Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday . . .
|illustration by Evette Gabriel|
The bumper sticker is wrong. They’re definitely not power surges, even though I remember chuckling about the joke when I saw it the first time; but that was before I had real hot flashes. On a good day they are “my moment in the tropics,” or “my personal sauna heater kicking in.” On a bad day they are “fire flashes,” or “hell fevers.” At best they make me feel a bit be-dewed; at worst they suck the life right out of me. I have just lost an entire summer to these alleged power surges. I am a university professor; we are supposed to use our summers to do productive things like write articles and books. I have not even had the “power” to check my e-mails.
Much of my energy— since this most recent occurrence of hormonal imbalance started in mid-May—has gone into obsessing over my body temperature. When I am not experiencing hot flashes that either take my breath away or wrap my entire body in a sheet of sweat, I am experiencing severe chills. So ironically, I am actually cold most of the time. Every 20 to 40 minutes though, the temperature of my skin rises about 6 degrees Celsius (about 10 degrees Fahrenheit) in a matter of 5 to 15 seconds. In those moments, I seriously want to hurt the person who came up with that oh-so-witty bumper sticker. They most certainly are NOT power surges.
What I find really disconcerting about the line, “they are not hot flashes; they are power surges,” is the implicit “just grin and bear it” message that it communicates to women, and the “let’s make our women feel good about themselves, wink, wink” message that it conveys to men. Millions of women who, like me, experience this part of menopause as a truly debilitating condition, don't need patronizing slogans like that. But, unlike me, many women do not talk about the issue publicly (especially in mixed company) because it is still considered somewhat unseemly to do so. True, women are no longer locked away in asylums when they have gone quietly insane from the strains of menopause. But even the various outlets where women can share experiences and advice with each other keep the talk nicely contained and largely private.
However, all my manners and rhetorical savvy have gone out the window this summer, and anyone who has even casually asked me how I was doing has gotten the entire saga. Being vocal in this way has helped me maintain at least some of my equilibrium. And it has given me a mission: to generate real “em-power-ing” surges by drawing both women and men into open conversations about what women might experience during their 40s, 50s, and into their 60s.
--Elisabeth Gumnior teaches Writing and Rhetoric at JMU