Nicola Bulley and the weaponisation of menopause

The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (February 19th 2023)

The mention of this poor woman's HRT and fragile mental state is just old-fashioned misogyny.... the police must do better

Dear Queenagers,

I’m afraid the red mist slightly descended on me this weekend over the police revealing that the poor woman who has gone missing, Nicola Bulley, was perimenopausal and had troubles with her HRT and had resorted to alcohol, which made her a high risk missing person. Why couldn’t they just have been vague and said ‘she’d been struggling with her mental health’? That would have been a much-less egregious invasion of her privacy. It would also have been less toxic.

As the wonderful Dame Vera Baird, former victims commissioner for England and Wales, put it on Friday: “Would we have had police officers saying,  if it was Nicholas [not Nicola] he’s been unfortunately tied down with alcohol because he’s been suffering from erectile dysfunction for the last few weeks? I think not.”

She took the words right out of the Queenager playbook. I used this exact metaphor myself on stage with Liz Earle at Adweek last year – addressing a room full of largely middle-aged blokes, I was trying to explain why seeing all women in midlife through a menopausal lens was not only wrong and short-sighted for brands wanting to speak to them, but also insulting.

I said: “You wouldn’t say to a group of midlife chaps, ‘welcome to the Viagra years, you are now all officially members of the limp dick club.’ So by the same token, although some women want help with their menopausal symptoms and understanding from employers when it is bad, it is not what defines them. It is not how Queenagers want to be seen. It is one aspect of being a midlife woman – not the whole thing.”

The name of the talk was Queenagers: Not Walking Hot Flushes (it was recorded for Liz Earle’s podcast if you want to listen) and in it I was trying to explain about the financial power of this cohort of women and why we are so much more than our hormones….. and now this row has gone gangbusters.

The whole tragic Bulley case reminded me how easy it is for the menopause conversation to become weaponised against women. I’ve been warning about the dangers of this for some time and I know many of you feel the same. When we did a survey about menopause last year 68% of you said that you didn’t want to be defined as a ‘walking hot flush’.

I agree: while it is just a basic human right that women – 52% of the population – should be given treatment that works by qualified professionals as they hit menopause (a big ask given that till recently doctors didn’t have anything about the change in their mandatory GP training and one in four women who should have been given HRT are being given anti-depressants) we don’t want to be seen purely through that lens. Particularly when it is used – as the police  have been accused of doing in this case – as a veiled way of implying someone is unstable or unwell. It’s like a return to the old days of muttering about crazy old women, and noxious whispers about the change…

It’s just another level of misogyny, another gendered-ageism stick to beat women with.

It’s bad enough when you are a younger woman: in your twenties you are seen as too young and immature (and everyone tries to hit on you) in your thirties everyone thinks you are about to get pregnant (even though 25% of women don’t have kids); and now in your 40s and 50s (when we are already battling gendered ageism) on top of that, these days everyone thinks we are either peri-menopausal or menopausal! I hate that: the whole point of feminism was to release women from the prison of biology: to say that we are more than our bodily functions.

We need to remember that misogyny doesn’t go away: it mutates. That is why it really matters that the opening up of the conversation about menopause – which I support. And the appeal for better treatment – totally necessary and right (and by the way the poorest women in the UK are prescribed HALF the HRT the richest are) . Is NOT hijacked by the forces of misogyny who will use any excuse to put women back into their box

This is a perfect example of that. It’s always two steps forward, one step back. So when brave campaigners start saying we aren’t going to put up with second class menopause treatment – and low and behold the police (whose current record on its attitudes to women is not exactly wonderful, Sarah Everard anyone?) start using menopause against us. We need to see this for the misogyny that it is.

This won’t do dear Queenagers – we need to call it out and knock it down!


PS is hosting a lunch on Wednesday 22nd February at the Groucho Club in Dean Street London, with Grass and Co, with a panel of mushroom experts, Gail Porter and other Queenagers to talk about midlife and the magic of mushrooms (I am chairing the panel). We’ve got a few free slots – there is delicious lunch – here is the link. We’d love to see you there.

The Magic of Mushrooms

The Magic of Mushrooms

The Power of Mushroom Supplements and the positive effects they can have on our Wellbeing and Health

By Eleanor Mills

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