25. Menopause and medicine

Louise Foxcroft: Hot Flushes, Cold Science

Hot Flushes, Cold Science cover

“There was a physician called John Fothergill in the late eighteenth century who said that it was amazing that women had been taught to dread this natural phenomenon.”

As Louise Foxcroft’s sometimes shocking history of the menopause shows, Fothergill was very much in the minority.

The medical profession in Fothergill’s day was just beginning to cotton on to the idea that the menopause offered a lucrative new subject for treatment.

Earlier centuries had viewed the cessation of female fertility as also marking the end of a woman’s meaningful existence, but the medical profession saw in what came to be called the menopause a business opportunity.

If the menopause was pathologized – treated like a disease rather than a process – then medics were on hand to offer a cure, or at least a course of treatment.

This was not, of course, the result of some deliberate policy so much as the outcome of the increasing professionalization of medicine, the growth of an affluent middle class, and an underlying misogyny that viewed women as natural invalids and their sexuality as something which required regulation.

Drugs, surgery, and diagnoses of mental illness have all been thrown into the mix in the last two centuries and neither the medical profession nor male society in general emerge from this fascinating cultural history with much credit.

Are there options today which avoid medicalization and what Germaine Greer has referred to as a time for “mourning”? Listen to the interview to hear Louise Foxcroft’s views.

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  1. Pingback: Books of the Decade - Louise Foxcroft

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