The absence of the menopause in popular culture shows that it remains taboo and women pay the price, tells Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore
A woman rushing out of the door for a job interview suddenly feels unbelievably uncomfortable. She has to down a glass of water, take off her scarf and fan herself. Why, she asks her daughter, when they can make pacemakers, can they do nothing for hot flushes?
They have a conversation about womanhood being marked with the start of periods. The woman, Aurore( Agnes Jaouie ), tells:” Now my periods have stopped, what am I ?”
What a question. The opening scene of the charming French romcom I Got Life pulls no punches. Aurore is 50, she is struggling in all sorts of ways: physically, with menopausal symptoms; at work, where she is no longer considered attractive enough to be a waitress; in looking for employment, as a single mom of two daughters.
Yet this movie, is administered by Blandine Lenoir, has a lightness of touch, and we root for Aurore all the way as she bumps into her first love and negotiates a labour markets that ensure little place for her.
She satisfies an employment adviser who is also overheating and losing the plot somewhat. Women of a certain age will relate to this because it is so rarely seen in cinema. Ageing, itself, is taboo for women. Actresses often have to start playing mothers of adolescents before they even hit 40.
Amy Schumer’s great sketch where she stumbles upon Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus feeing a loading of patisserie to celebrate Louis-Dreyfus’s” last fuckable day” skewered brilliantly the male gaze that rules cinema, that narrows representation. Women suddenly become too old to play objects of longing, unless they are Meryl Streep.
The love that flowed to Frances McDormand this year was partly because we are so unused to seeing a woman that age be complicated, difficult and angry– as seen in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri- to not be defined by what is considered “sexy”.
The actual process by which girls age remains largely taboo, which is why I Got Life is a breath of fresh air. The onscreen invisibility of the menopause is a form of denial. Women often feel very isolated at this time, for where can they look to see their experience represented? Is the menopause something only to be dreaded, hidden, medicated away and denied? How, in 2018, is it still embarrassing to speak of it?
This embarrassment means it’s only really comedians who can raise it: Patsy and Edina, in Ab Fab, years ago were persuaded by Saffy to go to a meeting of Menopause Anonymous. Patsy is having night sweats but growls:” I detest gynaecologists- a human who can always seem you in the vagina but never in the eye .” Samantha, in Sex and the City, is tooled up with her vitamins, her melatonin, her oestrogen cream, progesterone- and, of course, a touch of testosterone to keep up that famous libido. In the sequel she is denied her treatment on the border of the United Arab Emirates so she takes to moisturising her is confronted with yams. As you do. The plight of the menopausal woman is both funny and desperate.
Or it is a grotesque sign of weakness. In House of Cards, the president’s wife, Claire, pauses too long by the refrigerator and a friend tries to talk about hot flushes. Claire is steely, and refuses to. A Lady Macbeth character cannot “give in” or be brought low by female biology.
But if we never see this stage of our life represented, then how are we to talk about it except in whispers or rushed conversations with overloaded GPs? This terrible secret is part of ageing. The alternative to get old is dying. I Got Life presents a woman falling in love with men and maintaining a lovely solidarity with women. It’s absolutely feelgood- and why not?
The reality is not very feelgood. There are 3.5 million females over 50 in the workplace, and 45% of them tell they have suffered menopausal symptoms difficult to deal with; many have considered leaving run. Half of them said their symptoms had stimulated their working life worse.
This is an awful lot of women suffering in silence, then: physically uncomfortable and impression unsupported. As long as we don’t have any kind of representation of menopause, in all its glory, then it will continue to be seen as a sign that a woman is somehow redundant because she can no longer reproduce.
If we were to talk more openly, we would find instead that many girls feel liberated, full of energy, be permitted to take over the world, and finally free from the demands of a society that values merely youth. As the heroine of this movie kickings off her shoes, dances, gardens, makes love, becomes a grandmother and hangs out with her friends, life in its messy route continues.
The idea that females may indeed be less concerned about how others consider them and eventually become more of themselves remains a story rarely told.
* Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist
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