For ages, film and television writers have poked fun at women for going through one of the most natural processes imaginable: menopause. While women have been told to just “learn how to take a joke,” the times are changing. Finally, audiences are recognizing how menopause-negative rhetoric contributes to the massive stigma surrounding the process. At long last, writers are finding humor in menopause in an honest, positive way.
‘All In The Family’ Sets The Tone For Menopause On TV
For the generations that were raised by TV, some of our first impressions of menopause have been through sitcoms like All in the Family, or, if you were a ’90s kid, That ’70s Show. These portrayals were two-sided—on one hand, they were game changers. Before All in the Family aired the episode “Edith’s Problem” in 1972, menopause didn’t exist on television.
Because of its revolutionary role in normalizing menopause in film and TV, the episode is fondly remembered by critics and TV historians alike. However, looking back on the episode with trained eyes, you start to see how the show reflected many of the harmful stereotypes about menopausal women that were ever-present at the time. Even the episode’s title, “Edith’s Problem,” immediately frames menopause as a bad and scary thing, not only for women going through it, but for their loved ones as well.
‘That ’70s Show’ Contributes To The Problem
Flash forward 30 years, and That ’70s Show was operating in a strikingly similar framework. Sure, audiences were more socially conscious in the early aughts than in the ’70s. However, this social revolution didn’t seem to extend to the character of Kitty Foreman when she found out she was menopausal. For the entirety of the show’s fifth season, Kitty became a caricature of menopausal women, launching into hysterical fits that were quickly dismissed by the male characters of the show.
Of course, Kitty’s menopause storyline hasn’t aged well and likely wouldn’t make it to screen these days. Over time, as more and more women worked their way into writers’ rooms, TV started to soften toward the subject. However, it’s been a slow evolution. It’s only in the last few years that writers have started to portray menopause not as something to dread, but as something women should actually look forward to.
‘Sex Education’ Breaks The Mold
One of the bravest TV shows to date is Netflix’s Sex Education. Just as its title promises, the show doesn’t shy away from sexual taboos. The show also includes an amazing performance from the one and only Gillian Anderson, who plays Jean Milburn, a single mother and a sex therapist.
In the finale of the show’s second season, Jean receives a bombshell: She’s perimenopausal, but she’s also pregnant. Although such circumstances are unlikely, they are entirely possible. Not to mention, they make for compelling TV.
With this dramatic development, the show firmly establishes that life is far from over once a woman nears menopause. In fact, Jean chooses to keep the baby, representing an ever-growing group of women who are entering menopause and motherhood simultaneously, whether that be through traditional pregnancy, adoption, or IVF.
‘Fleabag’ Shakes Up The Narrative
Another wonderful portrayal of menopause on screen came from Fleabag. Since its premiere in 2016, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dramedy has been praised as one of the best series to ever grace the small screen. From its witty writing, biting social commentary, and undeniable hilarity, Fleabag has offered an unapologetic outlook on womanhood.
During a memorable guest appearance in the show’s second season, actress Kristin Scott Thomas delivers a soliloquy on the upside of menopause through her character Belinda.
“Women are born with pain built-in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pains, sore boobs, childbirth… We carry it in ourselves throughout our lives,” Belinda reflects. “We have pain on a cycle for years and years and years. And then, just when you feel you’re making peace with it all, what happens? The menopause comes.”
“The f*cking menopause comes and it is the most wonderful f*cking thing in the world. And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles, and you get f*cking hot and no one cares. And then, you’re free. No longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person.”
“I was told it was horrendous,” Fleabag responds. “It is horrendous, but then it’s magnificent,” Belinda confirms. “Something to look forward to.”
Of course, this sentiment stands out as the exception to the rule. We still have a long way to go, but, thankfully, an entirely new generation is being raised up with the knowledge that menopause shouldn’t be feared. Women are also getting the reassurance from film and television that they’ve lacked for so long: Menopause is normal, it sucks, but there is humor in it, and there is a bright spot at the end of the tunnel.