The Medicalization of Menopause: Framing Media Messages in the Twentieth Century

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2008-07-22

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ABSTRACT Title of Document: THE MEDICALIZATION OF MENOPAUSE: FRAMING MEDIA MESSAGES IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY Marlene Cimons Directed by: Dr. Maurine Beasley, Philip Merrill College of Journalism This dissertation analyzes print media language in three newspapers (the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times) and five magazines (McCall's, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Reader's Digest and Time) during the twentieth century to determine how menopause was ``framed'' and to what extent these news media contributed to its medicalization. A critical reading showed that these media reflected and solidified society's negative notions about menopause and contributed to the approach by the medical profession of regarding menopause as a hormone deficiency disease. While the news media are not all-powerful, they do contribute ideas over time, contributing to the formation of societal attitudes and practices. Historically, the heavy print media concentration of negative ideas about menopause, followed by a flood of information about the wonders of hormones - first, on aging, then on health and longevity - both mirrored and amplified public perceptions about women, menopause, and aging, and contributed to its medicalization. The negative language often used imagery describing menopause as a time of wasting and non-productivity, and likened this normal stage in a woman's life to a siege of bad weather, or a cruel accident of nature. Along with negative metaphors, print media messages also conveyed that menopause was a hormone deficiency disease whose ravages could be erased with drugs, and that hormones could turn back the clock. The print news and feature media frequently relied upon male physicians as sources to bolster this view, a practice that reinforced the power of medical authority and supported a patriarchal view of women as patients. Important studies raised questions about the risks of hormone replacement therapy during this period, and were reported by the news media; however, the coverage of these potential dangers was dwarfed by the sheer volume of articles that conveyed the message that hormones were a good thing for women to take. This study shows how the print media used language to communicate ideas about menopause and aging.

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