by Sue McPherson

    A paper presented at the conference, Menstruation: Blood, Body, Brand.
                        University of Liverpool, UK, January 2003. 
Menopause is a process consisting of physical and hormonal changes in women's bodies happening alongside changes associated with ageing in general, and changes in women's family and social life. It is in part constructed through influences in society, some of which have been carried forward through earlier times in history to the present. Menopause signifies the end of the childbearing years, and for many older women is associated with the end of years of raising children.

In this paper I will introduce to you five women of the ten who participated in the research I conducted on menopause and women's lives. I interviewed the women, asking them about their experience of menopause, and their lives before that, and about such things as what womanhood meant to them.  Part of doing that research entailed sorting and coding the data into themes, with just a life summary of each of the women to tell about each woman's life.  This paper includes information from the life summaries of each of the five women combined with their own comments taken from the interviews.  The aim is to enable them to explain certain aspects of their lives, and about changes they went through at menopause, with femininity being the main focus.

The concept of femininity is based on traditional ideas of what it means to be a girl or woman.  Besides physical traits, certain psychological characteristics were assigned either masculine or feminine status  for example, men are competitive and aggressive, women are cooperative; men are more objective thus more capable intellectually, while women are considered more capable in interpersonal relationships.  These are out-dated measures of gender and of masculinity and femininity; nevertheless, they are still used to describe people, and still influence the way people expect men and women to be.  In this paper I will be looking into both the traditionally feminine and the masculine attributes.  Also important to note are the social and cultural influences on women's experience of menopause and growing older.  Women in their forties and fifties are in a period of their life recognised as a time of great change.  Midlife is a time when women may be peaking in their careers, returning to school, or starting a career after raising children, often as single parents (Gilbert, 1993: 110).  Women whose lives revolve around the domestic sphere may be seeking new ways of self-expression (Turner and Troll, 1995: 235), and career women may be considering embarking on a new path in life.  

The women whose lives I am telling about here were born during WW II and the years immediately following.  These women were influenced in childhood, not only by the effects of the war itself but by attitudes towards women's place in society.  Conflicting ideologies in the post-war period resulted in contradictory views about the place of women in society, whether it was with the family at home, or in the work-place.  Women participated in the labour force to a greater extent during the war, but were encouraged to give way to the men when it was over, many returning to the domestic sphere once it ended.  During this post-war period "professionals and politicians stressed the need to 'rebuild' the family, and attention focused squarely on the issue of 'adequate mothering' as the surest means to securing future social mobility" (Lewis, 1992: 11).  While some women who grew up during this time later had full-time careers, for others, being a wife and mother came first, while many women combined their domestic roles with paid work outside the home. 

Each of the women presented in this paper has a particular feature about her life that is quite distinctive.  Julia's life has been one of continuity, in many ways representing traditional femininity; Elizabeth's demonstrates differences between the traditional stages of the life cycle and how women lived theirs; Lisa's story illustrates the way language can be used to change the way menopause is perceived; Maureen, a member of the First Nations people in Canada, living in two cultures, provides an example of the native approach to ageing femininity; the last one, Gloria, was single and had no children at the time of the interview  but was approaching menopause. The names of the participants in the original research were changed to protect their identity.  Their identities remain confidential, although accompanying the stories in this paper are images representing each of the women - photos I have taken of women acting as models in place of the participants.

The first participant, Julia (Fig. 1), age sixty-three, describes herself as a "wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter. . . . we've been married 43-44 years", she says.   She worked off and on during her marriage but her main concern was to be at home when the children were there.  She began going through menopause in her late forties, she told me, when her menstrual flow became heavier and eventually, gradually, stopped altogether a few years later, when she was in her early fifties. During this process, she also became aware of her body ageing, but in general, she was very involved in family life and didn't give menopause much thought.
Fig. 1.   Julia
Julia's life represents traditional femininity and continuity, with her three children and seven grandchildren being a large part of her and her husband's lives: 

            I think for me, because I have family around and grandchildren, 
            and my oldest grandchild was a great part of my life, of our life. 
            She was here so much that on weekends that it was still like having
            children at home...So it was like a continuation, so I guess I never 
            stopped to think about whether I wasn't going to have any more 
            children ...she's almost like one of my own, like a fourth child 
            actually, so, I wasn't left feeling, like "Oh, dear, here I am, fifty". 

Nurturing and guiding other family members, including another generation of
children, is a source of satisfaction for her.  Often, women are more involved than men in maintaining family connections and negotiating between members (Connidis, 1989: 21). Although motherhood has been devalued in our society and, as unpaid labour, is often  considered demeaning for women, as Julia's story suggests, motherhood can be rewarding. Even so, as Julia went through her middle
years and her children became older, there were changes in her life.  She says, "I  suppose, mentally, emotionally, if you let yourself think about it, you realise you're coming to a close of one part of your life . . . and opening doors in other areas." 

Julia's involvement in church activities increased as her children grew older.  She joined the choir, eventually performing as a soloist, something that gave pleasure to others, and provided her with a sense of personal accomplishment separate from her family life.  But she does express doubt about how others see her.  She says,

                    I suppose I see myself as - maybe should be more independent, or should have been more
                     independent, for probably my own well-being.  Not that I'm not happy now, but what I mean 
                    is, and I don't know, this may be just because I see so many people around me in church, 
                    independent.  Whether they're married or not, they're doing their own thing too, and I don't 
                    know.  No one would look at me and say "Well, she does her own thing," I don't think.

Independence is usually viewed as a sign that adulthood has been achieved. It can be the sought-after distinction by which the worth of a person is determined, and traditionally would have been a masculine characteristic, while femininity would have been seen as equivalent to being dependent.  Karen Offen (1990) described two intertwined strands of feminism at the basis of European and American feminist thinking.  First, on women as mothers, she states that "relational feminism emphasises the family, the couple, or the mother/child dyad as the basic social unit of the nation" (p. 18).  On the individualist strand of feminism, she states: 

                    Prior to the midnineteenth century it was restricted to notions of moral and intellectual 
                    development for women; only recently have material conditions of immense prosperity in 
                    North America and Great Britain allowed it to flourish and dominate public discourse     
                    (Offen, 1990:18).

If the concept of relational feminism is recognised by feminists and by women in general, it would seem that it takes second place to individualist feminism.  Paid work contributes not only to achieving financial independence but is still an important part of a person's identity.  Women whose main work is performed in the home - in child-care or domestic duties - would be less likely to be considered independent than those who work.  Offen also refers to earlier notions of independence for women, based not on financial independence but on moral and intellectual development.  The emphasis in recent years, however, has been on economic independence and the responsibilities of paid work which contribute to a particular notion of adulthood based on traditional masculinity.   

As she ages, particularly since she turned sixty, Julia is more aware of the approaching physical limitations and loss of other forms of independence.  She has had to learn to live with a crooked leg, in particular, leading a somewhat less active life than many other people. Over time, she has become more comfortable with her leg - it's a part of her, she says, but not all of who she is.  In response to my question on what she has noticed about growing older, she says, 

                    Probably the loss of - whether it's emotional or physical - probably the loss of vitality. 
                    Becoming more aware of your physical limitations - your body changes - and it does for men 
                    as much as it does for women.  Maybe not right at the same time, I would say, but men certainly
                    do experience it and I suppose the big challenge is how you meet that change, how you deal with 
                    it, how you cope with it.  But there certainly is physical changes and emotional. 

Later she adds, 

                    But, yes, I would say . . . as each year passes - you become more aware that you're into a 
                    different period of your life . . . So all of a sudden I'm very aware that the road is probably 
                    getting shorter.  You know, you don't see that long stretch out there that once upon a time you
                    did when you were young.  You were just never going to get old.

Her views are not a direct example of femininity, and the theme of reflecting on the end of life is a common one for both men and women, but it may be that her way of thinking about it could be considered feminine.  Is it a sign of the feminine to admit human frailty?  Midlife is a time when men and women are likely to start to think about growing older, their increasing dependency as time goes on, and the end of life.  Miriam Gerson and Rosemary Byrne-Hunter (1988) point out that this is often a time of introspection for women.

As Julia told me, menopause meant that she could go off the pill and not worry about getting pregnant.  But she mentions also that such changes in the body are natural and part of the cycle of life.  She says, 

                    There's a mystery to life's cycles that we probably don't have the answers to.  The medical 
                    system may think they have, but there are cycles that go on in every life, whether it's an animal
                    or the human animal - the natural cycle . . . and then it's up to us to deal with it . . . this process 
                    that's going on in our bodies - probably learning to be tolerant and accepting and open.
Fig. 1.  Julia
The second participant is Elizabeth, age fifty-six, mother of three, with a postgraduate education (Fig. 2).  At midlife, Elizabeth's life underwent a transformation, as she explains: 
Fig. 2.  Elizabeth
"I have made huge changes.  My life is very, very different from, say, ten years ago before menopause...Before I even started to have any symptoms, any signs of menopause at all, I was then still married.  I'm now divorced.  I was living with family members.  I'm now living alone.  I was living in city X.  I'm now living in Y. I was employed in a completely different job.  I had a different circle of friends.  So much has changed.  I mean, I'm leading a completely different life". 

Elizabeth's life illustrates the difference between the life cycle of men and women of her cohort.  Erik Erikson (1982) based his eight-stage, linear model of development, depicting a continuous pattern of development, on the standard of men's life cycle.  From growing through childhood and adolescence, choosing a career and starting a family, reaching the height of their career, growing older and into the decline of life, it was men's lives that were the 
subject of analysis. That it was women who stayed home to raise a family, delaying their careers or not taking outside work, were roles in life not taken into consideration by Erikson's model.  For many women, raising a family came before establishing themselves as separate individuals.  

About menopause, Elizabeth says,

                    There's a slight sadness about knowing that I will no longer have any more children.  A slight
                    sadness.  I wouldn't say it's major because I don't think I would want to have any more children
                    really.  Just occasionally it's a fleeting thought that it's sad that that option is no longer open. 
                    But I wouldn't say that that's a big deal for me at all. 

Elizabeth had been aware of the significance of menstruation and menopause to her sense of herself as a woman since childhood.  She related to me how, as a child, she had read a bit in the Bible - in the book of Genesis - referring to Sarah being too old to have children, and she figured out it meant that she had gone through menopause.  The quote is Genesis 18: verse 11:  "Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women".  The end of the reproductive years may be a welcome relief, but is it possible it could also be tinged with sadness?  The capacity to bear children is unique to women, and is part of a woman's femininity.

 To keep her good health, Elizabeth tends her garden, takes walks on occasion and tries to pay attention to nutrition.  She also has regular medical checkups and takes hormone replacement therapy.  One concern is weight gain, which she finds difficult to control.

Elizabeth is single, and perhaps for that reason her concerns about ageing are different than someone who is married or has a long-term partner.  She says:

                    I don't enjoy getting older.  I'd like to stay young and beautiful forever and ever - young and 
                    strong and beautiful. . . Menopause means recognizing that one is no longer young, and no 
                    longer as strong and no longer as good to look at in the sense of the image that, um.  No, I 
                    think I can be more specific about this.  When I say beautiful or good to look at, I mean 
                    sexual attractiveness.  I would like to be sexually attractive forever.  And menopause, I think, 
                    has been for me some suggestion, probably quite a lot of suggestion, of the end of that. 

For the last four years, Elizabeth has been in a long distance relationship with a man several years younger than herself, but has no expectations that it will last forever.  Femininity, unlike its counterpart masculinity, has been associated with the ideal of a young-looking body, without wrinkles, and with curves in the right places - a youthful sexual attractiveness.  Studies indicate that, while both men and women may have heightened concerns about physical ageing and sexual attractiveness at midlife, women have to deal with the "double standard of ageing" (Hepworth, 1987: 148). The man with "craggy good looks" still has the advantage over women growing older.  Society has laid down the norm that the man in a relationship is older than the woman, and that the difference in age increases as they grow older.  As time goes on, it is coming to be more acceptable - and more respectable - for older women to be in relationships with younger men, although social expectations can vary depending on geographic region and particular cultures.    

Elizabeth mentions wisdom, a recurring theme in the interviews for the study, and one to which I shall return.  She says, 

                    I think I have the sense that by the time of menopause one ought to have acquired a certain
                    amount of wisdom, and I do remember that my fiftieth birthday was quite traumatic for me, 
                    not so much because I minded being in my fifties but because I felt that by age fifty I should 
                    be settled and wise and mature, and at that time I didn't feel any of those things.  I was in a 
                    very transitional phase . . . My life was pretty much in chaos, and I was not happy with it, 
                    and that contradicted what I thought should be the spiritual meaning of turning fifty, you know.  
                    It should have had more of a celebration of being wise and mature.

Fig. 2.  Elizabeth
Leaving Elizabeth, we turn now to Lisa's story.  Lisa is a single parent, age forty-seven, raising three children alone following divorce (Fig. 3).  Having spent two and a half years in a women's therapy group, she reached a place where 
she came to believe her opinion was valuable and she had something to contribute. She went back to university as a mature student and earned her Bachelor of Musical Arts, and now teaches others and performs.  Lisa uses imagery 
which provides a strong visual image of menopause as a transition:
Fig. 3.  Lisa
                "I see coming through this period of time as a channel
                where I'm - like, say I'm on a boat and I'm in this big 
                huge ocean and I've come to a channel, and so I've gone
                through this channel, I'm going through this channel - a
                passage...I feel like I've had to kind of watch that I don't 
                hit the shore - just stay on course, stay focused and strong
                and trusting that everything is okay and hanging on to that 
                belief that this is a natural process and I'm just going 
                through a channel, and I feel like I'm almost through it". 

One way for women to reclaim their bodies and their lives is through the use of symbolic language. Lisa uses metaphors and imaginative ideas to describe her experience, rather than the language of medical science, that is, of menopause as a physical event. 

The intellectual pursuit of discourse for and about women, named "experiential feminism" by Bruce Arrigo, includes the "place of metaphor, symbol and myth in altering prevailing social reality" (Arrigo, 1993: 33).  He argues that this type of imaginative discourse communicates in ways that defy traditional understanding,  situating experience in "ambiguity, multiplicity, uncertainty and contradiction," more authentically defining the feminine (Arrigo, 1993: 33-34).  While some of Lisa's descriptions fit Arrigo's interpretation of feminine language, in another way, in her description of her heavy menstrual flow and the emphasis on bodily function, Lisa uses language that probably would have been considered unfeminine in times not too far past:

                    The couple of times I've had my periods for like three weeks, I've just bled and bled and bled, 
                    and it hasn't stopped, is because the wall is not going to hold babies any more.  My uterus in 
                    there, it's not going to be holding babies any more, and so it's not keeping it, it's not producing 
                    that wall any more, it's sloughing it off, and the blood is coming out, and it's just coming to the 
                    end of that process in my life, that physical process of housing an embryo, and so it's just ending
                     . . . It's just a time of my development as a human being, just a different stage, like I said, like a
                    different chapter, and I'm going through just that ending, that ending...That time is ending.  I'm 
                    not going to make babies any more. 

Describing a hot flash in terms of feelings within her body Lisa uses wide, sweeping arm movements to emphasise her point and tells of a "rush running through . . . deep inside."  Anthropologist Emily Martin, in her book Woman in the Body (1987), asks whether there is an alternative 'cultural grammar' of menopause and hot flashes, ways of perceiving menopause in terms other than of atrophy and failure (p. 166).  Lisa's interpretations of her hot flash and her other experiences of menopause seem to reflect a sense of power and an awareness of her body, the kind of cultural grammar referred to by Martin. 

Lisa sees menopause as a stage in her development, both physically and in her life cycle, where the child-bearing years are over and she enters the 'crone' or old woman stage of life.  She says:

                    I feel I'm coming into that wise woman time . . . which I believe is when you come to the place
                    where you're not baby-making material anymore.  You're wise woman material, which means 
                    that you're an elder.  To me, I feel like that women come to you for learning, to talk to you of 
                    your experience, to give them hope and light, and - not that you're the all-powerful, wise people -
                    just that that is a really sacred time also, as being a mother and the maiden time. 

She draws on ancient symbolic archetypes of the wise woman, referring to the maiden, mother, and crone, which together represent the three stages of a woman's life. Wisdom is a quality associated in mythology with later life, dependent on life experience, and in Lisa's story, is closely associated with taking the perspective of women.  

At this time, being in a relationship is not a priority, but mothering is, and many of Lisa's concerns are related to her children, two of whom still live with her.  She talked about the possibility of an intimate relationship with a man, saying, "I'm not really at a place right now where I'm really feeling a need to have an intimate physical sharing with anybody."  She talks a great deal about being a woman: 

                    I feel really good about me as a woman.  I feel really connected to my mother and my sister 
                    and my women friends and my daughters and my son.  I feel really connected to my ancestors
                    - to the women before me, to progression, to the evolution of us - where we've come . . . 

If this can be interpreted as a sign of femininity, is it a different kind of femininity than traditional femininity which is usually understood either as the opposite or complement of masculinity?  Tolerating an insecure financial situation, doing some teaching and performing, she envisions a future of sharing her life - working and living - with other women musicians.  Being with women who understood her experiences was important to Lisa:

                    I know I'm a woman.  I know I'm a person.  I know I'm a mother.  I know I'm a musician.  And
                    I know that my experience is a woman's, from a woman's perspective.  I see things from a 
                    woman's perspective, because that is who I am.  And the songs I write are from a woman's 
The fourth participant, Maureen, age fifty-two, is a member of the Iroquois Nation in Canada, and a university graduate (Fig. 4). She has three children from an earlier marriage, now living on their own, and has been in her present relationship for several years.  Maureen lives in two cultures  western society and the native world. Describing herself as having a multicultural identity, living on and off her native reservation at various times throughout her life, she seems to have adapted to both lifestyles, and has integrated both into her life. 

Although unsure about precisely when menopause began, the last four years have been taxing for her due to the discovery that she has diabetes with an accompanying gain in weight and depression.  At the same time, although less significant, she has been leading up to what she felt was the end of her menstrual periods.  Through having no choice but to meet all these demands, she says "I was forced to become aware of my body, my total body."

Maureen explained to me how she uses a combination of the conventional health system and traditional native medicines, which she sees as being more holistic, to meet her needs.  Having achieved independence in the work force and a strong sense of self, menopause became a time of re-assertion of the value of life.  Although she has serious health concerns, she looks forward to ageing within the framework of native tradition, which fosters integration of the young and the old.  Traditional native ceremonies, which are spiritual in their nature, are another part of the holistic approach to health and life in general.

Differences in age, or perhaps more precisely, the difference between women in the fertile or post-fertile stage of their reproductive life cycle, is both acknowledged and sanctioned in this celebration, a native ritual:
Fig. 4.  Maureen
Fig. 3.  Lisa

                "No one tells you you're old. No one tells you in the native
                culture that you're old.  You're still just thought of as you, 
                and you still participate . . . You're the one that tells people
                when you've done it, when you feel you've done it, or you 
                completed that process or whatever.  We have women's 
                dances.  We do them all the time.  In the women's dances 
                there's certain dances [performed in a circle].  The young 
                girls that are of child-bearing age they turn in, when we're 
                dancing, so they would turn in like this, whereas if you're 
                not of child-bearing years, then you just stay straight and 
                keep going . . . Older women aren't viewed any differently 
                than younger women. . . In the socialisation of the traditional 
                people, everyone goes to a dance. . . . And when we go to 
                the dance, everyone who wants to dance, dances - elders, 
                young kids, everyone".  

Maureen also describes a native ritual, celebrating the cycles of life, in which age and gender make no difference:

                    From the native way, life, in that sense, when you understand native ways, is all interconnected. 
                    And even in our ceremonies that we do in the longhouse . . . what we do is go through the 
                    "stirring of the ashes" ceremony, and everyone that's present gets to do this . . . each one takes 
                    their paddle and throws it in the ashes, and that signifies that this is new life . . . and when you 
                    come to the other side you stir the ashes at the other end - and that's midway on your life-cycle, 
                    and then you come back, and that means it's like your whole life is within that. . . Some people 
                    get to walk on earth a long time, and then some don't, some might only get that one breath, and 
                    it's all acknowledged like that in the traditional ways.  So the traditional way is so accepting of 
                    life and the cycles. 
Fig. 4.  Maureen
The last story is of the youngest of the group, Gloria (Fig. 5), who was single and had no children, but who was approaching menopause.  Gloria is a forty year old career woman, fifth generation Canadian with European roots, with a postgraduate education.  Because her menstrual cycle is becoming irregular and she is experiencing mood swings, she sees herself as being in the beginning stages of menopause and has started reading about it and talking to her doctor.  Her weight has been of concern to her, and this is what she has to say about it:
Fig. 5.  Gloria
                "I don't like being heavier . . . The weight thing is irritating
                to me, because it is a health risk and I also find myself, as 
                much as I try not to, I find, buying into the popular culture
                where I would really rather be skinnier. . . I have tried very
                hard to change my weight and it's not happening and I'm not
                going to worry about that or beat myself up over it.  So, in 
                other words, I'm saying I accept myself and part of me is
                comfortable with that, and then another part of me is really

It is not unusual for women to gain weight at midlife, but not easy to accept; even slim women worry.  In general, women are expected to conform to standards of femininity that are not quite the same as standards of masculinity.
During this last year, there have been many changes in Gloria's life.  She lost her job, gave up her home and moved to another city to live with her fiance.  At the same time, her health suffered, although she is attempting to recover both her physical and mental health through practising good eating habits, exercising regularly and pampering herself.  At the time of the interview, she was in the process of negotiating and making major decisions that would likely affect not only her future but also her fiance's:  
                    I feel mixed feelings...I feel - I'm having periods of my life where it felt like I was missing 
                    something or would miss something, if I did not have children.  I still don't rule out the 
                    possibility that I might have children, or, it's getting more and more like "child" . . . I was 
                    thinking, if I should have children, or a child, let's say a daughter, female child, or a male 
                    child, uh, how proud would they be of their mother if she sacrificed everything to have them
                    and was desperately unhappy and didn't fulfil what it is she needed to do, write books, whatever,
                    on the face of the earth . . . but I really believe that a fulfilled and happy mother is going to be 
                    the best mother, rather than a bitter, frustrated, angry mother who did not, and is desperately 
                    unhappy, and I would be . . . if I were not doing those things. 

Gloria views menopause as a stage in her life signifying the end of fertility and the start of mature womanhood.  Because she feels that she has little, if any, time left to bear children, she has had to deal with the question of whether or not to have a child.  She considers it from different points of view, trying to make up her mind:

                    It [menopause] is a stage in a woman's life, like menstruation is.  I don't think that being 
                    pregnant defines you as a woman. . . There's infertile women too.  It's part of the cycle.  It's 
                    perpetuation of the species.  There's many different ways of looking at it . . . It's like "You're 
                    not a woman you don't have kids". But that's a form of social control as well. . . but I think 
                    there's a spiritual component, definitely, and I think that there's a real connection between 
                    spirituality and sexuality . . . a connection between life itself, basically. 

Whether or not there is any such thing as a maternal instinct is an issue that has been debated by feminists and people from all walks of life.  But whether a woman actually became a mother or not, her embodied experience would be that of potential motherhood, and the reminder would come month after month in the form of menstrual periods.  This biological/hormonal/ symbolic process becomes a significant part of women's embodied experience, along with the knowledge that they had the capacity to bear children, for many years of their life, from puberty to menopause.  

This concludes the stories of the five women. While the aim has been to include experiences of menopause and ageing femininity that reflect diverse circumstances, a further aim has been to provide readers with an opportunity to reflect on femininity and the lives of women as they grow older.  All five women demonstrated aspects of femininity  in their appearance, personal traits, and ways of talking about themselves, their interests and their relationships, although any connection between their experience and the notion of femininity was not always clear. Some had also experienced pregnancy and giving birth, and all five had experienced menstruation - biological aspects of femininity.  

Menopause was often a time of change in the women's ways of thinking about themselves and their lives.  Self-realisation was an important goal, although the ways they sought to achieve fulfilment varied  whether through having a career, getting married again, or developing a new interest - emerging from the private sphere into the public sphere, or making changes in the other direction.  Although Gloria was in the early stages of menopause when I interviewed her, she has since given birth and is now experiencing the trials and joys of motherhood and marriage.

One theme that appeared repeatedly during the interviews was the notion of wisdom, according to Rosel (1988), represented by "mature knowledge and understanding; folk wit; a detached yet active concern with life; and by self-possession" (p.22).  Wisdom is thought to be a quality associated with adult stages in the later part of the life cycle, for both men and women, although its basis is in experience and not dependent solely on length of time lived. 

Traditionally, life cycle development has been seen as a linear, predictable progression through the life stages, but it is now more realistic to see the individual, whether a man or woman, as situated within a social/historical context that is dynamic.  Nevertheless, models based on the life cycle of humans are useful. Two separate strands of knowledge on this theme are the eight-stage model based on men's life cycle and the three-stage model of women's lives.  

In her life story, Lisa draws on archetypes from mythology of the wise woman or crone stage of women's life cycle.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, talked about wisdom from another perspective, one not specifically related to gender.  The male counterpart to the maiden, mother and crone stages of women's life cycle is Erik Erikson's model of eight stages of men's life cycle.  Just as the crone stage of women's lives is viewed as a time of wisdom - a space of "mature femininity" as described by Valerie Mantecon (1993), Erikson's model includes a stage of wisdom.  In his theory of psychosocial development, Erikson (1982) describes the seventh stage of life in which generativity "encompasses procreativity, productivity, and creativity, and thus the generation of new beings as well as of new products and new ideas, including a kind of self-generation concerned with further identity development." (p.67)

At this time in history the practice of continuous lifetime learning can be seen as adding to the idea of wisdom, as the value of learning becomes increasingly recognised.  Seeing knowledge as intergenerational rather than passed down in a linear fashion from one generation to the next is also an advancement in thought. It is possible that, since life expectancy for men and women has increased over the last decades, to be wise also requires the ability to adapt to changing norms of society. 

Although models of the human life cycle are seen as dated, perhaps especially if they are based on specific paths according to gender, it needs to be acknowledged that the lives of men and women usually are very different, and to understand femininity as it ages, and women as they grow older, requires specific attention paid to all the various aspects.

My thanks to the models, Jo Crawford as Julia, Margaret Tracy as Elizabeth, Sally Whelton as Lisa, Linda O'Neill as Maureen, and Glenda Hardy as Gloria.  Special thanks to the original participants of the study, who shared their personal reflections on menopause and their lives.  


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This paper was based on research for Women in Transition: Discourses of Menopause, a thesis conducted in the Department of Sociology 
and Anthropology, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

© 2002 Sue McPherson

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Fig. 5.  Gloria
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AbstractThis paper examines femininity, in its various forms, in the lives of five women. The five were part of a study I conducted on menopause, for which I interviewed women about menopause, specifically, and related aspects of their lives.  Menopause is a phenomenon that is partly physical and hormonal, that includes aspects of ageing, and which is partly about the lives women lead. As women grow up and grow older, they experience changes in their reproductive system and in their bodies in general.  Their experience within their families and society may change, and often, their ways of thinking.  This paper explores some of the experiences of women as they grow older, and how they think about their lives.    

Key words: menopause, femininity, reproduction, life cycle, women's life stories.