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Modern Medicine Affects the Way Women Talk about their Menopause Symptoms

Review on October 29, 2009

In 1997, Professor Don L. Davis conducted a study titled: Blood and Nerves Revisited: Menopause and the Privatization of the Body in a Newfoundland Postindustrial Fishery." It deals with how women's lives in Gray Rock, Newfoundland have been changed to the advent of modern medicine and its accompanying medical experts, such as nurses and doctors. This includes how they cope with hot flashes.

Menopause is often responsible for these hot flashes Menopause is characterized by a dip in the hormone estrogen. The body's reaction to this is what is behind symptoms such as hot flashes. Menopause used to be viewed as a public matter. Elderly women from the village were called omission if one had problems. Their life experiences were believed to qualify them as experts on annoying health symptoms such as hot flashes. Menopause was a word that no one had even heard of. Instead, it was referred to as "the change of life." Although "the change of life" was viewed as a natural and normal phenomenon, it was by no means seen as an easy one. Its symptoms could make one suffer greatly, especially hot flashes. Menopause, however, was viewed as just one more hardship to be faced in a life filled with hardships.

In pre-Industrialized society, people one worked very hard at physically demanding jobs and were beholden to the whims of nature. In such a life, normal but painful experiences were seen as not worth complaining about, including hot flashes. Menopause was viewed as another of life's tests. Those who could not handle it were seen as the kind of people who would have problems all throughout their lives.

The women of Gray Rock have their own, non-scientific way to talk about hot flashes. Menopause terms such as these were classified under "nerves." Phrases such as "my nerves is some bad tonight" and "my nerves is gone" were how they described symptoms such as hot flashes. Menopause was not the only term that these phrases covered. "Nerves" was indicative of to both psychological and somatic states. The experience of nerves varied widely based on the person, which allowed each woman develop their individuality. Since a woman's life was so hard, especially with worrying that her fisher husband might drown in a storm, having "nerves" was a way to show that she took her part in community life seriously.

Chats between women about their nerves were a way to both show one's individuality in the type of nerves that one had, along with signaling that one had the insider necessary to understand someone else's nerves. Instead of being a private physical symptom, language to describe terms such as hot flashes, menopause in general was a way to anchor one to the community.

This type of discourse was only possible in a pre-Industrialized society, which is but a memory for old people. The author Davis argues that the new system makes physical symptoms private, causing one to from the community, such as hot flashes. Menopause is now discussed between. This new system has taken away the female community's authority in these matters, along with causing women to lose confidence in their own wisdom and their ability to help other women in times of needs. This causes harm to the community that made this dynamic possible.


Sources:
  • Davis, Dona L. Blood and Nerves Revisited: Menopause and the Privatization of the Body in a Newfoundland Postindustrial Fishery. (1997.) Medical Anthropology Quarterly.