29 Sep 2018 10:00 - 17:00 CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT


Conference | Reinventing, rethinking, and representing menopause: beyond the interdisciplinary paradigm

This generation of women is starting to ask questions and talk about what they are experiencing. The predominant and prevailing message they receive is that the menopause is to be feared. A recent survey reveals that many women didn’t realise their symptoms were connected to the menopause resulting in misdiagnosis. Women also report experiencing increased incidence of depression, anxiety and social exclusion.

This conference will draw together scholars with knowledge of menopause with a broad interdisciplinary range.

The aim of the conference is to extend existing understandings of the menopause through the collective convergence of experts from creative and scholarly disciplines. It will provide an opportunity to work collectively and creatively to broaden and deepen the perception of the menopause and to start a process that will dispel ignorance and reduce fear for women in their menopausal years. It will be a place for sharing knowledge, networking and generating critical thought.

Read a Q&A with the convenors

Convened by Beverley Carruthers (London College of Communication) & Jane Woollatt (Visual Artist)
Conference and online exhibition organised by CRASSH and Art at the ARB.

Online exhibition: ‘Rethinking the Menopause

As part of the conference, there will be a curated online exhibition on the theme ‘Rethinking the Menopause’. We invite artists of all disciplines to submit works suitable for an online exhibition. Submission guidelines can be viewed and downloaded below. The exhibition will be shown here: www.arbpublicart.wordpress.com. Selection panel: Beverley Carruthers (London College of Communication), Jane Woollatt (Visual Artist), Judith Weik (Art at the ARB). The submission deadline has been EXTENDED to 15 September 2018.

Exhibition submission guidelines can be downloaded here.
For any queries please contact Judith Weik.



Registration and coffee

10:15 - 10:30

Welcome and Introduction

Beverley Carruthers (Course Director, Photography, London College of Communications) & Jane Woollatt (Artist)

10:30 - 12:00

First Panel

Chair: Mwenza Blell

Laura Smith (Film and television director): Monster: Mutating your expectations

Susanne Schmidt (Freie Universität Berlin, Friedrich Meinecke Institute for History): Menocore: Feminist constructions of midlife since 1900 

Shema Tariq (University College London) & Rebecca Mbewe (Freelance consultant): HIV and menopause

  • Panel discussion and audience Q&A
  • Introduction of lunchtime audience participation activity by Laura Smith
12:00 - 13:00


  • Participation activity with Laura Smith: Expectation
13:00 - 14:30

Second Panel

Chair: Liz Banks

Hilary Baxter (Theatre maker, St Mary’s University): Menopause workshop performance

Mwenza Blell (University of Cambridge): “We’re Pakistani, we don’t do that”: Menopause, reproduction, and meaning among British Pakistani

Ingrid Wassenaar (Writer): Fury

Jane Woollatt (Visual Artist): Interactive art installation

  • Panel discussion and audience Q&A
  • Jane Woollatt and Beverley Carruthers will introduce a meditation exercise related to the installation piece in the foyer
14:30 - 15:00

Tea and coffee Break

15:00 - 16:30

Third Panel

Chair: Ingrid Wassenaar

Liz Banks (Senior Lecturer in Photography, Film and Moving Image, University of the West of England): The Red Moon Diaries

Beverley Carruthers (Photographer): Baubooooo

Elizabeth Barry (Reader in English, University of Warwick): Bloated with all she knew: menopause and midlife in the fiction of Alice Munro

  • Closing panel with all speakers


Laura Smith (Film and television director)

Monster: Mutating your expectations 

Laura Smith is an award-winning film and television writer and director.  She is developing a feature film exploring how a woman’s experience of early menopause is influenced and affected by social and cultural pressures and outdated gender expectations.

Her research led her to collaborate with Emeritus Professor Myra Hunter- clinical psychologist and international expert on menopause and women’s health- based at King’s College London.  Their ongoing collaboration includes running a photography workshop Monster – Mutate Your Expectations as part of Kings College’s Arts in Mind festival earlier this year. The workshop invited participants to create photographs exploring how social and cultural expectations around fertility and gender influence our attitudes to the menopause or early menopause.  It is inspired by research suggesting that anxiety and depression, often reported as symptoms of the menopause, may not just be the result of hormonal change. Rather, they may also be responses to social and cultural pressure and outdated gender expectations. Laura is also involved in support groups for women experiencing menopause and Premature Ovarian Insufficiency- the term give for menopause in women under the age of forty

Laura is an award-winning film and television writer and director whose work focuses on the female experience.  Her feature films in development include MONSTER- selected for the Cannes Film Festival/Frontierès Co-Production Market in Montreal and described by Indiewire as “an intriguing marriage of the psychological and the visceral”; a supernatural thriller set in rural England (finance from Creative Europe) and an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation as part of Lunar Lander Film’s BFI Vision Award funded slate.  Her first feature script- a thriller set in outback Australia- won the BBC Films/ National Film and Television School Development Award. Her award-award-winning short films include commissions from Channel 4, BFI and The Arts Council and have screened worldwide at cinemas, festivals and on television.  She has directed over fifteen hours of television drama, commissioned by BBC and Channel 4 and sold worldwide.  She is a graduate of the UK’s National Film and Television School. She previously gained a 1st class degree in Fine Art and exhibited as an installation artist and photographer in England and Europe.


Susanne Schmidt (Freie Freie Universität Berlin, Friedrich Meinecke Institute for History)

Menocore: Feminist constructions of midlife since 1900 

Midlife is often associated with a “double standard” (Susan Sontag) according to which maturity is good for men, who reach their “prime of life,” but bad for women, whose ageing is pathologized. But consider the understanding of middle age as the moment of a woman’s reinvention. The case of the “midlife crisis” offers a good example of this idea: it became popular with the American journalist Gail Sheehy’s best-selling Passages (1976) as a concept which described the onset of middle life as the moment when a woman would re-enter the world of work (while men often dropped out). In this talk, I look at positive and critical concepts of midlife change, put forward in political treatises, social scientific and medical studies, best-selling books and self-help literature, and ask, in what ways did women (and some men) use middle age for feminist purposes?

Paying attention to feminist voices changes our understanding of the double standard about middle age. I show that feminist critique and empowering concepts of ageing were integral to public debates about gender and the life course. Women drew on “prime of life” imagery, just like men, to describe middle life as the end of problems of motherhood and the beginning of liberation into public and professional lives and careers. Celebrations of ageing sometimes explicitly opposed the double standard, yet they were more than defensive critiques: constructions of midlife liberation formed a stable system of thought in its own right, throughout the twentieth century, eliciting response and backlash, which attested to their currency and influence.

Susanne is a research associate and lecturer at Free University Berlin, where she studies the history of the social and human sciences as well as gender history and modern history. Having received her PhD from the University of Cambridge, she is currently preparing a book titled Midlife Crisis: The Feminist Origins of a Chauvinist Cliché, which is under contract with the University of Chicago Press.


Rebecca Mbewe (Freelance consultant) & Shema Tariq (Research Fellow, Institute of Global Health, University College London)

“If I wasn’t coping with HIV and I was dealing with menopause alone, maybe it would be easier. I’ve got to cope with the two at the same time”: the menopause in women living with HIV in England

Over the past two decades, HIV medication has transformed HIV into a long-term condition with normal life expectancy for people stable on treatment. This means that more people living with HIV in the UK than ever before are reaching their 40s, 50s and beyond, which is something to celebrate.  In 2016, 10,350 women living with HIV aged 45-56 attended HIV clinics in the UK. This is nearly half of all women attending for HIV care in the UK and is five times the number in 2006. However, up until recently we have known very little about the menopause in women living with HIV, with almost no data on women in the UK.

The PRIME (Positive Transition Through the Menopause) Study is an NIHR-funded study combining quantitative and qualitative approaches to explore the impact of the menopause on the health and well-being of women living with HIV.  Between January 2015 and April 2018, the study recruited 869 women living with HIV aged 45-60 from 21 HIV clinics across England to complete questionnaires; we conducted semi-structured interviews with 20 of these women.  It is currently one of the largest studies of HIV and ageing in women in the world.

This presentation delivered jointly by a woman living with HIV and PRIME’s lead researcher will combine an overview of key findings from PRIME with an account of the lived experience of menopause in the context of HIV.  We highlight the lack of preparedness for menopause, the high level of menopausal symptoms, the difficulties distinguishing between HIV-related symptoms and menopausal symptoms, and the impact of menopausal symptoms on the management of a long-term condition.

Rebecca is a speaker, mentor and facilitator whose background experience is in Legal Administration, as well as many aspects of the HIV sector. She has been involved in many projects focusing on women living with HIV.  Rebecca has been living with HIV for 22 years and will be sharing her experiences of going through the menopause whilst living with HIV.

Shema is a Consultant HIV Physician and a medical anthropologist with a PhD in Public Health. Her interest is in the health and well-being of women living with HIV across the life-course.  She has just completed a major study of women living with HIV going through the menopause.


Hilary Baxter (Theatre maker, St Mary’s University)

Menopause workshop performance

This presentation reflects upon the creative and practical processes embedded in making an ethnography-based performance using verbatim interview material collected from members of the Menopause Awareness Group at Croydon Council in January 2018. The first public showing was at Croydon Council’s Staff Diversity conference in April and this performance is the first half of an Awareness Workshop, to be performed/experienced in workplaces to inform upon and promote discussion of the menopause.

An important issue that has been raised by my current practice-based research on the menopause in the workplace, is how the identification of issues concerning play-writing with ‘messages’ highlights the difficulty of using creative practice to engage with real-world problems. Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues (1998), a familiar and successful example of ethnography-based drama, has said ‘Whenever I have tried to write a monologue to serve a politically correct agenda, for example, it always fails. Note the lack of monologues about menopause… I tried.’ Is Ensler’s account still relevant to theatre practice dealing with the menopause in 2018?

Hilary is primarily a visual theatre maker, with an academic profile including both teaching and research projects. Currently she has a PhD studentship in Drama and Healthcare at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham and is extending her design practice into a more fluid form of visual theatre making (Scenography) which allows for a blurring of the boundaries between traditionally separate roles such as directing, acting and designing in her ethnography-based investigation into the Menopause (Healthcare). This practice-based research project is interdisciplinary and will include the creation of three practical visual performances as integral parts of the research investigation.


Mwenza Blell (Lecturer in the Sociology of Reproduction, ReproSoc, University of Cambridge)

‘We’re Pakistani, we don’t do that’: Menopause, reproduction, and meaning among British Pakistani

Attitudes toward menopause and menstruation among Pakistani women have been little studied. Previous studies have made little attempt to explain these attitudes and perceptions and have not explored the wider context. This paper provides a contextualized view of the way British Pakistani women understand menopause and menstruation based on qualitative data collected during ethnographic fieldwork in Leeds and Bradford in 2006 and 2007. British Pakistani women’s understandings and perceptions of menopause are intimately linked with their understandings of Islam, sexuality, menstruation, and ageing, as well as their ethnic identity and, crucially, notions of purity and modesty. Issues such as Islamophobia and the history of tensions between Pakistanis and the wider British society are important to consider in understanding menopause and menstruation in this group.

Mwenza is a Rutherford Fellow and Newcastle University Academic Track Fellow at Newcastle University. She uses innovative methodologies to explore the impact of social inequality on bodies and systems, taking seriously people’s own interpretations and experiences of their biological processes in relation to conventional biomedical and bio-scientific understandings. She has conducted ethnographic research in the UK, East Africa, Latin America and South Asia, on such topics as menopause, menarche, and IVF. Her most recent work is on enabling co-production of health-data infrastructures which are socially responsive and responsible.


Ingrid Wassenaar (Writer)


This paper starts with observations on the accidental formation in 2016 of an online support and information exchange group. The group, comprising mainly (but not exclusively) white, educated, middle class, heterosexual women, most of whom have had children, has enabled surprisingly frank and evolving conversations about menopausal issues to take place, and be recorded.

The paper presents the lived experience of menopausal fury, assessing the pros and cons of women’s rage and its public expression; the degrees of empowerment entering or exiting menopause might afford; and asks whether ‘the menopause’ constitutes a liberation from certain kinds of debilitation imposed on women, or a catch-all disregard for the specificity of conditions that affect women.

The paper discusses the need for greater public awareness of menopausal symptoms and treatments that do not pathologise the menopause. It situated the online support group in a broadening discourse of menopause in the 21st century, as gynecology and social attitudes catch up with women’s actual diverse and specific experience.

At the Critical Sexologies seminar where this paper was first presented in Dec 2017, this simultaneous movement of diversification and specificity was memorably captured in the term ‘queering the menopause’ – my discussion of female Fury echoes this notion of ‘queering’, asking where we are to situate the experience of heightened emotion that naturally accompanies menopausal symptoms, when the sanctioned range of expressed female emotion remains so limited.

Ingrid is a writer and former academic (author of Proustian Passions (OUP, 2000); co-facilitator of Hot Ladies, a Facebook mutual support group running since 17 September 2016. Forthcoming non-fiction memoir about modern motherhood – the cost and the value of care: Motherload.


Jane Woollatt (Visual Artist)

Interactive art installation

Jane produces art pieces in response to themes of abjection and loss, memory, relationship and psychological processes drawn from her career in the field of psychiatry.

Jane received a BA in Fine Art 1987, Middlesex Polytechnic. In 2015 she returned to education and received an MA in Fine Art, UEL. She has been a Registered Psychiatric Nurse working in the NHS since 1989, specialising in Eating Disorders. In her current role, she is a senior member of a community team offering therapeutic intervention to Children and Families. She is a Founder Member of an art book group, ARTBOOKART, who meet every month for peer review and have organised several group shows.


Liz Banks (Senior Lecturer in Photography, Film and Moving Image at University of the West of England)

Red Moon Diaries (film)

Red Moon Diaries is a participatory arts research project on female identity and sexuality during the menopause, using personal testimony through film. It is funded by the Centre of Moving Image at the University of the West of England. The project uses artist’s research methods and moving image to explore and reveal women’s thoughts and feelings around their changing identity during the menopausal years.  The final artwork, a film, is drawn from the experiences of 15 women from various social and ethnic backgrounds across Bristol.  It was created through workshop participation, personal diary writing, performance and photography, and was exhibited at the Centrespace Gallery in April 2016, along with talks from leading academics around ageing femininity.

Liz is a filmmaker and senior lecturer in photography and moving image at UWE (University of the West of England).  Her practice merges documentary and fiction and explores themes of identity and memory within the personal and public space.  Her documentaries and short dramas have been commissioned by the BBC, ITV and the UK film council and screened at film festivals around the world.


Beverley Carruthers (Photographer)


Beverley is a photographer and educator who makes work and conducts research employing mythology to imagine possible futures. Performance is a central thematic in her work and in this instance, she is looking at the image of the menopausal woman through the re-enactment of Baubo figurines.

Beverley is a senior Lecturer in Photography at University of the Arts, London. She is a member of LCC’s Photography and the Contemporary Imaginary research hub and co-founder of the Writing Photographs project– hosting exhibitions and conferences and producing publications.


Elizbeth Barry (Reader in English, Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick)

Bloated with all she knew: menopause and midlife in the fiction of Alice Munro

This short talk reads the images and cultural representations of women pre- and post-menopause in Alice Munro’s 1985 short story ‘Lichen’ in terms of what they reveal about the female experience of midlife. In particular, it considers the emergence in the mid-twentieth century of a literary genre that Margaret Gullette has called the ‘midlife progress narrative’, a development reflecting the dynamics of social as well as literary history. How successfully does this alternative type of story counter the customary narrative by which getting older inevitably means declining? We will examine Munro’s story in relation to these different trajectories for the story of middle age.

Elizabeth is Reader in English at the University of Warwick. She is the author of Beckett and Authority (Palgrave, 2006) and has edited issues of the International Journal of Cultural Studies, Journal of Beckett Studies, and Journal of Medical Humanities. Her research interests lie in modernism, medical humanities and ageing, and she has held two national research council grants to work with clinicians to investigate topics in literature, philosophy and medicine.

Upcoming Events

Painting of a food draped within cloth by Linda Murray.
Art at the ARB, Exhibition


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk