Menopause has a PR problem
Research from Dr Tatiana Rowson - Examining discursive representations of menopause and work in the British media - reveals the words most frequently used about the menopause in mainstream media coverage in recent years. An analysis of 2,993 articles from the British national press maps trends in language and themes in the coverage of menopause from 2010-2021 and discovered print media has predominantly warned companies about the ‘risks’ menopausal employees pose.
Coverage increased from only three articles in total in national print media (including The Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Times) about the menopause in 2010 to 549 articles in 202. Though the research showed that the coverage in the UK’s mainstream press has increased, this wasn't all positive. The most commonly used words including ‘terrify’, ‘warn’, ‘court’, ‘claim’, ‘challenge’, ‘discrimination’, ‘stigma’ and ‘employer’ were used to warn companies and leaders about the ‘risks’ menopausal employees pose.
This came after a period where the menopause was not mentioned at all in relation to work in the same publications.
Leading the research, Dr Tatiana Rowson, Associate Professor in Organisational Behaviour at Henley, explains:
“There was a conspicuous lack of talk around work in relation to menopause in the early 2010s which is surprising, considering women’s contribution to the labour market. Back then, it was presented by the media as a biological event linked with severe or terminal illness.
Then finally in 2020, we see the national newspapers talking about menopause in relation to the workplace. However, the emphasis was around the taboo – the words ‘discrimination’ and ‘stigma’ came to the fore. Employers were targeted with the threat of litigation, and menopause has been painted as an event that is likely to suddenly change women’s working lives for the worse.
Positive stories of menopause – and the fact that many menopausal women are productive and successful at work – are simply not evident.”
Menopause painted as a terminal illness
Additional findings from the report showed that from 2010 to 2015, the story painted of menopause in the national press was simply one of biological loss and decline. As well as biomedical words describing the symptoms, the discourse analysis showed keywords related to disease and other health issues frequently appeared in coverage of menopause – words like ‘cancer’, ‘depression’, ‘osteoporosis’, ‘stroke’, ‘asthma’ and ‘dementia’. These keywords linked menopause to serious and potentially terminal illness, suggesting menopause is not a ‘normal’ state of health.
When looking at the common emotional keywords, words relating to distress and mental imbalances were most frequent. ‘Confident’ and ‘happy’ were also common words but were only used in comparison to what life was like before the menopause. For example: “I was happily married and we had three children […] But as I neared 50 I became paranoid.”
Dr Rowson said that this kind of coverage can be perversive:
“When menopause is continuously portrait negatively, we are reducing this stage of life to a time of decline and loss. This stereotypical view exposes women to gendered, ageist attitudes and may discourage them to pursue their personal and career aspirations.”