The Change

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE CHANGE: WOMEN, AGING AND THE MENOPAUSE is Germaine Greer’s explanation of why our culture is still in the Dark Ages with regard to the changes taking place in a woman’s body once her reproductive cycle ends. As if on a crusade, Greer attempts to enlighten women and men on what has thus far been a natural and unavoidable stage of female growth traditionally met with fear and confusion. Greer draws on medical, historical, anthropological, literary, and cultural sources coupled with personal insights to build her case. She explores current treatments which have earned public attention such as hormone replacement therapy, as well as alternative and nonmedical approaches to relieving menopausal symptoms, such as hypnosis, aromatherapy, and herbal preparations.

Much of Greer’s source material seems ironic in our modern times, as women were traditionally treated like objects whose usefulness ceased when their reproductive years closed. She proposes that today’s youth-driven society may not be prepared fully to transcend this archaic attitude, despite the youthfulness and accomplishments of such mature women as writers Karen Blixen, Colette, George Eliot, Willa Cather and Stevie Smith. Greer also cites the vitality of courtesans such as Louis XIV’s lover Madame de Maintenon, Henri II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers, and the seventeenth century Ninon de Lenclos, who influenced Parisian society for more than thirty years after her menopause.

Greer postulates that historic and literary images of crones, traditionally mythical or tribal wise women, should inspire today’s women as they near menopause. Women have been considered caretakers of occult knowledge throughout the centuries, growing more powerful as years pass, whereas modern women’s spirituality is most often subordinated to their need for male approval. She suggests women can change this for themselves by seeking the company of female peers while educating men that growing older brings freedom rather than loss.

Sources for Further Study

American Health. XI, October, 1992, p. 98.

Booklist. LXXXIX, September 1, 1992, p. 21.

Library Journal. CXVII, September 15, 1992, p. 86.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 18, 1992, p. 1.

New Statesman and Society. IV, October 11, 1991, p. 23.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, October 11, 1992, p. 1.

The New Yorker. LXVIII, November 2, 1992, p. 106.

Newsweek. CXX, November 16, 1992, p. 79.

Time. CXL, October 26, 1992, p. 80.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 25, 1991, p. 6.

The Washington Post. October 20, 1992, p. E2.

The Change

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

As medical science makes strides in the quest for human longevity, it is not surprising that the various stages of human physical and social life have come under scrutiny. The female reproductive system involves an intricate series of biological, psychological, and sociological events that are being studied more intimately than ever before, but only as they relate to the cycle of childbearing. Puberty and reproduction have thus far received the majority of attention paid to the normal female body by the scientific community. Now, as a result of the efforts of maturing female writers such as Germaine Greer, menopause—the catalytic event that marks the finite limits of the reproductive spectrum—is coming into sharper and more significant focus.

Greer’s groundbreaking 1970 book The Female Eunuch launched her career as an international literary celebrity. Her enthusiastic exhortations for women to enjoy their lives regardless of their relationships with men conveniently coincided with the onset of “the sexual revolution.” More than twenty years later, Greer is concerned with a different sort of sexual revolution, that of reclaiming one’s body when pregnancy becomes impossible, of aging with grace and honor, of giving up the possibility of reproduction without giving up one’s inner self.

Tribal ancestors revered their elders, male and female, as wise and experienced teachers whose gifts were appreciated by the community at large, but modern culture worships the innocence and elasticity of youth above all else. In women, this worship seems to encompass the physical and social adjustments taking place within the female anatomy between the onsets of puberty and menopause, from the first red spot of menstrual blood to the first hot flash. With this in mind, Greer believes that reverence for the female physiosocial experience should not turn to horror once the ovaries no longer release eggs each month. Most women do not shrivel up and fade away at the age of forty-five or fifty without society’s inadvertent but negative assistance.

With modern life spans, barring accidental death, averaging well beyond eighty years at the end of the twentieth century, a full one-third of a woman’s life remains before her at the point of menopause. Greer suggests that this transformation from childbearer to wise nurturer and teacher is pitifully neglected; it is time both women and men paid attention to its personal and societal value. Challenging the bondage of the stereotypical view of femininity, Greer calls for women to celebrate this critical passage, to see it as a return to innocence and freedom after suffering without choice the tyrannies of pregnancy and child rearing. “Women will have to devise their own rite of passage, a celebration of what could be regarded as the restoration of a woman to herself. The passionate, idealistic, energetic young individual who existed before menstruation can come on earth again if we let her.”

Greer also attributes the public’s newfound awareness of menopause as a public health issue to the growing desire for physical fitness among women of all ages. Although women have accepted that the body-and-mind-changing event of menopause is as unavoidable as death and taxes, they now want to know in advance how to transit its course with as little stress and discomfort as possible. “The increasing tendency of younger women to show an interest in menopause and to begin to ask for information about it is due in part to their growing awareness of their bodies and their understanding of the importance of being in good shape to handle whatever might be demanded of them. They exercised for efficient childbirth and they expect to be able to prepare for the stress of the climacteric.”

Unfortunately, the physical changes of menopause are interwoven with the natural aging of the body, a condition society still treats as taboo. “As far as the individual woman is concerned, the symptoms of aging do not need to be separated out from the symptoms of menopause, for she experiences them together. They are not simply concurrent, however; they interact.… One of the commoner reactions to menopause is resentment that it has come so soon, when in fact it has come in its due season.”

Greer reminds readers that the study of aging, ironically, has been spearheaded by and for men: “A woman who desires to remain vigorous for as long as possible, and take her leave quickly when she is too tired to go on, will not find much in gerontology that will help her devise a strategy.… The real impetus for the attack on aging came from the aging male elite, who wanted to enjoy the fruits of a lifetime’s accumulated power, namely the love and adulation of young women.”

Thus, the separation of menopausal symptoms from those associated with aging is especially difficult:

The changes associated with aging have been summarized as a continuous decrease at the rate of a per cent or so a year of basal metabolism, vital capacity, maximal breathing capacity, glomerular filtration rate, standard cell water and nerve-conduction velocity. These...

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