Opinion

Vagina Museum: We need to smash taboos around menopause – the stigma has gone on too long

This International Women's Day, the Vagina Museum in East London is hosting a poetry night about the menopause. Zoe Williams, its head of communications and fundraising, shares why it's so important

menopause/ pussy power

This International Women's Day, join the Vagina Museum in smashing taboos around women's bodies. Image: Unsplash

Menopause is a common life event: around half of us will experience it at some point in our lives. Despite this, it’s shrouded in secrecy, stigma and mystery. It’s surrounded by a general silence on gynaecological health, intrinsically linked with misogyny and ageism. It’s almost taboo to talk about it.

Here at the Vagina Museum, we see taboos as something that must be smashed. Where we see silence, we feel obliged to break it by opening up a conversation. We’re not afraid to do things like display knickers bleached by vaginal discharge (which is perfectly normal, by the way!) or hold a whole exhibition all about endometriosis, a common disease which 54% of people have never heard of.

But even we haven’t historically done enough to get the world talking about menopause. It’s the second-most requested exhibition theme for the Vagina Museum – the first was endometriosis, and that’s our current exhibition!

On International Women’s Day, that changes. We’re teaming up with Arachne Press to celebrate Menopause: The Anthology, a collection of works by 43 writers exploring menopause from all angles. This anthology showcases perspectives from the global majority and lesbian, bisexual and transgender views.

On the night, you can expect poetry and short story readings, along with the opportunity to perform your own work, and contribute to the rich tapestry of experiences. Oh, and there’ll be cake. Editor Cherry Potts told us to make it very clear to you that there’ll be “one of my famous menopause cakes.”

Potts, director of Arachne Press, chose to team up with the Vagina Museum for our International Women’s Day event as soon as we reopened our doors to the world.

“I got straight on to talk about an event,” she said. “For such an iconic venue we are pulling out the stops, and not only are many of our authors reading, but we have commissioned specially composed songs from Summer All Year Long, including a setting of Chloe Balcomb’s poem from the book, Gutsy Menopausal Woman.”

This is just the beginning. We’re currently fundraising for an exhibition all about menopause in science, culture and history. If successful, Menopause: What’s Changed? will open in autumn this year.

The stigma and silence has gone on for too long. And in this climate, myths and misconceptions can flourish, reinforcing untruths and creating a general sense of embarrassment in talking about it. So many questions remain unanswered, or difficult to find the answer.

Why do humans go through menopause when most animals simply die? What’s the truth about HRT? What is menopause like for individuals who aren’t women aged 45-55, such as trans people or younger cis women? Why do different cultures experience different symptoms – for example, hot flushes are far less common in Japan than they are in the UK. There’s a lot to learn about menopause, but this can only happen once we start to talk, publicly and openly about it.

The Vagina Museum is now based in its new long-term location in Bethnal Green, East London. Image: The Vagina Museum

At the time of writing this, I am 38 years old. Menopause is likely to be a decade away for me, yet even now I find my cycle changing. If we start these vital conversations now, and show that menopause is not an end, but just another normal phase of life, by the time menopause comes for me, I will be more supported and more confident than someone experiencing menopause today.

Our collaboration with Menopause: The Anthology is a beginning of a change in attitudes, and all of us at the Vagina Museum couldn’t be happier that this is what we’re doing on International Women’s Day.

Menopause: The Anthology at the Vagina Museum takes place on Friday 8th March at 7.30pm. Tickets are £5 and can be booked here.

Zoe Williams is head of communications and fundraising at the Vagina Museum.

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