When Did Menopause Become a Disease?
Menopause as a disease, or as it is often called by feminist scholars, “medicalized menopause” entered the medical lexicon in the 1930s and 1940s. Yes indeed, ladies. What was once thought of as a natural, biological process signaling to women the passage into mid-life, has become a “disease” thanks to one very small group of American medical professionals. It will come as no surprise to you either, I’m sure, that defining menopause as a health condition requiring medical intervention, also coincided with the development of synthetic estrogen therapy as a “cure.”
The same feminist scholars also believe that the medicalization of menopause has only served to further perpetuate negative feminine stereotypes, gender bias, and notions of female inferiority, by suggesting menopause as a dreaded decline in health which places women in a condition of deficiency which needs to be fixed.
Personally, I’m not too inclined to totally disagree with this premise, as my experience has been that many physicians are far too quick to dismiss a woman’s symptoms of menopause as hysterical, irrational, unstable, or neurotic, though I am cautious about casting a wide net across the entire profession. There are many dedicated and compassionate healthcare providers, both men and women, who do not see menopause as some sort of biological decay requiring medical intervention. Neither do they treat women as if their symptoms are the result of an emotional or mental imbalance.
What I am more inclined to think, however, is that pharmaceutical companies have been extraordinarily successful throughout the decades, in weaving the narrative of “better living through chemistry” into the fabric of Western medicine. There is no doubt that medicine views all healthcare issues – menopause included - through a pharmacological paradigm, a paradigm which could not exist, mind you, without medicalizing healthcare issues.
So, while a legitimate argument can certainly be made that gender bias and negative feminine stereotypes are at the core of the medicalization of menopause, I personally tend to believe that the quest for lucrative profit margins is a much more insidious and contaminating influence in the medical treatment of menopause.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a capitalist through and through. I am a passionate free-market enthusiast who begrudges no one, small business entrepreneurs or large corporations, the right to earn financial profits. But when the quest for those profits results in medical collusion which attempts to shut out therapeutic alternatives (i.e. bioidentical hormone therapy) to “big pharma” solutions for menopause symptoms, well, I have a real problem with that.
I do not wish to inflame political passions or incite anti-capitalist uprisings. Lord knows, we have enough of that already. What I am saying, is that as healthcare consumers in this economically driven system, we have more power than we may think we have to influence what type of treatment options are available to us. When we speak with our pocket-books, and refuse to buy into pharmaceutical solutions for our healthcare, I can assure you, ladies, all good capitalist CFOs will sit up and take notice.
Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women’s health, and a women’s freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog.