Standing in line at Target with a cart full of items, Miranda had a hot flash so severe that sweat began pouring from her ear lobes. As she later said, “I was totally drenched from head to foot; it looked as if I had just come out of a swimming pool.”
Too embarrassed to stay in line, Miranda ran to the safety of her car. That’s when the real panic set in: what if this happened at work?
Miranda is not alone in this fear. For the generation that burned bras, made free love, and invaded corporate America like a battalion of soldiers landing on the beaches of Normandy, attitudes towards hot flashes and, for that matter, menopause in general, are often reminiscent of the pre-Beatle’s sixties: nice girls don’t talk about that in public.
A film strip keeps popping into my head. They must have shown it to us in the 6th grade. Just the girls of course. I remember one scene in particular: the daughter was standing on a pedestal (gotta love that symbolism) and the mother was hemming her dress. In walks the dad, briefcase in hand, and before he can say , ‘How are my princesses?’ , the daughter blurts out, with only the kind of enthusiasm you would have after being asked to join an Olympic Team, “Dad, guess what? ! I got my period!”
There was a lot of giggling that day — getting your period was not something you talked about in front of any male species, especially your father.
Fast forward 40 some years and we’re still embarrassed about our periods – or lack of them. Of course the reasons are complicated. There is a prevailing perception that menopausal women are irrational, moody, and forgetful – not exactly traits that are admired on the 29th floor.
Molly has had unbelievably severe hot flashes for the past five years – at times she has two fans running in her downtown office. Yet, when she presents in front of her leadership, she would never consider letting them know she is having a hot flash. “It’s not an option in our culture.”
That creates a dilemma. “Getting flushed and having perspiration appear on your face during a presentation can give the impression that you don’t know the answer to the question —that you are incompetent.” said Molly.
Molly chooses to let them think what they will think rather than tell them what’s going on.
“The reason, “says Dr. Erika Schwartz, author of “The Hormone Solution, “that women feel inferior during menopause is because we never address men’s changing hormonal cycles. If we did, women wouldn’t be as self-conscious about a hot flash.”
There is hope.When my 15 year- old daughter was in elementary school she had an extraordinary teacher, Chris Jaglo who incorporated “sex-ed” as a daily part of the curriculum.
“The key is to talk about as naturally as a preposition or fraction. I usually start by having them list all the slang names for penis. You always have snickers and someone squirming at first, but pretty soon the flood gates open.” said Jaglo.
Starting with the boy’s sexual issues is a strategic decision. “I’ve found it’s mandatory to start with the boys – once we deal with their issues it seems to diffuse all the stuff that goes on with girls.”
Is it time to bring the Jaglo approach into the workplace? . The more women understand that menopause is an equal opportunity event, the less inferior and embarrassed they will feel.
So let’s talk about the gentlemen first – let’s learn about their enlarged prostates, their bouts of impotency, the hair growing out of their noses and on the top of their ears, their insomnia and their mood swings.
Maybe then, we will learn what the sixth graders in Chris Jaglo’s class already learned…having a hot flash is just part of growing up.
NOTE: The names of Miranda and Molly have been used to protect the privacy of our real business women.
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