She’s a witch! A menopausal witch.
Did you know most women accused of practicing witchcraft were old and menopausal?
Jackie Rosenheck in “Mad with Menopause” wrote that thirteen out of the sixteen women accused of practicing witchcraft in the Salem Witch Trials were menopausal. That wasn’t an accident. In a patriarchal society that subordinated women, poor elderly women who were economic burdens were targeted, and those same women were attacked for being independent as well. If a woman managed to not die in childbirth and lived beyond her child-bearing years, she was considered useless and cast aside.
The blog site Positive Pause has an interesting list of why witches were victims of menopause in the 16th century. Many older women provided help with child-rearing or offered services like midwifery and homeopathy through healing with herbs. The term “Wicca” or “wicce” meant “wise woman” and later morphed into the word witch. The knowledge and experience of these “wise women” were highly respected. However, with the spread of Christianity, people began to fear the knowledge of the “wise woman” and accused them of being witches who conspired with the devil.
Women throughout history have been judged on their beauty and youthfulness, sexualized by men and society to sell products, and vilified for growing old. Hollywood is a perfect example of women being overlooked once they get past the prime young age. Recently, Geena Davis came forward with an accusation of ageism, saying an actor said she wasn’t young enough to be on screen with him despite being twenty years younger!
Natalia Boreka writes about how young women are being cast to play older parts in “Age in Crisis, How Hollywood Killed the Adult Female.” She writes “it’s unheard of for an actual 35-year-old to be hired to play a 35-year-old. According to an analysis of female characters in movies in USA Today, ageism continues. Only six percent of female characters were sixty years or older. Ten percent had male characters sixty years or older. Women over forty are stuck playing moms and grandmothers. Imagine casting a women over 50 to be the lead badass in an adventure movie or having a woman over fifty be a romantic lead in a film? As if women over fifty don’t have mind-blowing, exhilarating, satisfying sex? OK, I’ll admit. Menopause creates challenges for us.
The Attack of Menopause
Centuries ago, women did not live long after their child-bearing years. If they did, the Witches of Menopause attacked women’s bodies. They shriveled up with wrinkles and sagging skin as their backs became bent over. Their hair thinned everywhere except their faces where it sprouted over their lips, on their chins, and out of the ears. They developed skin moles and lesions from years of sun damage—the “devil’s marks.” Lacking the modern medicine of today, women had few treatments to help them.
In the 21st Century, women are still sexualized, and youth is worshipped over age and experience, but women in menopause are turning the tables by taking control of their lives and health to live a higher quality of life. With medical research and more attention to women in menopause, women have many options to help with the onslaught of symptoms that can leave us feeling helpless, hopeless, and unattractive.
Menopause is the cessation of menstrual periods for at least one year. It usually occurs between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five. Perimenopause can begin up to ten years before that. A women’s estrogen peaks in her thirties and declines every year after. Post menopause begins after one year of menopause but symptoms can continue for a decade or more. Every woman’s body reacts differently to menopause, but most women have some form of the symptoms.
So, what exactly are the “witches” of menopause?
“Bloated” – Weight gain and slowed metabolism. You know the feeling…your belly is like a bubble ready to pop? People ask you if you’re pregnant? No matter what you do, the weight just won’t drop off?
“Itchy” – Dry eyes, dry skin, dry mouth, and the dry “you know what.” I’ve got to admit. I never knew about these dry issues except for the dry eyes. A school secretary once told me, she could never wear contacts again after menopause. I managed to avoid most of that by drinking plenty of fluids, but I had no idea about the “itchy” skin. Out of nowhere, I’d wake up in the middle of the night with an uncontrollable itching on my left shoulder. I have scratched at it so much in my sleep sometimes, I wake up with abrasions!
“Forgetful” – Brain fog. Memory loss and poor concentration. Everyone forgets stuff, right? Where did I leave my keys? Where did I park the car? Who is the name of the woman you just met at a dinner party? Some are due to normal aging but a lot can be due to menopause-related brain fog.
“Sleepy” – Sleep deprivation. Wide awake at 2 a.m. and no idea why? Worrying about that alarm going off in three hours? How about night sweats? And the itchy skin? Some symptoms affect sleep as well.
“Sweaty” – Hot flashes, night sweats, and chills. One minute, you’re wrapped tightly in a thick, fluffy fleece blanket. Seconds later, you’re ripping off the top two layers of clothing and fanning yourself. You fall asleep with a sheet, blanket, and quilt tucked under your chin but wake up in the middle of the night with the covers thrown off, lying in a puddle of sweat. Some women suffer from miserable hot flashes but others barely notice them.
All of these menopausal symptoms can affect more than a woman’s level of physical comfort. It affects our mental health as well as our relationships with our significant others. Future blog posts will deal with individual symptoms of menopause, the treatments, and how to cope with them. There is no reason to just accept and live with the symptoms. The medical community knows so much more about how a woman’s body is affected by all the changes in menopause, and there are many options for improving your health to live a full and satisfying life.