Eleanor Mills, award-winning journalist and founder of Noon, Lori Meakin, an exec member of WACL, Co-Founder of Joint, Founder and CEO of The Others and Me; Megan Price, Co-Founder and MD of Be The Fox and Helen Normoyle, Co-Founder of My Menopause Centre continue to share their wisdom on the complex lives of women aged 45-65. Do they experience menopause as freedom or fresh hell? And why should some of this cohort, while enjoying unparalleled spending power and agency, be so underrepresented in the media... and the boardroom?
Is lack of support at work behind the figures from a 2022 survey that 1 in 10 women left their jobs due to menopausal symptoms?
ELEANOR MILLS: I would say it’s not just that, it’s what we call at Noon the midlife maelstrom or the midlife clusterfuck, of which menopause is part.
In our research over half of the women that we looked at aged 45 to 60, by the time they'd hit 50, had been through five massive life events all coming at once, things such as divorce, bereavement, health issues, redundancy, problems with elderly parents and teenage kids failing to launch/suffering mental health issues.
I wonder if some of those 1 in 10 women no longer feel the obligation to pretend everything is fine and keep on pushing through.
So while menopause is part of the maelstrom, if you look at the statistics, just 25 percent of women have a really bad time during menopause, while 75 percent of women, while they may be a bit uncomfortable, do get through it.
HELEN NORMOYLE: The biggest change we have seen since we launched [clinic, support centre and consultancy] My Menopause Centre two years ago is the interest from businesses to both educate their workforce on menopause and offer staff going through it access to a menopause specialist, paid for by the business.
Very often women struggle to get the support they need thought the NHS. Businesses see the benefit of this investment in colleague productivity and retention. So it’s good for the bottom line and also for the business’ reputation.
LORI MEAKIN: It’s important that we all think of perimenopause, and any of the 40+ symptoms that can come with it, as something that women live with/through, not something that defines them.
It’s what we call at Noon the midlife maelstrom or the midlife clusterfuck, of which menopause is part.
MEGAN FOX: Having read the Noon paper, and noting their finding that midlife women define success on their terms, it does make me wonder if some of those 1 in 10 women no longer feel the obligation to pretend everything is fine and keep on pushing through.
So, while we need to provide more support for menopausal women in the workplace should they want to continue their career, if they want to have a career break and that’s what’s best for them at the time, they shouldn’t be criticised for it.
Illustrations by Joe Totti.
How can there be a balance between not letting midlife women be defined by the ‘menopausal’ label, yet still making sure sufferers are fully supported?
MP: We need to start talking about menopause in a way that normalises it – a conversation that isn’t wrapped up in the negative language circling it as a problem. In this way we allow menopausal women to feel justified in their experience and ask for help if necessary. If we frame it as a moment of reinvention or transition, much like puberty, it starts to become a time of opportunity too.
LM: I’d love more of us to remember that midlife women are really stepping into their power, with a confidence and wisdom that’s immensely valuable to business and society. We need to be able to hold both realities at once – it’s not the case that we are either invincible warrior women or useless, washed-up old husks.
HN: Achieving the right balance involves destigmatising menopause while ensuring that women experiencing symptoms are supported. This can be achieved through education, awareness, flexible workplace policies, and open communication.
Maybe women who are getting to the point where they might be challengers are being put into a hot flush, menopause box… “Oh, don’t worry about them, they’re a bit hot and sweaty, and they’re losing their marbles.”
EM: Big companies are realising that they’ve got a brain drain of senior women but so far, any kind of focus on them in the workplace has been around menopause. That’s vital in terms of the health equity issue – doctors need to know what they’re dealing with. Until last year, it wasn’t even mandatory for doctors to have done any menopause training.
And yes, if you're having a bad menopause, you don’t want to get fired if you take some time off. But I also think there’s a danger of seeing all older women through that menopausal lens. We’re more than just a biological set of symptoms. To see us entirely through that lens does 75 percent of us a disservice.
For the first time, we’ve got a whole generation of senior women who’ve really got a shot at the big jobs. Yet we’ve still got vanishingly few senior women in top positions. If you look at the FTSE 100 companies, there are only eight female CEOs.
Society is quite scared of powerful older women. A wise old feminist once said to me, “Misogyny doesn’t go away, it mutates.”
Maybe women who are getting to the point where they might be challengers are being put into a hot flush, menopause box… “Oh, don’t worry about them, they’re a bit hot and sweaty, and they’re losing their marbles.” I also think that society is quite scared of powerful older women. A wise old feminist once said to me, “Misogyny doesn’t go away, it mutates.”
I think that people have a huge internal fear and internal ageism, because they don’t want to confront the reality of their mortality. A recent research from The Centre for Ageing Better found that over a third of people have deeply ageist attitudes, and we often have them as women ourselves. We look in the mirror and we judge ourselves and our wrinkles and we feel bad about ourselves. That’s something our culture has taught us to do.
Will true equality of opportunity ever be achieved while women are still so judged by their looks? And are some women complicit in this?
LM: Pamela Anderson recently caused a storm at Paris Fashion Week by doing something that millions of men do every day - turning up without makeup on. I saw so many headlines saying she was “brave” to do so. What does that say about how much pressure we put on women to perform for the male gaze?
Madonna has had weird facial surgery, while The Rolling Stones can just go on stage in their eighties and just go, “I’m fucking cool, here are my wrinkles.”
The answer lies in the masculine superiority myth: society still considers things coded as female/feminine as less valuable and aspirational versus things seen as being typically masculine. That’s why parents are more likely to encourage their daughters to play football than their sons to play with dolls. It’s also why so much of the humour, visual style and kinds of stories featured in many ads remains more blokey than girly.
As to whether women are complicit, I firmly believe in ‘each to their own’.
And as to whether women are complicit, I firmly believe in ‘each to their own’. Imagine if feminists spent less time fighting with each other and more time building a system that works better for all of us!
Personally, I’ll happily assume that any woman who loves fashion and beauty, or who wants to look glamorous and sexy, is also smart, driven and in charge of her own destiny, just as much as a woman whose aesthetic says ‘I don’t care about that stuff.’ .
MP: 'Looks' is a term weighted in judgement that adds further pressure to women to be something defined by others. It means hiding their true selves, which takes time and energy. However, if a woman wants to express herself through her appearance, suggest her character through her clothes, she shouldn’t be criticised. More fool the guys for not taking advantage of this form of expression. Appearance is only one form of creative expression that has been use by male and female icons throughout history.
HN: This is a great question that has layers of questions in it and for me, at least, I don’t have a straightforward answer – because it depends.
We need to emphasise the value of a person's skills and achievements over their appearance. The advertising and media industry can lead the way on this.
Why do women invest more in their appearance than men (though that too is changing as more and more men invest in their looks)? Is it for themselves? Is it to fit in with society’s expectations? Is it a bit of both? Do we even truly know ourselves how much we are conforming with societial expectations of what we should look like? (See the recent debate about Madonna’s appearance). Empowering women to make choices that align with their values, rather than societal expectations, is a step toward achieving equality.
Will we ever achieve true equality of opportunity while women are judged by their looks? No, we won’t.
The sexual double standard is alive and kicking. Young women are expected to behave and look like porn stars.
What can we do about it? Particularly in western society, we need to change our perceptions of, and appreciation for, ageing and beauty and emphasise the value of a person's skills and achievements over their appearance. The advertising and media industry can lead the way on this, given its role and potential to shape and lead cultural conversations.
EM: I’ve got daughters of 19 and 21, and I think the sexual double standard is alive and kicking. Young women are expected to behave and look like porn stars, and the boys they’re around have had their sexual dials set to extreme by all the internet pornography they’ve seen.
This is what I mean by misogyny mutating. We have a narrative that women have equality, that we can do anything we want to do, but underneath is the message, ‘You will be hot at all costs’. So what I’m saying about older women is actually really important for all women.
We’ve had 2,000 years of patriarchy and 100 years of women having the vote, so we’re really at the beginning of the gender revolution
It doesn’t matter how powerful you are or what you’re doing, the first thing you’re going to be judged by as a woman is how you look.
Madonna has had weird facial surgery, while The Rolling Stones don’t feel like they’ve got to make their faces look like a baby crossed with a koi carp. They can just go on stage in their eighties and just go, “I’m fucking cool, here are my wrinkles.” So, I think that women need to step up a bit and challenge the beauty stereotypes.
But I think you have to stay positive – it’s a lot better than it was really. We do have more rights now – we’ve had 2,000 years of patriarchy and 100 years of women having the vote, so we’re really at the beginning of the gender revolution.