Monetising the menopause

An Cailín Rua

POLITICAL AWARENESS GROWING  Senator Lynn Boylan at the launch of Sinn Féin’s Menopause Matters Survey in December 2021. Pic: Sinn Féin/Flickr.com/CC-by-SA/2.0

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

In January 2014, actress Emma Thompson received the Best Actress award the National Board of Review gala in New York City, for her role in ‘Saving Mr Banks’. Big Apple winters can be harsh, but Thompson was happily immune. “It’s such a cold night… it’s the only time I’ve actively been grateful for menopause,” the then 54-year-old actress joked during her acceptance speech. “I’ve been entirely comfortable.”
Back in 2014, it raised a few eyebrows, as pretty much nobody was talking about menopause, but then, Emma Thompson has never been backward about coming forward. She is consistently forthright and insightful about her experiences of getting older, including body image, challenging with dry humour and honesty Hollywood’s aversion to the terribly distasteful phenomenon of ageing women.
Many miles from Hollywood, it was not until May 2021 that the topic of menopause really landed with a bang in the Irish public consciousness. While Davina McCall’s ground-breaking documentary ‘Sex, Myths and the Menopause’ got the conversation going across the water, it was naturally none other than RTÉ institution Liveline that broke the news to this nation that ‘women’s troubles’ extend far beyond period pains and that ‘the change’ is far more than just a few hot flushes.
For five consecutive and revealing days, in what the current Taoiseach referred to as ‘an example of the best public-service broadcasting’, woman after woman spoke of their confusion when experiencing symptoms like depression, anxiety, inability to focus, painful night sweats, hot flushes, irritability and more.
There are, in fact, at least 34 known symptoms of menopause and perimenopause (the build-up to menopause) and each woman experiences it differently. Usually, it’s not a whole lot of craic. The most distressing aspect of many of these stories is that woman after woman was fobbed off by GPs, despite symptoms reaching debilitating levels, demonstrating an urgent need for both education and empathy among the medical profession and in wider society.
Therefore, in what is a rare moment of praise in this column for the current government, it is heartening to finally see women’s healthcare being prioritised with a proactive approach being taken to support women in this natural phase of their lives.
In her recent guest column in this paper, Senator Lisa Chambers correctly stated that menopause has been taboo for far too long, and indeed, she herself has in recent years put considerable effort into shining a light on the topic and working on policy. A significant investment means a total of six specialist menopause clinics around the country will be open by the end of this year.
It is a wise investment; not only is it likely to result in more positive outcomes for women, but it will be good for the economy too.
Mounting evidence suggests that a huge number of women end up either leaving their jobs or retiring early due to menopause symptoms. The associated cost of recruiting and replacing these women in the workforce and training their successors runs into billions annually. Of course, nothing is perfect, and unsurprisingly, overwhelming demand combined with chronic understaffing in the health system means that waiting lists in certain clinics are already months long, with access dependent on location.
Of course, the increased awareness of the menopause has also precipitated a gold rush. While women await appropriate medical and workplace supports, and deal with serious issues like a shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the market has swooped in.
Women Of A Certain Age are now being bombarded with apps, menopause skincare, clothing, greeting cards, underwear, more apps, shampoo, perfume and even menopause cookware (the mind boggles). Brands never miss an opportunity to sell us stuff we think we might need, and research conducted by the Female Founders Fund in New York last year identified a $600 billion opportunity for companies in the ‘menopause market’.
There is undoubtedly a market. (A Kantar study in May of this year stated that 76 percent of women undergoing menopause don’t feel represented by brands, and maybe that’s because they rarely see women like themselves in advertising campaigns.) But women don’t need special clothing or shampoo or gimmicks.
What women do need is for companies who are monetising menopause is to stop monetising female health issues and regarding women as hormonal walking wallets, and instead start prioritising their welfare and wellbeing in the workplace. Investment into education and training of management, and the implementation of flexible, supportive working arrangements for women would be of huge benefit.
Instead of corporates trying to sell unnecessary things to menopausal women, maybe companies should recognise their value and experience within the workplace and pay them appropriately. Maybe women themselves will eventually monetise the menopause. Facing into a cold winter of soaring energy costs, a hot flush on a cold night doesn’t sound half bad. Maybe Emma was onto something.