Menopausal rage and erotic power

Article by Katrien De Graeve & Sara De Vuyst

In this article, Katrien and Sara examine contemporary views of menopause in the self-help literature on the subject. They selected a sample of nine recent Dutch-language self-help books and screened them for normative values and expectations as well as alternative representations. Their analysis draws on feminist critiques from the 1990s that sought to replace the dominant psycho-medical view of menopause with an attitude of resistance to patriarchal structures. These critiques, combined with recent insights from queer and feminist theory, open up possibilities for alternatives to normative pathways. In the self-help books, Katrien and Sara found, these possibilities are only marginally explored. The books can undoubtedly help take the physical and mental changes of ageing out of the taboo sphere. But none of the books go so far as to question the social structures behind the negative image of menopause. On the contrary, older female readers are encouraged (once again) to work harder on themselves, to work through their anger and frustration, and to embrace their new roles with dignity. Some of the books emphasise the erotic power that older women can use to turn themselves into goddesses. Although these spiritual interpretations can give women a sense of individual emancipation, they still confirm existing gender inequalities. Katrien and Sara therefore argue for a different approach. They point to menopause as an experience that can increase women’s understanding of systems of oppression, and advocate using the resulting anger to organise collective resistance.

De Graeve K & De Vuyst S. (published online May 2022) ‘Menopausal rage, erotic power and gaga feminist possibilities’. European Journal of Women’s Studies. doi:10.1177/13505068221094222
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