The thing we have all been conditioned to believe about menopause is that once we are no longer fertile, we are nothing, worthless, in this society. It's just not true! (Die patriarchy.) Meanwhile, I will share are story that, when I first heard it, gave me a sense of empowerment and hope. Even if you find it to be a tad too "woo woo," it is nevertheless a good way of explaining our reality, or rather, a good story to help understand a woman’s body at each of its stages - and to heal your relationship with it, perhaps. It's shared with that goal. Here goes:
Women are blessed by the bodies they are born into because those bodies have the *potential* for transformation into distinct stages, bodily forms, not just once, but several times during the life of that body. With each transformation comes the ability to also transform and evolve/grow the mind - in wisdom, compassion and power
The body/mind of a child evolves into the body/mind of the *potentially* fertile woman upon onset of menses. The body that experiences menses and chooses to sensitize itself to that experience fully can become attuned to the movements of the moon - hence menses, which means “month” ultimately “moon.” Because the blood flows downwards each month, naturally without our mentally willing it, the body can become attuned to and connected to the earth, too. Hence, the fertile body has the potential to connect deeply with its biome. So, menses is a wonderful thing, the blood is not dirty but cleanses, and is a great blessing, it is not a "curse" as we have been told (again, Die Patriarchy), but I won't go into why here.
The fertile young body can become a new body before menopause, as it sometimes may become pregnant with new life. Pregnancy, in other words, creates a new body, another stage to inhabit and explore for a time, experiencing the sacred and mysterious sharing of the body with another human, intimately, as well as becoming the portal for new life and the experience of labor and delivery. Not all obtain a fertile body, nor do all explore the opportunity of the pregnancy body - either through choice or circumstance. Nor does the life-bearing body signify that the identity associated with that body is somehow "more of a woman". Not at all. It is just a body (besides, the soul housed in it is genderless, ultimately.) If it is someone’s fate to bring new life into this plane of existence, great - but the pregnant body is just another potential body/form - that is all. Still, this form is also abused by patriarchy, as the control and management of the pregnant body has been ripped from those who experience it, although I sense lately a positive shift towards the sovereignty of the pregnant body. (Again, Die, die Patriarchy.)
Meanwhile, the body of the fertile young woman is most valued in modern culture, if “value” is even a good term for it. Still, we can all sense that we are conditioned by patriarchy to admire and desire that stage of the body most of all - and conversely, to judge and even hate our bodies if they do not fit this “ideal.” Yet this body cannot escape patriarchy, either, because it is objectified by its admiration—that is, it may be admired, but its sovereignty and autonomy is not respected. Yes, it is the body that is most often sought to fulfill desire, or even “love” - but I suspect rather, that the form of love or desire is wrapped up in “ownership” far too often. If that body resists ownership, then that body is sometimes destroyed by those who cannot handle being told, “No.”
Still, it is the ideal of our forms, and thus, far too many of us try to sustain this youthful body well beyond its shelf life, and we exhaust and deplete ourselves when we do so - which is why when we finally hit menopause, the “change” becomes so very difficult for many of us. Mostly because we approach it with anxiety, dread, fear, grief and loathing born of conditioning, and we enter it depleted and exhausted because our society usually puts the greatest burdens and responsibilities upon us during the time of life just before menopause, too. All of us are expected to work very hard to sustain our own lives, careers, families, homes, fearful of not “having it all” - and in the West at least, women at this stage do not enjoy the aid and comfort of the wise woman elders of our society, which historically up until very recently helped shoulder these great burdens.
Not only are most of us alone in managing this responsibilities during this very busy time, we are also conditioned to punish, abuse, starve, sculpt, stretch, shape, abrade, and generally do violence upon our bodies in order to sustain the idealized "fertile maiden" body for as long as possible. (I did this, too, for too long.) When, in fact, we should be resting as much as we can *whenever* we feel tired, in order to sustain/build resiliency to manage the next change: menopause.
So, the body of the child and the body of the pregnant woman are not as valued as the fertile young woman here. But, the body of the elder woman is the least valued, if at all, in our culture. Many of us in society, regardless of how we identify ourselves, perceive the body of the old woman as abhorrent. Many of us don’t even acknowledge it at all: the menopausal woman becomes invisible - and thus, unseen, nothing, worthless. The menopausal body is thus feared and looked upon with disgust, dismay and grief by those who are fated to inhabit it. Die die die die patriarchy.
But, the menopausal body is the body of the wise woman elder. The body that has experienced loss and joy, grief and happiness, the body that has learned lessons and experienced shocks and sufferings and gained resilience, patience, compassion, empathy and yes, wisdom - deep, deep wisdom - and with those life experiences, great power, too. Menopause, the stage of the wise woman elder, is something to be celebrated, not feared. We come into our own.
Dismantling this old story of oppression and negation, a false and evil story that tells us that the ONLY the body afforded a questionable “value” is the one we inhabit when we are young, fertile and beautiful, is a truly vital part of dismantling and ending the oppression of ourselves as individuals, oppression of women, and the hierarchy of domination and control that mostly men have over women and children on this planet, too, and all the systems upon which this domination have been built.
I heard this story a decade ago, albeit, my teacher, Nancy Gilgoff, just touched upon the stages for me, and shared the idea of the different "bodies" and the blessings of each body; the rest here are my words, born of a decade of ruminating upon the story and digesting it. But, it shifted something in me when I heard it; before it, I had been afraid of menopause, sensed it looming ahead of me with dread and anxiety. But, once heard, I thought long and hard about this story, and it was the beginning of an emancipation that literally changed who I was, changed my relationships with my husband and children, made them more healthy and whole. And, it changed how I experienced menopause, too. Once I digested this story, I found I no longer feared menopause, and actually looked forward to what was coming. And, I had an easier time than most. I entered into it finally this past year: my last menses was in February. I am so happy and proud to be a wise woman elder now.
In short, it's important that we understand how we've been conditioned to fear menopause. And I tell you, dear friends, even if you are in the midst of it now (and if you are, Congratulations, I am happy for you, and you are most welcome to this stage, my sister!) it is never too late to embrace your menopausal body: the beautiful body of the wise woman elder. And, it’s never too late to embrace and embody your inherent power—a power which goes beyond all forms.
I love this new body, this stage of life, and the wisdom and power it holds. This body is beautiful and strong and rooted in awareness of its true value and its rightful place in the consensus reality we share. This body gives NO fucks. This body is unafraid to speak truth to power. This body is wise and wonderful, and sweet and soft if it wants to be, but underneath, is as strong and resilient as the roots of a strong, tall, majestic and dignified tree or mountain.
If what happened in our nation's capitol this past Wednesday angered, saddened and disturbed you, and made you feel helpless, then I offer this story to you for your emancipation and empowerment, regardless of your gender identity. Digest it, and perhaps some day you will embrace it, too, or not. It's just a story. But, we need new stories to help free ourselves from the old, limiting, oppressive stories of a weary world which keep us enslaved and hating our bodies, perhaps addicted to the gaze of objectification, in thrall to society’s judgment of our bodies, or suffering from self-loathing, at every stage of our lives.
This story freed me; I hope it frees you, too. May we all find our way.
Elsewhere on the web...
You can listen to an interview of Michelle Ryan on Energy Matters Radio with Reiki practitioner Caroline Ruderman describing Ashtanga/Mysore yoga and her approach to teaching and studio ownership. She's also been interviewed twice on the J. Brown Yogatalks Podcast. Michelle is also an artist and writer, and has been published in Dark Mountain.