts, advocates, politicians, writers, athletes, graphic artists are all among those who contribute chapters to the book, while members from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) also feature.
Ms Harris says the book aims to help in opening up the menopause conversation to voices that have thus far been less heard, and to be intersectional, not only emphasising a variety of ethnic, cultural and gender-diverse experiences, but also looking at menopause within religion and movements for justice and education.
“It can be quite a universalising experience in that I’ve spoken to and heard from women across the other side of the world who have very similar experiences,” Ms Harris says.
“But there are also many factors that will affect people’s experience of menopause, which can include cultural factors, work situations, family situations, religious faith… It challenges a lot of assumptions that we might have in a sort-of liberal, Western culture as well.”
Ms Harris also says she aimed to question what she terms the “medicalisation” of menopause, which can depict it as primarily a health issue, and about lacks and symptoms. The book also includes contributions that speak to how hormonal changes affect people going through menopause as a result of surgery or hormonally induced menopause, and also young people, who can experience what is known as Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI).
“There’s the standard story of menopause as something that happens when you’re in your 50s, you get the hot flushes and you’re in this situation,” she says. “But there is so much more to it.”
However, Ms Harris also believes biases around age stop people from considering the full depth of experiences that are linked to menopause.
“We have some very negative stereotypes,” Ms Harris says, “of the infertile crone, the dried-up old hag, and we have in our culture as well the emphasis on being young, attractive, fertile and not having a difficult relationship with one’s body.
“I think that has really affected it a lot so, along with the medical conversation, the contributions in the book really do shine a light on how we need to rethink how we think about older women, ageing and how we have more positive images of ageing.”
A separate way Ms Harris aims to broaden the menopause conversation in the book is by featuring nurses, because they are both “people who are caring for other people” and possess professional knowledge that may influence how they manage their own “menopause transition”, she says.
Ms Harris had also sought a global range of perspectives for the book, and there was an opening for an Oceanic-based organisation to be involved.
“I felt there was a gap and I wanted to hear from people in Australasia as well,” she explains, saying her research led her to contact the ANMF’s Assistant Federal Secretary, Lori-Anne Sharp.
Subsequently, there is a book chapter featuring four contributions from ANMF members addressing a broad range of experiences that working nurses face while also negotiating a personal understanding of menopause.
“I’ve had really positive responses from the nurses and it’s great to be able to include their accounts,” Ms Harris says, expressing her thanks to the participating members – Anita, Elaine, Faye and Sema – and adding she hoped it was a sign that more organisations would soon be able to honestly appreciate the effect of menopause on their workforce.
While Ms Harris has described the journey to complete the book, in a pandemic year no less, as “amazing,” she also hopes audiences who discover M-Boldened will no longer “feel alone”, stressing the book’s diversity of contributors.
“I hope people will see all of those different facets and appreciate the power of actually speaking out about something and not being afraid to do so,” she explains.
“That’s why we chose the title M-Boldened: all of the people in the book have had the courage to speak out publicly – to put their experience out there, not just for themselves, but for other people.”
M-Boldened: Menopause Conversations We All Need to Have (ed. Caroline Harris, Flint Books), will be released on 12 October, 2020, ahead of World Menopause Day (18 October).
To celebrate World Menopause Day the ANMF is giving away 10 copies of M Boldened: Menopause Conversations We All Need to Have.
For your chance to win email us in 25 words or less: Why conversations on shared experiences are important.
Send your email to: email@example.com Entries close 10 November 2020. Go to anmj.org.au for T&Cs.
M-BOLDENED: Menopause Conversations We All Need to Have
Caroline Harris (ed)
Publisher: FLINT BOOKS
The book can be purchased at : https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/m-boldened/9780750994064/