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Menopause as a long-term risk to health: Implications of general practitioner accounts of prevention for women's choice and decision-making

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Madeleine Murtagh


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Over the past two decades medical researchers and modernist feminist researchers have contested the meaning of menopause. In this article we examine various meanings of menopause in major medical and feminist literature and the construction of menopause in a semi-structured interview study of general practitioners in rural South Australia. Three discursive themes are identified in these interviews; (i) the hormonal menopause - symptoms, risk, prevention; (ii) the informed menopausal woman; and (iii) decision-making and hormone replacement therapy. By using the discourse of prevention, general practitioners construct menopause in relation to women's health care choices, empowerment and autonomy. We argue that the ways in which these concepts are deployed by general practitioners in this study produces and constrains the options available to women. The implications of these general practitioner accounts are discussed in relation to the proposition that medical and feminist descriptions of menopause posit alternative but equally-fixed truths about menopause and their relationship with the range of responses available to women at menopause. Social and cultural explanations of disease causality (c.f. Germov 1998, Hardey 1998) are absent from the new menopause despite their being an integral part of the framework of the women's health movement and health promotion drawn on by these general practitioners. Further, the shift of responsibility for health to the individual woman reinforces practice claims to empower women, but oversimplifies power relations and constructs menopause as a site of self-surveillance. The use of concepts from the women's health movement and health promotion have nevertheless created change in both the positioning of women as having 'choices' and the positioning of some general practitioners in terms of greater information provision to women and an attention to the woman's autonomy. In conclusion, we propose that a new menopause has evolved from a discursive shift in medicine and that there exists within this new configuration, claiming the empowerment of women as an integral part of health care for menopause, the possibility for change in medical practice which will broaden, strengthen, and maintain this position. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd/Editorial Board 2003. Published by Blackwell Publishing.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Murtagh MJ, Hepworth J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Sociology of Health and Illness

Year: 2003

Volume: 25

Issue: 2

Pages: 185-207

Print publication date: 01/03/2003

ISSN (print): 0141-9889

ISSN (electronic): 1467-9566

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing


DOI: 10.1111/1467-9566.00331

PubMed id: 14498939


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