After spearheading the U.S. legal playbook for menstrual equity, Ms.’s Jennifer Weiss-Wolf recently remarked that menopause advocacy seemed like the obvious “postscript.” This past April, she partnered with Dr. Sharon Malone—a nationally recognized physician and expert in women’s health and menopause care—to co-author a Washington Post op-ed, “America lost its way on menopause research. It’s time to get back on track.” (You can also check out Malone featured in The Michelle Obama Podcast episode, “What Your Mother Never Told You About Health with Dr. Sharon Malone.”)
Their Washington Post op-ed became the catalyst for a new bipartisan bill, The Menopause Research Act of 2022, recently introduced in the House by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.V.) and Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa). If passed, the bill would require the National Institutes of Health to conduct an evaluation of menopause-related research, coordinate a plan of action to resolve apparent gaps in the research and identify further research needed.
I spoke with Weiss-Wolf and Malone about the House bill, the ways in which menopause has been pushed to the margins of federal health research and what new investments could mean for women experiencing menopause. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
The Menopause Research Act of 2022
This bill provides an opportunity for us to come back and get it right, about not just menopause, but about women’s healthcare in all arenas.
“A large study that was done almost 30 years ago was supposed to answer some of these long-term health issues and questions that we’ve had about menopause. It was halted prematurely—a move that caused irreparable harm, not just in terms of the medical knowledge that we weren’t able to gather in these 20 years since, but it also really put the kibosh on new research.”—Malone
“I think our combination made for a pretty good rallying cry, and we’re thrilled to see Congress respond to our op-ed.”—Weiss-Wolf
“We don’t spend enough time, effort and resources on women’s healthcare, and particularly when it comes to women of a certain age. This bill provides an opportunity for us to come back and get it right, about not just menopause, but about women’s healthcare in all arenas.”—Malone
“I view policy as having both a micro and macro effect on society. The micro effect is what the bill actually does—in this case, the funding of menopause research that is wholly needed. The macro level is normalizing talking about menopause, prioritizing menopause and making it a part of proactive agendas.
“Policy demonstrates what we value through the kinds of laws we pass. Policy shows us who is important in our society.”
‘Double Whammy’: The Stigmatization of Menopause
“There are stigmas attached, certainly, to our bodies and to the way they work. And there are also stigmas attached to aging. So you have a double whammy with menopause.”
The Societal Impacts of Menopause
“People who go through menopause are fully engaged in the workforce and lead so many facets of society—whether it’s business, government, entertainment, you name it. These policies matter not just to the people who are experiencing menopause, but to all of society.”
“Fifty percent of the population will go through menopause. … Menopause is a non-optional activity. … Menopause should matter as much to men as it does to women.”—Malone
Intergenerational Preventative Menopause Care
“The time to have discussions about menopause is really not when women are already going through menopause. It’s important for young women to have this intergenerational conversation with their mothers, older sisters and aunties. It matters what your mother’s menopausal transition journey was. … It’s the plain old adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Menopause at the Margins of Medical Research
Big Pharma has decided they’re not going to focus their time and energy on women.
“We have to take ownership for this in the medical community. We have not adequately prepared women. I use this analogy all the time: Imagine if you entered puberty with as little information as women into menopause. The downstream consequences of that would be huge.”
“We call for menopause training and menopause care to become part of the medical education process in a way that is much more wide-reaching and full-throated.”
“One, we have to educate patients. And two, we have to re-educate doctors.
“In some cases, for the new generation of physicians coming up, we have to make sure that they get adequate training, so they know how to take care of women of a certain age.”
“Our sexuality and our ability to function as sexual beings is still very much regulated by our options. … I think it is easy to see how much money has been spent for men on research and development of [erectile disfunction] drugs—like Viagra and Cialis—versus just simple treatment for women and their sexual issues and dysfunctions of a certain age.
“The people who are making decisions about what studies to do and what to advertise vastly overshadow our issues… and not only by ED drug companies, but even how to regrow hair for men. This is sort of where Big Pharma has decided they’re not going to focus their time and energy on women.”
“There’s no incentive from pharmaceutical companies to tackle this issue. It’s got to be a government led effort to get these answers. We’ve got more aging women now than have ever existed… If we don’t get a handle on this now, and find answers for the coming generations, we’re going to be in an even bigger world of hurt than we are now in terms of a crisis in our healthcare.”
“I hope that we’re getting to a new place where we come to a new understanding, so that the next generation won’t enter menopause with as little information as our generation did.”—Malone
Embracing the ‘Power’ and ‘Potential’ of Aging
We should be trumpeting aging the same way that men swagger through it, the way those ED commercials tout solutions.
“I happen to love this stage of life. There’s a lot of comfort, there’s a lot of power and there’s a great sense of self identity and belonging. You have a different relationship with your body.
“Maybe there’s some kind of subversion in sharing this side of it. But I think we should be trumpeting aging the same way that men swagger through it, the way those ED commercials tout solutions. Menopause and growing older is not a dirty secret. It’s phenomenal. … I’m sure there are loads of different experiences. But, there’s just so much potential that comes with aging. I’d love to see more of us owning that.”
“There is a lot of life, and a lot of productive life, after menopause… This is the time in life when we know the most, and we have the most experience to let someone know however we’re feeling. To not be able to get solutions for what we’re feeling, and what would make us abandon our workplaces, is a travesty.”
Menopause Visibility in the Face of Attacks Against Reproductive Rights
We need to be able to choose how we want to negotiate this fate, this next phase of our life.
“What we’re experiencing right now in the U.S. is nothing short of devastating. And it is all inextricably connected to how we think about our agency and our bodies and our sexuality… So, all of this – including menopause, menstruation, abortion, pregnancy outcomes, maternal health, maternal morbidity – is part of the same equation. And it’s driven by racism and misogyny. This is all of our fight to be had.”
“All of this is really rooted in a woman’s right to choose, to choose when and with whom she chooses to start a family. … When it comes to menopause, we need to have information about how to enter this stage, information that allows us to choose whether or not to have hormones. We need to be able to choose how we want to negotiate this fate, this next phase of our life. And for far too long, we have not had the agency to do so.”—Malone
October is World Menopause Month. Ms. readers interested in advocating for menopause can take action in three ways:
- Call your member of Congress to urge them to support The Menopause Research Act of 2022.
- Make similar demands of your state and local representatives to call attention to menopause.
- Break the stigma yourself by talking and sharing stories about menopause.
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