Staff Writer Lisa Ahern writes on Fleabag’s take on menopause.

Menopause! A big, scary word that hangs over us young women throughout our lives. For a while, menopause was this unspoken topic that I rarely saw in the media; I had little idea about what was coming for me in the future. Luckily, Phoebe Waller-Bridge opened up this window where menopause was described beautifully yet honestly, normalising a word that seemed too daunting for mainstream media. She crafted a wonderful solique about menopause in season two, episode three of her award winning show Fleabag. The leading role of Fleabag, played by Waller-Bridge herself, meets with Belinda, portrayed by the talented Kristin Scott Thomas. What unfolds is a conversation between these two women about the retirement of  a woman’s menstrual cycle. Belinda begins the conversation with how “it does get better”.

An insight is given into how “women are born with pain”, we as women carry pain with us every single day. We have period cramps, pains in our backs, our breasts are constantly aching. Men – cisgender men certainly – don’t have this. Belinda describes cleverly how men have to create these demons and gods and these wars to fight out. However, women are fighting their own internal war throughout their whole lives. “We have pain on a cycle for years and years” until… the MENOPAUSE. She describes to Fleabag how it is “the most wonderful fucking thing in the world”. She however does not sugar coat it, it completely sucks in the beginning. The physical aspect is utterly painful where your whole pelvic wall collapses and the hot flashes you experience are a bane that you must get used to. But her final insight for both Fleabag and the audience is how it breaks the cycle of menstruation. When we “are free”. 

Throughout their lives, women are seen as these bodies that are used to create life. The menopause is a period in life where you are not expected to fulfil this job anymore. You are set free from a task nature applied to you. In Fleabag she describes how we are “no longer a slave… a machine with parts”. Fleabag opened this opinion on menopause showing it as a beautiful freedom from pain that women alike suffer from day to day. This new vision of menopause has allowed women to see it in a new light. The HSE definition of menopause “is when a woman stops having periods completely. It is a natural part of ageing”. Phoebe Waller Bridge takes the “natural” part and creates this wonderful narrative of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Before I watched Fleabag, I had not seen a great representation of menopause in media of all shapes and forms. One distinct mention I can recall is That 70’s Show where the mother Kitty has a storyline where she reached menopause, but they make it as part of a running joke. She has a “crazy” side simply because her changing levels of hormones have resulted in mood swings. In comparison to Fleabag, one can see that a change in menopause representation was badly needed. 

However Fleabag is not the only player in the game. In the last decade there the floodgates have opened for the media’s representation of menopause. The Bitch Is Back by Sandra Tsing Loh is an essay that went mainstream for its depiction of the ups and downs of menopause, which was then later staged as a play. This normalisation of the natural end of a menstrual cycle is an extremely positive outlook for the future. Hopefully more women’s health issues will become more mainstream as well.