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Don't Use Menopause to Excuse Mediocre Men
Sometimes it's normal to be enraged. In fact, sometimes it's encouraged.
Recently I stumbled across something that has really bothered me, and I want to share it with you. It’s an advice column that suggests the source of a woman’s anger and exasperation with her husband who is about as useful to their household as furniture that one must vacuum around is…(wait for it)...menopause.
While menopause can cause distressing symptoms for many, it is not a universal scapegoat for all negative experiences. In fact, it’s peak patriarchy to gaslight the normal, human response of appropriate anger as hormonal. And this is important to discuss, because I’m seeing a growing trend of blaming everything on the menopause transition (perimenopause) and menopause.
I can’t remember how I stumbled across this advice column in the Guardian, but I suspect it was via Twitter. You can find the link to read it here if you want the full rage experience. And don’t worry, if you read it and are appropriately enraged, I won’t blame your hormones.
Here is the dilemma that was presented by the original poster (OP):
I am 47, have two primary-school children and a marriage that is in slow decline. From our initial pre-marriage ideals of a kind of Scandinavian shared approach to parenting and marriage it became apparent that, in fact, our underlying approach was that of his parents. The expectation is that I do everything. Nothing is done in an abusive way, but there is a passive detachment which I see in him that mirrors his dad. In his side of the family, the women run around doing everything while the men watch TV and discuss the news. I have brought this up numerous times, both in frustration and anger and in calmer, sadder moments. My husband will acknowledge this when I am calmer and will try to be more of an equal partner, but after a short time everything falls back to how it has been.
I often think about being single. I am not interested in being with another man, but sometimes I find myself wondering if I would have a more equal relationship with a woman. I don’t want to break up because of our children. I have talked with him about splitting up, but he only laughs. Do I stay married? Or should I get out?
The advice is from Philippa Perry, and it was even more jaw dropping for me to learn that she is a psychotherapist! (Imagine me doing an epic side-eye).
She starts out with this cloying and patriarchal first thought:
For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…and we should add another vow along the lines of having to stay together when, despite our best intentions, we end up being like our parents.
Let’s be real. This “In sickness and in health” business mostly benefits men in a heterosexual relationship, because a women is far more likely to stay with a seriously ill husband, while a husband is far more likely to dump his ill wife. The number of women I have met in my medical career who are seriously ill or who have been and who were dumped by their male partner is enraging. Also, this husband hasn’t been living up to his vows for years, because he doesn’t care about the impact of his behavior on her mental and physical health.
Despite the OP having clearly explained she has asked repeatedly for help over the years, and that at times she has given way to anger (which seems very justified), the advice provided included this nugget, “But when you nudge him without shouting, he does respond.” Which sounds an awful lot like, “Dear, if you just wouldn’t nag, he could hear you.” And of course, this advice misses the point entirely. It’s not the OPs job to make her husband behave like a functioning adult, that’s his job.
But the absolute worst part of this advice, which could easily be from the Stepford Chronicles, is that maybe it’s not the disrespect of a reneged agreement to equally share the work that it takes to run a household with children and also not the day in, day out drudgery of cleaning children’s urine and feces, and making meals, and doing laundry that is is the issue. Perhaps, just perhaps, Philippa suggests, it is menopause.
At 47, it is possible your oestrogen levels are falling. At the beginning of my perimenopause I felt homicidal until I got some HRT. It is as though nature didn’t realise we’d still be rearing kids in our middle-age and thought we’d do well with less patience and more rage by now, but we are having children later and need our patience a bit longer, so it might be an idea to have a test to see if you are perimenopausal. And if you get HRT and find yourself more tolerant as a result, I do not suggest you let your husband get away with not sharing the physical and emotional labour of the home, but it may give you more patience when you remind him to think about what needs doing and not leave it all to you.
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
Let’s recap, so we can all take a breath. This woman describes a long-standing relationship problem in which in the year 2023 a grown ass man can’t participate 50/50 in HIS household. She did not say this was a new thing, this is a long-standing issues. She also also did not say she was homicidal, she said she wanted better, which is a REASONABLE REQUEST (yes, I am shouting). But heavens no, it couldn’t be the man, clearly this is menopause. The awful insinuation here is the OP is probably being too hasty and too unreasonable…too hormonal. Perhaps if she just takes some estrogen…if she medicates herself….cleaning the bathroom floor won’t seem so bad.
Many women might recognize this situation. It certainly struck home for me and likely why I am so fired up. It’s why I left my marriage when I was 45 years old (give or take a year, I can’t quite remember). In addition to being the primary breadwinner, I was the primary caregiver to twin boys. My stolen joy was grocery shopping by myself. No really, those 90 minutes was my self-care, which is fucking tragic. The alternative was navigating the aisles and checking out with that beast of a shopping cart designed for two kids, or dragging them around behind a regular cart. If you know, you know.
As hard as I knew divorce might be, I was in a soul sucking relationship where my status, like the OP, was best be described as “workhorse.” When I tried to discuss this, there would perhaps be a temporary change, similar to what the person above reported about her relationship, but often it was heavily implied that I was nagging.
It’s not nagging to ask a man to do an equal share of what it takes to run a household to which he belongs.
But what about the kids, people asked? And if they didn’t ask, they thought it. Wouldn’t they be better off with two parents in the same household?
First of all, what about me? By deflecting immediately to the kids, the insinuation is my hopes and dreams for a fulfilled and enjoyable life don’t matter. That I don’t matter. That I exist solely as a caretaker. Fuck that. I’m not the Giving Tree. I know some people love that book, but I had a visceral response of hate. It’s abuse to take and take and take. I decided I deserved better, and if better didn’t exist, being alone by myself would be preferable to being alone and married.
I also believed that taking care of me was taking care of my children and I didn’t want to set the example that a marriage which was literally draining my life force was aspirational. If one of my kids came to me as an adult and described my relationship as their own, I’d tell them to leave. In fact, I’d pack their bags.
Also, I hate to shatter the “two parent households are always better” contingency, but I came from a malignant two parent household. My mother screamed at my father for my entire childhood, and one unfortunate legacy was when it came time for me to date, I thought being screamed at wasn’t abnormal. In addition, my mother was deeply unhappy and bitter and often took that out on me. I did not want to become bitter like my mother, but I knew that is where I was headed if I stayed married.
If someone told me when I was thinking about leaving that my response might really be menopause I might have punched them in the face. It wasn’t my fucking hormones, it was the man.
And so I got divorced and I have never regretted it. In the end, for me the drudgery of being with a partner who was bad for me was far greater than the effort to free myself.
It is perfectly normal to feel rage when you are being mistreated.
I shouldn’t have to write that, but here we are.
There is a lot of inequality for many women in heterosexual relationships. The entire system is set up to tell you that you are nothing without a man and that you should find joy in cleaning up urine and feces and ironing and grocery shopping. I’m reminded of a Joan Rivers joke that I’m certain I heard on her 1983 album, What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most? To paraphrase, “He’s fifty years older than you with one foot in the grave? What a catch! He’s dead? Dress him up and bring him along, we’ll just say he’s quiet.” It’s a wry commentary on how a woman is nothing without a man and it’s tragic that bit still works at least forty years, if not more, after it was conceived.
Asking if it’s menopause when it is clearly the man is no different than asking someone who is appropriately angry with you if it’s “that time of the month?” Philippa might as well have told the OP that she was being hysterical.
Had this woman described a long-term idyllic relationship and now at the age of 47 found herself suddenly and inexplicably flying into rages as well as feeling awfully hot, discussing menopause would be appropriate. That was NOT what was described.
Why is the OP now feeling like she wants to leave at age 47? Maybe she has thought about it for years, and it has taken this long to get the courage to actually pull those words out of her head and put them on paper? Maybe it takes time and experience to understand what you want and figure out what is missing? Maybe it’s not possible to create space to think about what you want until your kids are a little older and you can finally breathe a little? Maybe this is the time it takes for the drudgery of childcare and running a household to erode the ability to suck it up? But whatever the reason, taking stock and wanting to fix an inequality has nothing to do with menopause, it is just chance that those two things happen to women in their forties. Blaming menopause is giving bad men a pass for shitty behavior.
Menopause (and this includes the menopause transition or the years leading up to menopause) can cause many symptoms for some people. I hear a lot about perimenopausal rage, and admittedly this is poorly studied. It is possible that feeling poorly, for example from hot flashes or sleep disruption, could affect anger threshold. Also, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can worsen for some women, and anger can be part of those symptoms. Depression can also be part of the menopause transition, and anger can be part of depression. And there is also data that tells us that those who are made to feel or who believe that menopause is an expiration data can have worse symptoms. However, the OP mentioned none of this. She discussed a reasonable response to an unreasonable situation.
While estrogen can help some people sleep and the birth control pill might treat PMS, they won’t do the laundry or the grocery shopping or make your lump of a husband contribute meaningfully to the household that he shares. Before jumping to menopause as a cause of a problem and estrogen as a solution, it’s important to step back and look at the whole picture, because sometimes your hormones have fuck all to do with it. Using menopause as an excuse for a mediocre man is a new low, and, quite frankly, it is epic gaslighting.
Sometimes it’s just the man.