What fresh hell is this?

Heather Corinna's take on menopause

‘Lube, lube, lube, lube, lube, lube, lube: In the event you’re not already a superfan, and shame has gotten in your way of using a slippery vat of lubey goodness, hear this: Lube is not a bummer or something to be embarrassed about. Lube is gravy on potatoes, pomade on a pompadour, or warm, melty syrup on pancakes, for crying out loud. Lube is a glorious thing that can make a potentially already good thing anywhere from a little better to downright magical. When George Harrison was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Marc Mann, Steve Winwood, and George’s son Dhani were already doing a gorgeous version of “My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Then Prince slithered out and lit the whole thing up with a guitar solo a thousand times more delicious and amazing than you even expected it to be, and you already expected it to be pretty incredible, because Prince, okay? Lube is that guitar solo.’ (p.225)

‘What fresh hell is this?’ is a self-help book about menopause that is somehow different from most books of this genre. The book is wickedly funny, and in contrast to many other menopause self-help books, it acknowledges the vast diversity of experiences when it comes to one’s ovaries shutting down. Corinna’s carefully crafted inclusive language is quite refreshing. The author does not just address the abled, white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, female-presenting people like most menopause books do, but rightfully reminds the reader that it is not only women who have ovaries and takes into account that different intersectional positions require different pathways and solutions. By foregrounding the knowledge and experiences of those who fall outside the norm, the book provides readers with different lenses that may make them see their own experiences and challenges in new ways; an approach that makes the book stand out. Even though it repeatedly reminds the reader that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and there is no universal right or wrong, it nevertheless contains a remarkably high amount of do’s and don’ts and advice on how one should deal with what menopause brings about. Yet the book’s queer feminist angle makes it digestible even for those allergic to the self-help genre. Corinna does a lot of effort in considering the complex and varied ways in which patriarchal power shapes menopause, while they also warn against messages that tend to reduce menopause to nothing but the result of patriarchal oppression. The author maintains that ‘[d]amn straight we need a revolution’ (p.137) yet without losing sight of other factors that may impact on the way menopause is experienced.

I certainly applaud the book’s nuanced approach, yet I believe the author could have gone further in unravelling the ways in which the material and the discursive are tied together, in particular when it comes to menopause as a discourse that works to reproduce the cultural pathologisation of women’s bodies. Corinna goes far in deconstructing norms and standards, and in unpacking the misogynous language that is often used when it comes to ageing, but is rather uncritical of what the use of the hormonal system as a lens to understand bodies—and bodies with ovaries in particular—does. They could have taken their deconstructive work one step further by adopting a stance that consistently highlights the ways in which knowledge systems not only affect how we understand ourselves as humans, but also shape our bodies and experiences. I would have liked more self-reflection on the political effects of the book’s use of terms such as menopause to refer to much more than the end of menstruation, and perimenopause (which means nothing more than ‘around menopause’) to extent the duration and magnitude of this event, and turn it in a somehow identifiable and measurable (and dramatic) phenomenon. This said, the book is an impressively unruly and funny contribution to the topic, and highly recommendable. I totally agree whith the book cover when it says: ‘With big-tent, practical, clear information and support, and inclusive of so many who have long been left out of the discussion—people with disabilities; queer, transgender, non-binary, and other gender-diverse people; BIPOC; working class and other folks—What Fresh Hell Is This? is the cooling pillow and empathetic best friend to help you through the fire’.

(review written by Katrien De Graeve)

Heather Corinna (2021), What fresh hell is this? Perimenopause, menopause, other indignities, and you. New York: Hachette Books.

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