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Time for a "Change"

An RX for women's "troubles"


Published January 15, 2003 at 5:00 a.m.

OK, I have symptoms. I'm cranky. I wake up nights in a sweat. I can't concentrate on stuff like housework or the grocery list. Sometimes I forget what year it is. I don't think these symptoms are pre-menopausal.

I'm tired of hearing about menopause. Sure, I'm fiftyish, have gray hair and knee creaks and can't hear the stereo unless it's cranked. I want a convertible and a sizzling affair, and I get dry heaves when anyone invites me to a baby shower. So what?

Any female who's survived teenhood in Amer-ica should find menopause to be a piece of cake. We have drivers' licenses. We have credit cards. We can drink and smoke and get laid as much as we want. We can lip off at school board meetings and write letters to the editor. We can vote. What is the problem?

The problem is that, just as we reach the pinnacle of our powers, the commercial medical media insists on turning our condition into a diagnosis.

In certain other cultures, some of the benefits of being an older woman include sexual freedom and the right to hold public office. We get hot flashes, night sweats and bad press. But still. These are not symptoms; they are reactions.

Reactions to what, you might ask? Wake up and smell the pheromones.

Let's start with politics. If the tables were reversed -- if there were 13 men and 37 women in the U.S. Senate, and 35 men and 400-something women in the House -- we'd see who got hot flashes.

Fashion. If men's secondary sex characteristics were covered up, restrained, fetishized, ranked too big or too small and fed on synthetic hormones and environmental toxins, we'd see who got malignant lumps.

Privacy. If men's major genital organs were debated, voted upon, taken to the Supreme Court, tied to their parents and constantly made a matter of public opinion, we'd see who developed dysfunctional bleeding.

What year is this?

What I'm saying is, this is not a particularly woman-friendly culture. I hate waking up in a sweat in the middle of the night worrying about war. I hate ads pushing addictive drugs made from horse urine. I hate "Race for the Cure" buttons.

Women in the commercial medical cartel play right into this. They tell us to expect the worst. They look at our experiences as symptoms. They love symptoms -- this gives them work. They pretend that screening, sympathy and comfort care is a cure. Oh, dear, you have symptoms? Oh, how dreadful! Let's test your levels. We have a cure! Buy my book, or my product. And come back for follow-up in two weeks.

Enough about the cure. What about the cause?

Some guy at the Essex Learning Center is selling classes on so-called Natural Prescription Drugs for Menopause. He's a pharmacist, and a member of the North American Menopause Society. The president of the North American Menopause Society is a man.

The OB-GYN establishment doesn't see anything wrong here. Ninety percent of the heads of OB-GYN departments nationwide are also men. No wonder some of us wake up in the middle of the night all hot under the jammies.

The majority of consumers of health-related products and services are women. We're a sitting-duck target market for "fixes" for all the things they say are wrong with us.

We are the cash cows of the medical and self-help industries. The more problems we have, the more stuff they can sell us. Do you really think anyone actually wants to fix this?

And it all starts way before menopause. If it's terrible when we stop bleeding, it's worse when we start. The Great Wall of Taboo surrounds a function that 51 percent of the adult population experiences for most of their adult lives.

Blood, gore, guts, dismemberment, disembowelment and decapitation are depicted with sickening realism in movies and video games, yet the juice they use in the maxi-pad ads is still blue.

Somebody figured out a long time ago that the way to push a surfeit of products for normal monthly vaginal bleeding is to sell embarrassment. As if the worst thing a woman can do is be seen bleeding good old 100 percent red Ameri-can blood.

Unless, of course, it's from a severed artery or a bullet wound. Is everybody comfortable with that?

No? Well, then you must have PMS. And there are "treatments" for that, too.

We spend our entire lives trying to cover up our natural processes. You'd think everyone would be happy when they stop. But no. Now we're in the "change-over" market. This gives us pregnant mares chained together in warehouses so their urine can be pooled into best-selling prescription drugs to keep our complexions youthful. And that, by the way, is the only uncontested benefit of exogenous estrogen. Wake up and smell the vanity.

You could call it something else: post-election syndrome. Hypersensitivity to commercial medicine. A reaction to gender dominance. Menopause is not the problem.

Katharine M. Hikel is an independent physician living in Hinesburg.

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