Meno-rage: IYKYK. But why does it happen? Who do so many women from all walks of life relate to this volcano of anger? Is it just hormonal? Or is is cultural?
Mona Eltahawy is my guest this week, and we break down the cultural understanding of meno-rage, and what women can do about it.
Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. She is founder and editor-in-chief of the newsletter FEMINIST GIANT.
Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2105) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world.
Support her latest project (which I'm also a part of) at https://unbound.com/books/bloody-hell-and-other-stories/.
Looking for a place to learn more about midlife, menopause nutrition, and intuitive eating? Click here to grab one of my free resources and learn what I've got "on the menu" including my 1:1 and group programs. https://www.menopausenutritionist.ca/links
Jenn Salib Huber 0:02
Hi and welcome to the midlife feast the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Celine Huber. Come to my table. Listen and learn from me. Trusted guests, experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. Welcome to this week's episode of the midlife feast. I'm really excited to bring this interview to you with Mona Altia. Howie, who if you don't know, Mona, she is a writer. She is a activist. She's an Egyptian American who's currently living in Canada, she drops all the F bombs her trademark saying is fuck the patriarchy, which I absolutely love. She's angry. But she's also light hearted and funny. And she describes a cultural explanation of mental rage that I just had to talk to her about. I've talked a lot about mental rage on this podcast and on social media, because I think that it's a word that describes, as Mona says the volcano of anger that erupts. And I think that as a as a word. It's a great adjective, because it really does enhance our understanding of the description of it. But I often talk about the hormonal and the physiological explanation. And when I heard Mona as a guest on another podcast, talking about this cultural, you know, definition of mental rage and how she related it to the patriarchy. I knew that I had to have her on the podcast. So listen to this interview. And I'd love to hear your thoughts, because I think that on the controversial scale, my podcast is not all that controversial. And well, I don't think that this particular conversation is all that controversial. I think that there are going to be pieces of it that are there really resonate with you. And you'll probably be shouting Yes, from the other side of wherever you're listening. But there might also be some resistance and I think that Mona might even push some of those buttons to get us to feel a little uncomfortable as we think about how the patriarchy has influenced us and continues to influence perimenopause. Welcome, Mona to the midlife feast. I am so excited to have you here. This has been a conversation that we've been trying to make happen for a while now. So it it's been something I've been looking forward to how are you?
Mona Eltahawy 2:45
Hello, Dan. I'm doing well. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jenn Salib Huber 2:49
So the reason that I wanted to have you on was because of something that I heard on another podcast on hot flashing our mutual friend and Marie, where you were discussing your experience of menopause, personally going through perimenopause, all of the kind of hurdles that you jumped through and understanding what was happening. But this episode is about mental rage, which is a term that a lot of people I talked to identify with, as soon as they see that it has a name, it actually rings true for them, and I think validates your experience. Because if you've experienced it, which I think you have, I've experienced it, so many of the listeners have experienced it. It is a unique experience. It's not like being angry in your 20s or being a rebellious teenager, or whatever it is. It truly is a unique experience of anger that can only be experienced, you can't really describe it to someone else. Would you agree with that?
Mona Eltahawy 3:55
I totally would. Jen and you know, let me begin the way I usually begin because I think it's yes, rage, please. Yes. This is how I usually begin all my conversations in person on Zoom, whatever. I say hello, everyone. My name is Marina Alta Hawaii, my pronouns are she her hers. And I begin as I always do with my declaration of faith, back the patriarchy. Now people usually laugh at this, but I mean it. When I continue talking, they realized that I mean it and I think the older I've gotten, the more they realize I need it because it is this manual rage it is. It is what I can only describe as a volcano that had always been within me has always been inside me, because I've been angry for a very, very long time. But this volcano now is obvious to everyone. And as I said, in the first few lines of my latest book, The Seven necessary sins for women and girls. I wrote this book with enough rage to fuel a rocket. So there's no keynote that had always been there. Me But it wasn't visible to everyone except for me. But now it has given me this fuel that of rage. That is enough to send a rocket into outer space.
Jenn Salib Huber 5:12
Yeah, I think that I can definitely identify with that. And I think that the, the intensity of the rage is what scares people if we're being honest, you know, I've talked to a lot of people who will say, there must be something wrong with me. Why did I get so angry, I feel bad, I scared my children, I scared my partner, I scared my co workers, or the rage is so just tangible, that there's no way for them to discharge it. And they feel trapped in this cycle of rage and frustration. And, you know, I think that the, the hormonal explanation of so let's just kind of back up a little bit. So I want to describe my what how I describe to people what's happening physiologically. And then I'm going to read something that you said on Emory's podcast and what I'm calling the cultural explanation of mental rage, which I absolutely love. So when when people ask me, Jen, why did I blow up at my partner? Why did I yell at my children for three hours? Why did I you know, completely rip my coworkers head off, that felt that feels uncomfortable. That's not who I am. That's not who I want to be. I'm an adult, I should have control of my emotions, what's going on. So I explained that when we're on this roller coaster of ups and downs of estrogen and progesterone, our emotional filter in our brain, the amygdala, is also affected by this up and down of estrogen and progesterone. That's one of the, you know, possible explanations. And as a result, we have a hard time filtering events in the same rational way that we would have when we were swimming in our regular hormonal soup. So until we get over this roller coaster, we sometimes react to things more strongly than we would have before. And we just feel things more quickly. It's almost you know, we talk about perimenopause as being reversed puberty, think of like a, you know, a hormonal teenager who like freaks out for no reason. It's kind of the same thing. So that's kind of how I describe it. And then we can also bring in conversations about mental health and menopause and anxiety and depression and all of those kinds of well known associations. But I'm gonna read this, and then I'm gonna let you go, because I think you're gonna have a lot today. So I remember the day I was folding clothes, listening to Emory's podcast, and you were the guests, and you said, I'm paraphrasing a little bit cisgendered women for whom the patriarchy worked. And you give examples of social status being you know, having that proximity to men do a mental rewind, and then take and that brings about this rage, as they realize that it is time for a reckoning. Tell me more about that.
Mona Eltahawy 8:13
Well, first of all, thank you for listening to my conversation with Anne Marie. And I'm glad it led to our conversation, because this is something I feel really strongly about. And I feel strongly about a lot of things. But yes, there's definitely I remember that Anne Marie had asked me something that comes up a lot when we talk about perimenopause and menopause, and that is women who say, I feel invisible. And so I wanted to unpack this invisibility, because I wanted to ask, who is invisible? What has made you invisible and invisible to whom? And when when we ask those questions, we have to kind of like run or like hash, head rather, and rush into this wall. That is a combination of many things that we don't often take stock of and that is race, class, gender, ability. And, and the thing the other things you said, social status, all of that proximity to men. But I usually hear this I feel invisible from white women from cisgender privilege, able bodied, heterosexual, white women, and it's often white women who we now call conventionally attractive. So they reach they reach perimenopause. So it's usually around their 40s and, you know, perhaps postmodern menopause. 50s And suddenly, they feel that they're invisible. And so I want to know, invisible to whom, and it's invisible to cisgender mostly white, able bodied privilege heterosexual men, for whom they held a currency you know, that that was where their social status came from their ability to attract that kind of men that gave them that elevated them that that gave them power that You know, whatever provided and protected and all of that, and all of a sudden they feel that gone. And my, I interject here and say, you know, for some of us, those kinds of guarantees never existed for black women, for disabled women, for people who are not cisgender, heterosexual, white women, for women of color, or for disabled women, for poor women. So it's my way of complicating the conversation of who was visible because visibility is power. Because it's those women now who suddenly feel oh my god, why am I so angry and the other ones that I'm saying, you know, taking stock and are saying it is now time for reckoning. But many of us have been enraged for a long, long time. You know, we didn't just take our perimenopause to make us you know, this rage fueling a rocket if anything at all, perimenopause has added to it. And I'm thinking of like two kinds of cultural icons, if you like, that I want your listeners to consider because I think it will help. One is a Polish model who has been on the kind of the perimenopause circuit, called Purina particular I think her name is, she was in styli. Q she was in The Times of London. So this was one of the most highly paid supermodels of the 1980s. She was married to the lead singer of the group, the cause she was married also for a while to the screenwriter, behind West Wing and newsroom. So she was married to some very powerful, very wealthy white men. She is now 57 years old, she still considered by you know, conventional notions of attraction, a very beautiful woman. And then she is in the Times of London, complaining that she's invisible in one of the biggest platforms in the world, wearing a string bikini. So I say, you know how to be invisible in the spring cleaning ranges for fuck sake, you're not invisible. You have one of the you like one of the most visible women in the world. So here, you know, she's now thinking, wow, these white wealthy men I used to be able to count on. I'm not there for me now. And that's where I feel invisible and anger come come in. And I want to question that. And the other one is, I've been rewatching the Sopranos. And I remember the first time around that I watched The Sopranos. This did not occur to me, because I was in my early 40s, completely unaware of perimenopause, and that it was about to begin and all of that, but I'm 54 years old now. perimenopause has been kicking my fucking ass. So I know. And one of the episodes I watched yesterday, Camila soprano, exploded at Tony, and kicked him out of the house. And as soon as I started hearing her yell, and her inability to sleep, and just taking a temperature at the doctor's, it looks like she's going through a hot flash. I'm like, Oh, my God, Camilla was going through perimenopause. And I had no idea. Now she knew that Tony was a piece of shit from the beginning, but she put up with it. But she reached the stage where it was not working anymore. And she exploded as part of that reckoning. So I want people to pay attention to that I want people to pay attention to those moments when people snap, and who does the snapping and when and how long it takes them to snap. Because some of us have been snapping long before perimenopause. And some people have now caught up with the snapping. And I think that perimenopause kind of levels out that rage field if you like because it brings others into the universe of rage that so many of us have been experiencing. And I'm glad you call it the cultural mental rage. Because it really is it it's cultural, because it has to do with race, class and gender, and how patriarchal culture basically the messages that patriarchal culture give gives to us, and those of us who have privileged because of it, and those of us who never did.
Jenn Salib Huber 13:52
Yeah, I and I love that. I love that explanation. And especially relating to, as you say, like, you know, cisgendered women who really were at the top of the pyramid in terms of benefiting from, you know, we'll call it capital P patriarchy. But of course, other people who aren't sis white gendered women also experienced this. And so would you agree that maybe it's the small p patriarchy of like the minutiae of their lives of the expectations that maybe aren't as obvious and pronounced, as you know, everyone else, but it's that, you know, my friend, Sarah Bailey, Dr. Sarah Bailey, she describes it as when our estrogen levels drop, our ability to pick up our husband's underwear for the 100th time goes out the window. And I think that I think that that's a really good explanation of how the things that seemed like not a big deal, you know, for most of your reproductive life, may be cushioned and buffered by hormones and expectations, and Maybe even what you were getting out of the experience, like, I don't want to negate that experience either because I think for some women, it has been a positive experience. There just give reaches a point where it is no, like the two things are no longer compatible, that that ability to sacrifice of yourself without getting that in return, feels disingenuous and feels impossible to live with anymore. And yeah, I call that like the small patriarchy of
Mona Eltahawy 15:34
we all living in patriarchy. And I often say, when you ask people what is patriarchy or when you try to define it, it's like asking a fish, what is water, it is the very air that we breathe, it is everywhere, patriarchy is everywhere. And there is definitely there are definitely big P and small p patriarchy is plural. And we've all internalized the messages and the teachings of patriarchy. We've internalized it, it's oppressions and the ways that we've learned to survive it, and no one has been free of those oppressions of patriarchy, but to different degrees. That's why, you know, I talk about race, class, gender, and you know, the others. The other forms of oppression is that we try to navigate and survive. But absolutely, it is a daily experience, you know, and I often say so my period, I haven't had a period now for maybe seven, eight months, I'm hoping it continues like this. So I can be fucking finally done. Because I once went for 10 months, and then he came back, I'm like, Are you fucking kidding me. So it's been? Definitely, it's been seven, eight months. And I like to see now that in place, or instead of shedding the lining of my uterus, every month in the way that I used to because I was like clockwork, since I started my period at 11 and a half every month, every 27 to 28 days, like clockwork. So instead of that clockwork, of shedding the lining of my uterus, I am shedding the patriarchal fuckery that I have been socialized in. And that's what I say is, I think one of the best gifts of perimenopause and the menopausal transition, because we often talk about how hard it's been. But we rarely talk about how great it is to because there are definite positives, to going through perimenopause. And one of the biggest is that it has made me it's made me even more shameless than I already am. So I thought I was already quite shameless. But I become even more shameless. It, like I said, the lining of the patriarchal fuckery that I've been socialized in sheds every month. And it's made me more powerful. It's made me more confident. It's made me louder. And I think all of that speaks to what you were just saying that even even those of us who don't benefit from patriarchy, capital P, and who, who just, you know, live our day to day with patriarchy small p, we are perimenopause for us is this gaining of power? It's like consolidating the consolidation of power that we were never told we had. And then we go through this transition. We're like, you know what, I am powerful. I don't have to fucking pick up your underwear for the millionth time you go pick it or whatever it is, whatever the equivalent of that is, you know, and it if we could say this more to ourselves, and to younger people, for whom perimenopause lies ahead. I think it would go such a tremendously long way to shedding the taboos and stigma around perimenopause. And I'm convinced that it's because those of us who pay attention to it recognize that it means we come into our power that patriarchy associates, especially for those of us who are sis women, because there are of course, non binary people and gender expansive people who go through menopause. But for those of us who are cisgender women, patriarchy is especially cruel. The older we get and makes ageing such an ugly thing, because it recognizes that we're getting more and more powerful, and that we can look it in the eye now and say fuck you. And this is one of the biggest gifts of perimenopause and the menopausal transition. And we have to say this to younger people louder and louder. You know, people talk about being a crone and all this and I don't even know if that translates, just tell them, you will not put up with shit anymore. They will understand that. And they will look forward to this this period that we all have to go through. It's not like you can avoid it. But let's give them something to look forward to. And explain that it's going to be difficult. Yes. But look at this power through this rage that you will come to.
Jenn Salib Huber 19:35
Absolutely, I mean, I've said so many times, I would not trade the confidence of my 40s for anything. There is nothing because I you know, I think that in many ways that feeling of invisible illness, which I can't completely relate to maybe because I never felt like I was in a position that really benefited from that. But I love that invisibility. I love that piece. Well that I don't feel that people are looking at me for what's on the outside anymore. Their expectations of me have changed, which has been freedom in so many ways. People don't expect me to be a nice doting mother of toddlers. And an even even though I love that, then and I wouldn't change anything about that there is a freedom in being who I am at 45. And knowing exactly what I want, and when I don't want and what I will not put up with. And I, you're right, we totally need to tell women that I tell my teenage daughters, especially all the time, I know that you're worrying about all these things, but just trust me in 30 years, you won't care. It means nothing to them now, but
Mona Eltahawy 20:54
you're passing on to your daughter in telling her that because there are so many things that we are told to care about. And that's part of our socialization, you know, and I would I not all the money in the world would I go back to my 20s, which worked so, so heavy and depressing. Because I understood I had very little power I gained I feel like gained a bit more power in my 30s. But like you say, my 40s or my 50s. Now hot even though perimenopause is even harder in my 50s. But you know, I withstand it, and I go through it. And you know all of this. And I know I can feel it. There is a way that I deal with other people now, especially men, that they know not to fuck with me in a way that wasn't always clear when I was younger, there is a way that I look them in the eye. And I make it very clear that I am not to be fucked with I am not to be played with. This is not 20 year old Mona anymore. This is a different creature altogether. And they understand that. And this is why we're told oh, you're invisible. No one wants you old women. Good. Because if that's the kind of man that wants me, I don't want that kind of man or anyone else. You know, I'm speaking, you know, in assisted fought for cisgender heterosexual women. But I mean, look at the equation, look, look at that, that compromise that we have to make. You get older and older. And you go through this transition. And you're like, what was I doing? You know, in return for what? Not for all the money in the world? Would I give up like you were saying any of this power or any of this confidence, or knowing that this is exactly what I should be doing? And I know and like also, like you were saying, I know what I want now, in a way, you know, one of the I feel one of the best ways that I rather well, let me start again. Sometimes I want that as a writer, you know, because writing is so solitary. You know, I send my words out there I don't always think of who am I writing for I write because I need to write what I've written. But when I go to these events, the best questions are always the younger people who wait after the event, because they don't want to ask this in front of everyone, because they sometimes shy and this is too important and too sensitive a question. And they will invariably ask me, like a variant of how do you know what you want, as opposed to what you will raise to want? And that is such like, a 20 something year old question, you know, because you still don't know who you are. And I now know to tell them, wait till you get to your mid 40s and early 50s. And there will be no doubt. But you've just got to give them this bridge to help them like I just want to tell them just keep walking, walk this way, you will know, you know which bridges to demolish, and which bridges to keep walking along that will take you to that knowledge of what you want as opposed to what you were raised and socialized to want.
Jenn Salib Huber 23:46
So what what do we tell the people who are in perimenopause now, and maybe are just starting have just had this kind of mind blowing moment that their mental rages cultural as well as hormonal? What do you tell them? What do they do?
Mona Eltahawy 24:05
Well, I tell them, first of all, don't be scared of this power that you've discovered because it really is a power. It's like discovering this live wire. And you kind of like you know, like kids when they put their finger in the socket because it was so curious. You're a grown up now. So you put your finger in the Livewire knowing that at first it's gonna buzz it's kind of like when you touch someone and you get that static, right? So at first it's going to sting because we're not we're not used, we're not raised with the expectation or the confidence of power. So it is going to be scary at first, but embrace it, you know, keep putting your hold that Livewire and and become attune to it and let it run through you. Because once you get over that initial fear of power, because when you're not raised to be powerful, to come into power can be scary. become accustomed to it, open yourself up to it and Just let it run through you because it is incredible. And there is nothing scary about it. It's only what patriarchy tells us about old women and women who are powerful I'm doing a lot of writing about hardship suit, who was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt and you know the various kinds of gender assassinations to to hardships who was hardships with a woman with was hardship suit a man, but Hatshepsut was the strongest part, the most powerful person for 20 years in the ancient world. And when it was only white men who are archaeologists, and Egyptologists, the way that they describe hardship suit was the way that they describe the way that patriarchy describes women who are powerful, and that as scheming bitches scheming, power hungry bitches, you know. So this is what scares us away from power. This idea that we're not supposed to want to be powerful, that we're supposed to be polite, and meek, and submissive, and soft, and gentle, and all of that. So at first, when you when you feel you're coming into your power, it's scary, because of the ways that we've been socialized, to not want to be powerful, but embrace it, and understand that it is one of the biggest gifts of perimenopause. And I hear from people who are on the other side who are now postmenopausal that it is wonderful when you get across. So that's where I'm like, come on 12 months, and I know it's gonna take a bit longer than that. It's not just when the period stops, it takes a few years for all the hormones to settle. But I am so eager for that moment when my hormones have settled, when power when my power, and I are the companions that we have always that we were always meant to be. So we can sit together now and say, Okay, this is it. This is why I'm on this earth to be this powerful beam. And I'm telling everyone, this is why you're here.
Jenn Salib Huber 26:48
Yeah. Oh, yes. I think that, you know, I often talk about and I've talked about on this podcast with with other guests about how, you know, this creative spark gets reignited in midlife. And so many people will start new careers change careers, you know, start businesses and are often the most conventionally productive, you know, in the second half of their life. And I really, really think because I'm in the throes of that, like you, I'm in the waiting room for menopause, knock on wood, it's better be done. But you know, there is absolutely just this clear purpose, that when you can listen and lean in, like you said, and not fight it, because I think we spend a lot of time fighting all the changes of aging, right? Whether it's the patriarchal expectations, whether it is what we see in the mirror, whether it's what people expect of us, you know, that whole industry built around anti aging, just has it all wrong, you know, because we can't go backwards. But if we actually sit and think about it, I don't think most of us would want to, you know, yeah, oh, no, no, I love this. This is so awesome. So as I always ask my guests, what do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife?
Mona Eltahawy 28:16
What I would want to or what I want people
Unknown Speaker 28:18
Mona Eltahawy 28:20
whatever. So, you know, I think that probably several I think so I think one can I give you more than one?
Unknown Speaker 28:26
Sure can. Okay,
Mona Eltahawy 28:28
so one missing ingredient or one thing that I would love us to have in midlife is louder voices. Because we are talking about menopause. Now we're talking about menopause more and more, that louder and more. Louder and big, a bigger chorus of voices. You know, Jen, because you're one of the contributors. I'm editing an anthology on menopause called Bloody hell that we're crowdfunding for. So I hope your listeners will pledge, the crowdfunding link in the show notes. Fantastic. Thank you. So I'm mentioning that because it's part of my attempt to create one of the many courses that that is large, that is diverse, that brings in people of all backgrounds, and who are gender expansive and from around the world. So one of the missing ingredients in midlife is a big loud chorus that is as diverse as possible. Another missing ingredient. We've talked about this a bit, I would say also intentional or diversity. And by that I mean this recognition that we are shedding the lining of patriarchal fuckery instead of shedding the lining of our uterus, so instead of the period that is not coming now and hopefully we'll stop altogether. Let's be intentionally audacious, so like on the 27th or 28 days of whatever the cycle used to be, have that day as the beginning of your four or five days of intentional or basmati. So what would you do instead of a period for the five to six days that you used to have? Find ways To be intentionally audacious, that help you to come into that power that Livewire that you're going to learn to hold on to that I think will be a really really good friend as you cross that bridge into post menopause.
Jenn Salib Huber 30:13
Oh, I love that. I love all of that. I think I want intentional audacity on a t shirt. I think you need to have some merch gonna
Mona Eltahawy 30:23
suck the patriarchy inpatient low density.
Jenn Salib Huber 30:26
Mining of the Patriot. Yeah, that totally means I can't thank you enough. I have loved this conversation. And as we mentioned, bloody hell is being crowdfunded. And check out the length. There's lots of great options to pledge your support for that. And yeah, go be intentionally audacious. Thank you, Jen. Thanks, Mona. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the midlife feast. If you're looking for help with menopause nutrition, or just want to figure out how to make peace with food on midlife, check the show notes so you can learn about how to work with me and sign up for one of my group programs. And just a reminder that beyond the scale, my most popular group program will be starting up again in May and registration opens mid March. So make sure to get on the waiting list if you'd like to be the first to hear about it.