It’s no secret that Hollywood has long disregarded women of a certain age. And while there are certainly exceptions (hello, Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey) and things are getting a little better, there aren’t nearly as many meaty roles for middle-aged or more mature women as there are for their male counterparts.
Because of this and the underlying idea that women’s bodies are gross — especially as we age — menopause and its predecessors, like premenopause or perimenopause, aren’t typically mentioned. However, because so many of us learn about basic reproductive health milestones — like periods, pregnancy and childbirth — through TV, it would make sense that much of our background on the subject also comes from episodes of our favorite shows.
This isn’t so much a case of TV shows that did a good or bad job at portraying menopause; the fact is so few have even acknowledged that it happens. It’s really a case of any mention being at least a small step in the right direction. Here are a few of some of the most notable menopause cameos on television.
‘All in the Family’
Norman Lear's iconic show All in the Family broke so many boundaries that it's hardly a surprise discussing menopause was one of them. In the 15th episode of season two, Edith Bunker (played by Jean Stapleton) indicates that she's going through menopause and her husband, Archie Bunker (played by Carroll O'Connor), is not exactly a supportive partner.
True to form, Archie wishes he could go back to a time when women's "interior problems" were not mentioned and says to Edith: “If you’re gonna have the change of life, you gotta do it right now! I’m gonna give you just 30 seconds. Now, come on, change!”
The episode went on to win an Emmy for writing, which could have been earned from Edith telling Archie to "stifle" alone.
‘The Golden Girls’
It makes sense that a show centered around four mature women living in Miami, Florida, mentions menopause. There are casual mentions throughout the series's seven-season run — like when Dorothy Zbornak (played by Bea Arthur) does stand-up comedy for the first time and includes a joke that some nights you can read by the hot flashes in their house — but the main event is the first episode of season two, "The End of the Curse."
In it, Blanche Devereaux (played by Rue McClanahan) stops getting her period and assumes she's pregnant only to find out from her doctor that she's going through menopause. As someone who places so much of her own value on being sexual, Blanche is distraught by the news, shutting herself in her room and proclaiming that her life is over.
Of course, the other women jump in and talk about all the benefits (no cramps! no bleeding once a month!), but for some people, like Blanche, initially getting the news that you're starting menopause can be jarring, making this portrayal realistic (if not slightly dramatic).
‘Sex and the City’
Like a lot of Sex and the City, the show's menopause episode owes much to The Golden Girls. Specifically, the way Samantha Jones (played by Kim Cattrall) handled what she thought was the onset of menopause closely mirrored her 1980s counterpart Blanche Devereaux's reaction: disgust. Like Blanche, Samantha places much of her own value on her sexuality, so the thought of being —in her words, "all dried up" — was cause enough to agree to go on a date with a middle-aged ponytailed man in her building.
Samantha ends up getting her period while having sex with the less-than-desirable man in her building and then quickly leaves, once again confident in her ability to seduce higher caliber men. The takeaway from this scene isn't that people should be disgusted by or afraid of menopause, but rather, as was the case with Blanche, that some people react to the news differently than others.
Unlike the previous entries on this list, there is no "menopause episode" of Broad City, which focuses on the lives of twentysomething New York City residents Abbi Abrams (played by Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana Wexler (played by Ilana Glazer). However, in a few seconds, the show manages to send a more poignant message about menopause than other shows would have over an entire episode.
The scene happens on a plane, where Abbi gets her period and is desperately searching for some sort of menstrual product. Abbi asks a woman on the flight if she has a spare tampon, at which point the woman tells Abbi she doesn't because she has menopause (which Abbi then admits she forgot was a thing).
“Menopause isn’t represented in mainstream media,” the woman says. “No one wants to talk about it.” When the woman looks up at Abbi, she has already left the conversation — providing not-so-subtle commentary on how society and the media ignores mature women.
‘House of Cards’
Like Blanche and Samantha, Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright) on the Netflix show House of Cards is not exactly in a hurry to discuss going through menopause or her hot flashes. In a season one episode, she is shown lingering in front of the refrigerator, leaving the audience to draw the conclusion that she's likely having hot flashes.
Over at Slate, June Thomas wrote in 2013 that the scene may be showing either the character is going through changes or possibly making a reference to Macbeth. Either way, Claire changes the subject when her friend brings it up — hardly surprising given how painfully aware she is about how society views older women.
‘That ’70s Show’
In an episode of Fox's That '70s Show, Kitty Forman (played by Debra Jo Rupp), the family matriarch, is going through menopause, much to the confusion of her son Eric and husband Red.
"Is it like a lady parts thing?" Eric asks.
"We'll look it up in the World Book," dad Red responds.
That's exactly what they did, and they learned all about mucous membranes and the symptoms of menopause. While menopause starts off as a punchline, Eric and Red do deserve credit for actually trying to educate themselves on what Kitty is going through and in turn educate the TV audience as well.
And then there's Maude. This is the second entry from one of Norman Lear's iconic sitcoms: the All in the Family spinoff, Maude, starring a pre-Golden Girls Bea Arthur. In the season three episode entitled "The Kiss," Lear flips the script by having Maude wonder if her husband, Walter (Bill Macy), is going through menopause himself when he starts smoking a pipe and wearing high heels.
“I’m beginning to realize what’s happening to you," Maude tells her husband. "The flashes of temper, the pipe, the bedroom, your new shoes — they’re all symptomatic. What’s happening to you is exactly what we saw in that TV special the other night — male menopause.”
Leave a Comment