Killer whales and killer women: exploring menopause as a 'satellite taboo' that orbits madness and old age

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Taboo research has established that women’s menstrual cycle has been a prevailing taboo topic across societies. There is, however, another M-word that has been treated as taboo: Menopause simply is not talked about or only in a certain way. The current discourse around menopause oscillates between various stages of liberation and de-tabooization on the one hand and discomfort and silence on the other. Menopause is a highly pathologized process orbiting ageing, fears of temporary madness, and social attitudes about older women’s sexuality. The answer to why women go through menopause in the first place may be found by studying whales, the only other species with females surviving their post-reproductive years by up to half a century. A comparison of the social implications of menopause in women and female killer whales may change the way women experience ‘the change’ and shift the focus from medicalization to empowerment. This article explores facts and myths around menopausal changes within a framework of taboo discourse. I propose that in Western societies menopause is still socially constructed as an illness. Dismantling practices of how ‘expert knowledge’ is used to exert power over women explicates why these taboos are confirmed in symbolic interaction within societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-620
Number of pages16
JournalSexuality and Culture
Issue number2
Early online date27 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Ageing
  • Menopause
  • Menstruation
  • Mental health
  • Taboo


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