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Menopause and the Meaning of Owning a Body: A Conversation with My Mother

Are we free to own our body if and only when we have stopped fulfilling our reproductive role? What a devastating thought.

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  • May 9, 2023
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Menopause and the Meaning of Owning a Body: A Conversation with My Mother

My mother and I talk daily. Somehow as we became adults, our relationships and contents of discussion shifted, and she provides refreshing takes that come from a person with a vastly different life experience and age. 

Recently my mother said the most interesting thing that got me thinking for a while “After menopause, I feel free. It was the beginning of my life. Somehow, I am perceived differently as if my reproductive role is over, and I can do whatever I feel like it. I can dance, hang out, and do so many things.” 

 

 

Mind you, not that she was restricted from doing those activities, but she mentioned a different perception that came when she was younger. There was plenty of harassment. unnecessary advances and intentions that affected her personal and professional life. The thought that men wish to ‘wife her up.’ or even objectification to mothers and older women seemed to be subtle, but it was frustrating. She mentioned that these things were not the case anymore as she began her menopause period with such great happiness and relief.

“I am free,” she told me with great joy. 

And I thought to myself, is this it? Are we free to own our body if and only when we have stopped fulfilling our reproductive role? I think that idea of freedom is devastating. We should not have been free in our 50s, we should have always been free. At least, that’s what I thought. 

Looking back, I remember the passage that women’s bodies are constructed by patriarchy and capitalism. In simpler terms, women underwent a series of governing and disciplining over their bodies, to reproduce, to please the eyes, to be consumed, to fulfill their roles to complement not to have their own agency. 

The teachings of women’s bodies since we were kids, reeked of contradictory values, for certain purposes, women’s bodies are compared to divinity and the nation. When women work and what they do are considered essential, but somehow undervalued, in fact, valued for nothing and it is a dutiful thing to do that comes with being a woman. 

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In many cases, women have been fighting for the longest period to own their sexual and reproductive health, own their bodies, and make their own calls when it comes to it. When women make and reclaim their own calls, they are deemed selfish and should have the shame of themselves for refusing such an honorable role of motherhood. 

Unmarried women have faced rejection when it comes to their own reproductive health by the state, married women were told not to get contraceptives, or their husbands governed their bodies since they do not believe in contraception because childbearing is a blessing and it’s only natural. 

Filling into the feminine ideals for the male gazes, whichever path the women choose, their bodies are scrutinized. 

“I am free, nobody cares for this menopausal lady, nobody stares, I can be me.” my mother said. I was in great pain hearing that she gets to be herself in her 50s, and many women might never get to be themselves throughout their lives. 

By then, I questioned why she did not raise me with similar values and norms she had to endure. 

“But I do not want you to go through what I went through. These expectations I wish had never been yours to bear. I hope you get to be you all the time.” 

This spirit that she shares with me, as women, we wish not to imprison one or another. In a way, my mother is a woman from a different period of time from me. She still believes some of the conventional ideas of femininity, in that sense as a mother she emulates selflessness. But that selflessness is not without agency, the agency that said these constraints must end in her. She is allowing me to define the kind of woman I wanted to be and how I should carry this body. While acknowledging that despite how brave she has been in breaking the chain, there are still many chains out there, whether professional or personal. 

To end this conversation, I personally feel like women often times get punished for having a body. Somehow by just having this womanly body, everyone but us has a say in it: from what it looks like, what we do with it, or what we refrain from doing is subjected to men and the state to govern. And there is the great hope of menopause when we can be liberated from all of these expectations once we are deemed unsuited to be governed no more. 

For now, being an Indonesian woman, more than ever we will gain that freedom and full ownership of one’s bodies. While my whimsical wishful self faces harsher realities and I do not see these wishes coming into full reality anytime soon, I know it’s coming.


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Habibah Hasnah Hermanadi

Habibah Hasnah Hermanadi attained her Masters in democracy and violence from the University of Delhi. Occasionally she gets frustrated about violence and tweet about it at @beebawesome

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