The Silent Archive

Spoken Testimonies of Menopause

EMOHA is delighted to unveil The Silent Archive: Spoken Testimonies of Menopause. Between January 2020 and May 2021 EMOHA worked with people in communities across the East Midlands to capture and record experiences and perceptions of this important life stage which is often silent in the oral history archives. The project was awarded a grant of £10,000 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to carry out this work. 

Menopause is a natural part of every woman’s life and yet historically regarded as a taboo subject. In the early 20th century, women reached menopause at around 57 years of age with an average life expectancy of 59. In the early 21st century, women can expect to reach menopause at around 51 years of age, to work until their late 60s and live until their 80s. Alongside physical symptoms, menopause can impact women’s mental health leading to feelings of anxiety and isolation.

There is a gradual change in public attitudes and discussion of menopause is becoming normalised through initiatives such as the Menopause Cafe and a number of Menopause in the Workplace policies are beginning to appear across the UK, including the University of Leicester’s Menopause at Work Policy, the first of its kind at a UK higher education institute. There is, however, limited oral testimony in the archives documenting women’s lives during menopause. This project has begun to address this ‘silence’ by establishing a collection of spoken accounts reflecting on this life stage.

Recording in a time of pandemic

The recordings were made during the covid-pandemic in 2020 and 2021 and therefore largely gathered online. This has affected the quality of some of the recordings, but was important work to carry out and has meant that each testimony also captures the life experiences of people during a time of pandemic. Volunteers received oral history training from EMOHA and went on to carry out interviews using Zoom. Many also become interviewees, contributing their own stories to the archives. We also carried out a number of facilitated conversations on Zoom to add to the discussions around menopause. Some of our participants became audio diarists for the project, recording their personal and immediate responses to menopause during a time of pandemic. The resulting collection offers an accessible resource for researchers to consider menopause within a wider historical context. It will form the basis for future collecting projects around other ‘silent’ areas in the archives.

Did you ever talk to your mum about menopause?

This question is the starting point for a montage of voices reflecting on their inter-generational experiences of menopause. Narrators: Angela, Geraldine, Gill, Jocelyn, Lydia, Paula, Ranjan and Teresa.

Has your menopause impacted your working life at all?

In this montage of voices, women share their experiences of menopause in the workplace. Subjects covered include: the impact of menopause symptoms such as poor cognitive functioning and memory at work; expectations of women in the workplace; attitudes of male colleagues and younger colleagues; coping strategies and lifestyle changes; time management to work around debilitating symptoms; support from partners and friends; working from home; and workplace menopause policies. Narrators: Angela, Christy, Gill, Helen H, Michelle, Nicki, Ronne, Sally, Suzanne and Teresa.

 

Do you feel that menopause marks a new life-stage for you?

This collection of interview clips looks at how some consider menopause as a marker of a new phase of life, a natural ageing process or a rite of passage. Some narrators discuss how their menopause experiences have given them a sense of their own mortality. They consider changes to health and fitness. There are also reflections on the changing shape of caring responsibilities for some with regard to ageing parents and children reaching adulthood. Narrators: Fiona, Geraldine, Gill, Katie, Michelle and Sally.