Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Great Age Issue: Power of the Positive Crone #2

The Power of the Positive Crone
Carole Spearin McCauley

The following is the second of the four part series by Carole Spearin McCauley. The first part is available here
This article was written for The Great Age Issue. The author has graciously permitted us to serialize it on our blog as a prelude to the issue itself.  Our second issue for this year - 14.2 - is dedicated to aging and gender: representations in speculative fiction, everyday experiences, creative fiction or non-fiction, and more. Inspired by board member, Constance Brereton, we're calling this The Great Age Issue.  

Author Bio:  Carole Spearin McCauley is a medical writer/editor, the author of 13 books (medical nonfiction, literary novels, mysteries), from large (Simon&Schuster) and smaller (Daughters, Inc; Women's Press) publishers  in the U.S., U.K., Israel, Italy.  One nonfiction book title is Surviving Breast Cancer (Dutton, Bantam Books). Her two latest mystery novels, Cold Steal and A Winning Death, appeared recently in hardcover and paperback from Hilliard&Harris.com (Maryland). Her short work (stories, articles, poetry, reviews, interviews) has appeared in about 200 periodicals, anthologies, and now online, including New York Times, America, Family Circle, National Catholic Reporter, The Atlantic, North American Review, Redbook, Woman's World, Women of Mystery. Seven short pieces have won prizes in international contests that include Radio Netherlands Worldwide and USA Today.
          Her 13th book, How She Saved Her Life, is a tale of love/business/arson--with llamas--that features a mature heroine.  It's set in the Berkshire Hills, western Mass. where Carole grew up.  She graduated from Antioch College, Ohio, and earned an M.A. in  writing from Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY.  For five years she  planned programs with the Woman's Salon, Manhattan.  At Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, she has taught Basics of Fiction Writing and works with Women's Network of the Upper Valley. She speaks yearly at Berkshire Women Writers Festival, Mass.  She belongs to the Grail international women's movement and  worked years at Grailville, its Ohio N.A. headquarters, and at its Manhattan art-bookshop.

1.               Why do some women report no symptoms at all from the usual list?
2.               How can we integrate menopause—as with childbirth—into the rest of life?  Stop seeing it as a crisis, an estrogen-deficiency disease, the end of sexual desire?  And more accurately define its stages?
3.               Do different ethnic, racial, socio-economic groups cope better or worse, according to their own traditions?
As baby boomers age, let’s hope menopause is respected as a rite of passage.  These millions of female baby boomers, plus the one-third of U.S. women who endure hysterectomy, do constitute a sizeable chunk of our population that is still functioning in work, marriage, family and community life.  Remember when menstruation was “the curse,” with women considered dysfunctional, unclean, irrational each month?
Don’t I wish!  No, because the French-Canadians from whom my mother came saw any amount of suffering as woman’s portion—“offer it up to God.”  I believe many health crises
that afflicted  her and her many siblings and their spouses involved poor diet;  untreated depression; hypochondria to get attention in a large family; lack of exercise and marriage counseling; problems with self-assertion, including fear of questioning doctors.  One reason I became a medical writer was to counter too-frequent medical melodramas.
            In the U.S. some late “menopause drama” involved the German drug, flibanserin, which the FDA refused to approve in June, 2010.  Why?  Many people do believe that the nature of menopause and “female sexual dysfunction” (decreasing sexual desire) merit a “female Viagra”  Is menopause a disease—or a normal aspect of aging?  Considering that Viagra for men now approaches $2 billion yearly in sales, obviously the drug companies (German Boehringer Ingleheim and U.S. Procter&Gamble) in this country are not neutral.  The new drug, discovered as a by-product of depression research and found to increase sexual desire, operates in 100 mg. doses by increasing serotonin, dopamine, and testosterone receptors and levels in the brain, enhancing mood and desire.  Yes, women too produce at least some testosterone.  Unlike birth control pills, however, flibanserin is not considered a hormone.
Such research seems like a worthy goal, until its critics, such as Liz Canner in her film Orgasm, Inc. blame women’s lack of sexual interest on work stress, frantic schedules, poor relationships, lack of marriage counseling, uninformed lovers, untreated depression, plus the Catholic church’s continuing ban on contraception.  And the new drug does have some minor side-effects.  Depending on which company seeks a patent, the drug is called Girosa or LibGel.  So far, more than 5,000 women in 220 clinics in various countries each took the drug or a placebo for 24 weeks.  Begun in October 2009, the study ended in February 2011.  After the results are revealed, the FDA will re-evaluate.  The drug is already available on the Internet and in other countries.
Whom to believe?  If your own sexual life or desire has decreased or disappeared, be honest about the reasons why.  What do you most need in this area?  So many of us grew up when “nice girls don’t want or do that”—or even imagine it—that our chief duty was to create a good marriage, healthy children, satisfy a husband, including preventing infidelity.  Finally live chastely as a widow or single woman.
Thus, although I had no positive or immediate role model for how-to-do-menopause, I had stunningly clear images of how not to do it if I hoped to stay sane.  Although I’m not stoical or insensitive, I have tired of overreaction in myself or others (although I do mine and re-create it for fiction writing because of what it causes otherwise reasonable people to do).  I offer what help I can, but if it’s ignored by someone determined to be miserable or nasty, I’ve learned to move on.

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