Despite having biological origins, menopause including the public expressions of the women going through it as well as the majority of the research conducted on it seem to be almost entirely socially constructed. Furthermore, menopause is typically cast, both societal and culturally in a negative light because of its implications of the ending reproductive processes in women which implies that society/culture seems to place a higher value on fertility and reproduction.
If this is true, it would serve to illustrate why so many societies are tipped in favor of male eminence as males do not undergo menopause as they can continually reproduce throughout most, if not all, of their entire life span thus males are valued higher than women assuming society is assigning value using a reproductive standard. The biological purpose of menopause has long been up for debate among scholars.
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From a purely intuitive biological standpoint, the act of terminating a female’s ability to reproduce seems to hobble that species’ very survival as now reproduction can only occur during a specified window in which a female has the willingness and the ability o reproduce. Essentially, menopause can be viewed as a “ticking clock” on reproductive success of a particular individual which in turn can affect the reproductive success of that individual’s species as a whole.
From a more academic standpoint, according to “current evolutionary theories of senescence, there should be no selection for post reproductive individuals” which renders menopause as a biological function counterproductive. (Piece 2001 p. 43). Several theories attempt to explain why menopause occurs but the most widely accepted of which is known as
The Grandmother Hypothesis which states that menopause is an “adaptation that facilitates grandfathering” as well as sustaining longevity essentially allowing a postmenopausal women to focus on her now fertile daughter(s) and to provide assistance to their offspring instead of directing time and energy in efforts to produce entirely new offspring however new revisions of the theory are now suggesting that menopause is only a “byproduct” of the women’s increased longevity. (Piece 2001 p. 44).
Despite the existence of numerous theories, the exact purpose f menopause has yet to be specified and this may play into why it is cast in such a negative light on the societal level. The very notion of a ticking clock bearing down upon reproductive success seems counterintuitive to the laymen. Coupled with humankind’s instinctual fear of the unknown and the fact the very reasons behind menopausal occurrence are not yet known, this allows societies and culture to harbor a psychological portrait that paints menopause as some nefarious, almost evil occurrence that rids women of their ability to reproduce.
This reproductive ability, on historical level, has been one of the foundational aspects of classifying “womanhood” in any culture. Thus any element that would serve to destroy this essence, logically should be and must be deemed evil so it should come as no surprise that the overwhelming majority of cultures located in a wide array of socio- economic climates, all seek to vilify the occurrence of menopause. Archeological evidence seems to support the fact the one of the foundational beliefs of almost every prehistorically society is the value placed on fertility and reproductive success.
Fertility Idols and Venus figurines show status and command a historical ideal of how women should be with their shapely fugue that exudes health and thus better reproductive success. So much emphasis was placed on these “sexual and secondary sexual characteristics of the female human… To the point of leaving the rest of the fugue-face, feet, arms, and so forth-either abstract or absent altogether” (Advisor, Softer, Page, 2007 p. 67). These second sexual characteristics are not Just present but rather dramatically, almost obtusely showcased. One of the toneless of Paleolithic elision is the emphasis placed on fertility.
Of course, the exact reason behind the carving of Venus figurines may never be acutely known however Just because additional research is being presented that may illustrate some of these figures may have had other uses (perhaps acting as an instructional model for basketry), they do offer a glimpse into the potential social norms that were at play during the figurine’s construction as the desires and a sense of both personal and communal identity can be found in the artistic choices that the carver chose to express in the figurines. Other societies have exhibited this innate sense of value of fertility.
Sumerian poetry expressing desire over their fertile mother goddess, the famous image of the Egyptian goddess Isis nursing her son as well as other examples clearly illustrate society’s age old obsession with fertility. It is then logically valid to assume that because it is a cultural and societal norm to value fertility there should exist another norm to look down and even curse the occurrence of menopause. These basic notions of typically negatively viewing menopause are not recent developments but ether the result of deeply ingrained cultural ideals that may have existed from the earliest formations of prehistoric humans.
Many of the experiences brought on by menopause in women are experienced as a result of cultural norms as opposed to biological processes. Cultural seems to not only view the experience differently but also attempts to dictate how women choose to express their symptoms which may, in turn, affect biology of the women experiencing them. In a study conducted with 75 women in different coloratura settings (Tunisia and France), researcher found that experiences were linked to social, not biological factors which implies that symptoms of menopause are not biologically determined (Delano et al 2012 up. 08-409). Additionally, most of the research conducted on menopause may also be socially constructed as well which provides testament to how culturally ingrained views can seep in and affect the initially objective scientific approaches of scientists. A large bulk of the research being conducted on the assumption that menopause is a time of “negative physical, emotional sexual change” with only a fraction of researchers ever sousing on any positive aspects of menopausal occurrence. (Wintering, 2003 p. 627).
These biases are often exemplified by the types of questions asked by the researchers with negative connotations (vaginal dryness, irritation, lack of sexual arousal) with surveys relying on outlaying factors and statistics that often paint a skewed picture of how menopause actually occurs and what the changes associated with it really are. These very biases are acting in accordance with the cultural expectations laid down by society which in turn “affects the biological changes for ex” (Wintering, 2003 p. 628) illustrating how overpowering culture can be if it can affect the very biology of the subject.
In the final analysis, the occurrence of menopause has been constrained, on a societal and cultural level, as an act that renders any women essentially worthless if their worth is viewed through a reproductive lens. If female’s sole biological purpose is reproduction, the occurrence of menopause destroys that forcing her into a position of subservience to males because they never lose their supposed biological purpose. This is a rather ugly and anorak assumption on society part that stems from long standing psychological notions of fearing that which society does not understand as well as assuming biology is the sole director of life.
Through this assumption, it is apparent that many cultural norms are not based on informed rationality but rather a perceived rationality. This is no better explained by the fact that post-menopausal women still live incredibly productive lives. Some would argue that there does not exist an actual intrinsic change between pre and post-menopausal women and that any difference s only an intangible, psychological one created by societal and cultural norms. So, what does this say about society is women are Judged using these norms? The question asked can only be answered by a self-reflexive look into ourselves.
Just because some of these cultural norms have weathered years of evolution and socio- political change does not mean they should be perpetuated into the future. If negative views of menopause really stem from our inner psychologists tendencies, the real challenge lies not in diagnosing the problem but in actually discovering a solution. Perhaps the best solution to help dispel these notions is to showcase studies that illustrate that post-menopausal women participate Just as actively on every level, both publicly and privately, as pre-menopausal women.
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