In Seven Transforming Gifts of Menopause: An Unexpected Spiritual Journey, Cheryl Bridges Johns shines a new light on the dramatic transformation that takes place during perimenopause and menopause. She invites us to see menopause as more than a time of biological change by examining the psychological and spiritual aspects. One of the most compelling aspects of Johns’s book is how she brings to light the way misogyny and a diminished view of women’s bodies has prevented women from embracing the normal biological experience of menopause as a holistic, transformative experience.
According to Johns, women can experience seven opportunities, or gifts, through menopause. During menopause, a woman’s changing hormonal balance begins to reveal a new way of experiencing life. While society has ignored, misunderstood, and even vilified these experiences, Johns labels them as gifts that at times can be overwhelming and possibly unwanted. But, as Johns explains, by working through each gift, or development task, women can be transformed and ready to enthusiastically embrace the second half of life.
According to Johns, “uncovering” is the first of these gifts and functions as a gateway into the transformation of menopause. Johns says, “As a new hormonal balance emerges, women begin to take note of the disparity in power, injustice in society, betrayal in relationships, and disappointments that they once were willing to overlook. In other words, the rose-colored glasses come off” (39). Biological, menopausal changes are expressed through the intensity of emotions women sometimes feel they have no control over. For Johns, working with and through these emotions is key to confronting both personal and societal experiences of injustice, instead of ignoring them the way women are encouraged to do.
The second and third gifts, anger and the authentic self, are closely tied to uncovering. Grieving loss, forgiveness, and dealing with anger in an honest and healthy way are important tasks for women to work through. Expanded time and spiritual freedom are the freeing gifts that follow. The final gifts of vision and courage challenge women to embrace a new calling that they can pursue with their “courageous dragon self.”
Women have long been defined and victimized by negative opinions of their bodies. In this book, Johns examines how patriarchal forces, both inside and outside the church, use women’s biology to further oppress them and keep them in their place. It’s an odd combination of revering women for motherhood, using myths about menstruation to ostracize them, and then discarding women when menopause eliminates their childbearing abilities. Superstition combined with a woman’s supposed God-prescribed destiny of motherhood is a prescription for oppression based on anatomy.
But Johns announces there is hope in modern changes within medicine and culture. She examines both medical advancements and the increased accessibility of information about menopause, specifically the development of hormone replacement theory and a more holistic view of menopause as a time of transformation. These two factors give us a menopausal journey far different from our foremothers.
The author cautions that there is no expectation that all women will experience every single gift. Johns specifically explores the similarities and differences between white and black women’s menopausal experiences. The way Johns includes the perspectives of women of color brings further strength and insight to this book. Women of color not only have their personal injustices to work through but also corporate and societal injustices. In addition to this, black women have a longer menopausal journey than white women. The median length for black women is ten years in comparison to seven and a half for white women. This enlightening information is not widely discussed, which makes Johns’s work an important resource for women with diverse life experiences.
Women armed with information can take control of their menopausal experience, seeing it as a time of transformation instead of the death sentence it used to be. Johns reframes the biological dynamics of menopause and weaves a more holistic vision of women’s identity and experiences. Everyone’s journey will be different because we each approach menopause from our unique perspectives and experiences. Your feelings may be dismissed, ignored, and possibly ridiculed, but this resource can give you the guidance and encouragement you need to experience menopause as a time of remarkable transformation.