Changing women: Stories and journeys of menopause

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching and Leadership


Sari Biklen


Adult education, Continuing education, Cultural anthropology, Womens studies, aging

Subject Categories



The purpose of this study is to describe women's stories and journeys through the process of menopause to examine the ways women give meaning to this experience. Until recently, studies have usually described menopause in terms of failure, atrophy and disease. Is there an alternative cultural grammar (Martin, 1982) for describing the process of menopause? How do women struggle to create meaning for this socially constructed experience?

In the next two decades more than 40 million American women will enter their forties. Menopause has emerged as an important women's health topic of the 1990s (Greer, 1992; Sheehy, 1991). Stories and narratives about this experience lack are needed. The literature reviewed continues to support that it is the medical or disease paradigm of describing menopause that persists. The medical discourse continues to perpetuate the belief that menopause is a time of deficiency and loss. Within this discourse the struggle about hormone and estrogen replacement therapy (HRT/ERT) persists. While menopause is a physical happening, it was also a time and process for women to experience other understandings and changes. Although an individual experience, it is a socially constructed experience by which individual women make meaning. It is this social construction of meaning that this study explores.

The informants consisted of eight purposively chosen women who were currently experiencing menopause or believed to have completed it. Two women had hysterectomies and experienced a surgical menopause. For these women their experience was fraught with even greater ambivalence and confusion.

The researcher used a qualitative and phenomenological perspective to collect and analyze data because both focus on meaning people construe from daily events. (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982). The informants' words from open ended interviews enabled the researcher to understand how they interpreted their experience of menopause and what discourses they drew from. Fieldnotes were analyzed for emerging themes and patterns. The research findings are organized around three themes: Negotiating and Navigating the Experience of Menopause; Changing Women: What's Really Changing? and Journeying into Wisdom. The women described how they navigated through physical experience and how menopause encompassed other changes experienced in mid-life. They described their struggle with the ageism in our society. Menopause did not occur in isolation but coincided with other life changes. These changes were contextualized within their stories of menopause. In search of a language that defies and resists the ageism in our culture, the women used words like "wisdom" and other words encompassing positive descriptions of aging and mid-life.

The varied discourses they drew from allowed them to engage with alternative and more positive meanings for this experience. The women's stories and journeys through the process of menopause enriched our understanding about the complexity of being a "changing woman" in our culture. Knowledge of how these women interpreted their menopausal experience contributes to our understanding of mid-life and aging in our culture.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.