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Menopause, Only for Women? the Social Construction of Menopause as an Exclusively Female Condition

Menopause, Only for Women? the Social Construction of Menopause as an Exclusively Female Condition

Abstract

Over the last three decades the menopause has continued to interest the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry and the mass media. Although there exist many different views on the menopause, there is one common denominator. Menopause is depicted as an exclusively female condition. The medical discourse on menopause seems to exclude men. However, a closer look at the history of the medical sciences reveals that there have been and still are, attempts to classify symptoms of ageing men as male menopause or climacterium. Despite these attempts to put men on the menopausal agenda, most attention is focused on women. How can we understand this almost exclusive focus on female bodies? Why does there exist such an emphasis on the medicalization of the third age of women rather than of men? Maybe we might be inclined to think of a male conspiracy, as has been suggested by feminists: women take the pills, while men cash the bills. We might consider the enormous profits of the pharmaceutical industry. This paper is concerned with finding an alternative explanation for the almost exclusive attention for the female menopause. Based on historical data and more recent discussions in medical journals, the paper shows that the medicalization of the female menopause and the relative silence around the male climacterium can be understood in terms of the social and cultural processes that underly the classification of health problems as specific diseases. The imbalance in medical treatment of climacteric health problems in women and men is not simply rooted in biological sex differences, but can be ascribed to men's attitudes towards health problems and organizational infrastructures of the medical institutions.
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