Justice for the Menopause: A Research Agenda
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Menopause is defined by its relationship to menstruation––it is the cessation of menstruation. Medical texts identify menopause as part of the cycle of “decay” associated with female reproductive functions; early menopause is often a dreaded result of various medical treatments and a sign of disfunction.
It turns out that only three types of animals experience menopause: killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, and humans, while other animals can reproduce until death. Although the precise relationship between evolutionary theory and the physical development of human menopause is still uncertain, scientists and anthropologists suggest that the “grandmother hypothesis” provides a partial explanation: older women, who can no longer produce their own children, ensure their genetic legacy by playing a critical role in helping to feed, raise, and nurture their grandchildren.
The average woman will spend almost as many years “post-menopause” as they will menstruating, and they may spend four years (or more) experiencing perimenopausal symptoms, the transition time between “normal” menstruation and menopause. But legal issues relating to perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause are just beginning to surface, prompted by the movement towards menstrual justice, feminist jurisprudence, and developments in the law of aging.
This Essay is an initial effort to catalogue various legal approaches to menopause and to set out areas for further analysis. It briefly explores cultural images of menopause and post-menopausal women, including the ubiquitous hot flashes; analyzes potential legal claims for menopausal justice; and suggests the interrelationship between such approaches and social attitudes towards menopause. It suggests that “normalizing” menopause––acknowledging its realities––is one means for removing the associated stigma and “disabilities” and might result in reinterpreting existing laws and guiding future legal reforms.