Hot Flash Havoc: fear and loathing in the menopause

Posted by on Sep 17, 2010 in HRT, menopause | 12 comments

Author Louise Foxcroft, writing in Hot Flushes, Cold Science, points out that “fear of the menopause is something we have learned, and it has grown out of a general, male and medical distaste for the idea of the menopause perceived as an end to viability, fertility, beauty, desirability and worth. Since the French physician de Gardanne coined the new term ‘ménépausie’ in the early nineteenth century, an onslaught of opinion, etiology, treatments, and not least and lest we forget, profit has followed. Women need to unlearn their dread and recognize that menopause is not, of itself, dread-full; that we are merely the victims of our biological process.”

We have also been victims of the fact that menopause has been “thoroughly medicalized in Western Culture.” The result?

Our bias is to think of menopause as a disease, something that needs to be fixed, treated and eliminated. The solution is inevitably hormone replacement therapy or HRT.

Supporters of HRT will fight tooth and nail against evidence from the Women’s Health Initiative Study that showed that the risks associated with hormone therapy may outweigh the benefits. Their argument lies with the contention that the findings relate to women who were on average, 63 years of age, considerably older than the average age that women start menopause, and that the data are not applicable to younger women. Moreover, had these very women been given hormones earlier, they would have had protection against a multitude of diseases, including heart disease and osteoporosis. Critics of HRT, on the other hand, point to data showing that length of time on hormones, timing of hormones and genetic disposition can increase or decrease a woman’s risk for disease, that HRT doesn’t protect against heart disease or stroke and may in fact, significantly increase disease risk, in particular, breast and ovarian cancer, and death from lung cancer.

Last weekend, I sat through Hot Flash Havoc with a group of female friends. Together, we range in age from 47 to 57. Two of us have had multiple bouts of cancer while three of us have lost loved ones as a result of cancer. Our mothers have had hysterectomies, mastectomies, hot flashes or no flashes. Some are still alive and others have passed.  In composite, we are representative of the modern woman: savvy healthcare consumers, avid data hounds, curious, communicative and sometimes outspoken. As one of my friends stated, we are “rolling into a new phase” or have already rolled into it: menopause.

I couldn’t think of a better, more objective way to screen Hot Flash Havoc, “the most provocative and revealing film ever made about menopause.”

Provocative? You bet!

Revealing? Yes!!!!! But not in the way that the director, producers, writers or underwriters intended. Rather than debunk myths about menopause, they have produced a documercial that the women in the room described as:

“Condescending.” “Patronizing.” “Not very well done.” “One-sided.” “Unhelpful.”

And my favorite: “a giant estrogen dildo.”

Hot Flash Havoc promises to “set the record straight about the Women’s Health Initiative study released in 2002, which misrepresented that the hormonal replacement therapy being used by millions of women to treat the symptoms of menopause could actually increase the risk of heart attacks and cancer” and further, “shed insightful light on the confusion stemming from a decade of misguided facts [through] poignant personal stories shared by real women and in-depth interviews with the world’s most noted experts.”

However, the reality is somewhat different. This film of “menopausal proportions” is a meandering, sometimes cartooned montage of HRT hype and bias. Attempts to turn ‘women’s anatomy 101’ into humorous animations of talking vaginas, vulvas and ovaries begs the question: have we somehow stumbled onto a grade school class on menstruation? (By the way, the only thing missing were the tampons and sanitary napkins, which of course, would have no place in the menopause medical cabinet. )

Along with a dash of failed humour is the film’s dose of intrigue, not about the mysteries of a woman’s body but rather surrounding accusations of a government conspiracy underfoot to undermine decades of evidence supporting the use of HRT.  Indeed,the National Institutes of Health, which halted the hormone arm of the Women’s Health Initiative study is blatantly accused of attempting to rob women of HRT in a selfish quest fueled by self-promotion.

Wait! The government is conspiring against women who need their hormones???!

The circus-like atmosphere of Hot Flash Havoc is beautifully orchestrated by pro-HRT doctors disputing evidence, ‘enlightened experts,’ and of course, a bevvy of Botoxed babes who went through terrible withdrawal when their doctors made them stop taking their HRT. The message? Women: you’ve been duped!

Hot Flash Havoc misses the mark because it robs the viewer of any objectivity or information about how women and practitioners in different cultures and countries address menopause. Moreover, with the exception of a token naturopath thrown in for good measure, alternative strategies are portrayed as ineffective shams and their proponents, as greedy blood suckers who care more about profit than the women they serve.

One of my friends asked if the film’s intention was to provide enough information to make an informed decision. If so, she said, it fails terribly. Another friend commented that the film portrays menopause as an illness and said that she thought that the film’s underlying message is that menopause is not natural and needs to be cured, that there’s something wrong with you.; ‘it makes me angry,” she said. The overriding complaint was the clincher: this film is really about instilling a fear of aging and illness and the need for a remedy, a ‘miracle’ drug: estrogen.

Hot Flash Havoc is an infomercial of menopausal proportions, a messy mash-up of HRT hype and fear and loathing, a big estrogen dildo just waiting for an opening. Do yourself a favor: don’t let it wreak havoc on your psyche. This one’s a dud.

A huge thank you and love to my Roller girls and partners in crime — Turn A Head, Wendy Wildstar, Biker Babe and Red — for their comments and insight. Couldn’t have written this one without you!

p.s. Bob Dylan wants his album cover back.


  1. 9-17-2010

    Well done! I almost spit my coffee (fresca?) at “Bob Dylan wants his album cover back” and “humorous animations of talking vaginas, vulvas and ovaries.” Humorous? Well, that’s debatable! Ridiculous, maybe. Thanks for the opportunity to screen!

    • 9-17-2010

      Thanks Wendy, for your comment and your insights! It was fun to play roller girl with you that night!

  2. 9-17-2010

    Great post, Liz! I have my class reading the WHI study in JAMA in a couple of weeks — will have to plagiarize your “estrogen dildo”! So, if pregnancy and childbirth and breast feeding can be medicalized, why not menopause? I am surprised that we are no longer told to douche with Lysol to improve our confidence in our sex appeal.

    Talking vaginas, hey? Only mildly less amusing than laughing testicles?

    • 9-17-2010

      Thanks Marya. The talking anatomy was a bit disturbing if not ridiculous. I’m sure if women had testicles, they would have been included! Feel free to use the estrogen dildo comment; I am sure that the woman who coined it won’t mind (it wasn’t me but it sure is good!).

      Didn’t realize that Lysol was made for douching! Oh, fodder for another post!

  3. 9-17-2010

    Love this, Liz! Am reading/writing en route to west Texas. You already know how I feel about Hrt & women I met during BC treatment who’d been using it..girlfriends, we fabulous the way we are.

  4. 9-17-2010

    Love this, Liz! Am reading/writing en route to west Texas. You already know how I feel about Hrt & women I met during BC treatment who’d been using it..girlfriends, we are fabulous the way we are. We certainly don’t need any drug pushers to tell us otherwise.


    • 9-17-2010

      Thanks Jody. That is exactly the point. We can address the troubles but we don’t need to feel “dread-full” about ourselves. Appreciate you!

  5. 9-18-2010

    Thanks for calling the filmmakers out on this piece of propaganda Liz. So sad that the medical community still seems to think that women need to be told what to do with our bodies–and that there are women out there who seem to think it’s ok to capitalize on that. We need facts and all sides of the issue — period. We’ve come a long way, baby and I, for one, am not going back.

  6. 10-8-2010

    Oh my, I LOVED your review! Why is this the documentary we get about menopause ?! Eve Ensler and Nora Ephron definitely need to be recruited some day to give us a film we can all be proud of! And the questioning of WHI 2002? Oy vey! Here is a rundown of all the bad stuff they’ve found out about HRT since the release of WHI:

    • 10-8-2010

      Thanks Jacqueline. Yes, the film is a real downer. Let’s not wait for Eve or Nora – let’s just do it!

  7. 2-18-2011

    Great! I was just introduced to this movie and considered buying it. Read your review and no thanks!

    So. Now. Where do I begin to get some answers and much needed relief? Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank you!

    • 2-18-2011

      Kolein. If you are looking for alternatives with a bit of science behind them, you’ve come to the right place. That’s what Flashfree is – a resource of potentially effective solutions for those bothersome symptoms, support for aging and midlife issues and hopefully, a safe haven. Peruse the archives and ask questions.


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