This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of the Carey Torch – read more online now!
As people age, things start to change – this is common knowledge, of course. We wrinkle, we don’t move as easily and our values evolve. It’s also common knowledge that, as we age, half of the population will go through menopause, where oestrogen drops and periods stop. Except that, unlike other normal parts of life, menopause is something rarely discussed and widely misunderstood.
‘When I first mentioned perimenopause to my husband about two years ago, he was a bit confronted. He wasn‘t brought up in a generation that talked about it and I felt a little embarrassed.’
Since hitting her 40s and perimenopause, videographer, producer, filmmaker and Carey alum Libby Chow (1993) realised how important it is to give a voice to menopause. ‘I didn‘t even know what perimenopause was. I was really shocked. We really need to tell people about this. And everyone needs to know. Children need to know because their mothers are going through it. Men need to know about it. Workplaces need to know about it.’
Libby came to Carey in Year 9 on a music scholarship, and always thought she would pursue music as a career. She went onto a Bachelor of Music at La Trobe University after leaving Carey, but her love for arts and media grew so she transferred to the University of Melbourne to study Creative Arts. She did get to explore her music career later in life though, going on tour with Clare Bowditch and with another band, Minibikes.
Libby’s love for sharing stories led her to documentary filmmaking and, after working for Triple R making radio documentaries, she pursued her curiosities and forged a path into video journalism for The Age.
In the early 2000s, video journalism on behalf of a newspaper was a very new role. Often the only woman in the room, Libby learnt quickly that she needed to have the courage to fight for her place at the front.
‘I wasn’t what the other journalists were used to, I was different, I was female. I soon realised that unless I counted myself in, unless I did have the guts to fight for that position, up the front and centre, I wasn‘t going to get my job done. And what‘s still with me sometimes is that feeling of needing to apologise for taking up space,’ Libby says.
‘An interesting quote from the Harvard Business Review states “gender diversity relates to more productive companies”. In other words, it‘s good, even better to have balanced gender representation. You, as a female, have as much right to be in the room as anyone else and have your voice heard. And as a boy, or a man, you can back up your female friends and ask for equal representation. Because it‘s proven in research that better outcomes are reached for everyone when there is a diversity of genders involved.’
So, when Libby entered perimenopause, she knew that it was time for women’s voices to be heard and the video journalist in her saw an opportunity to share this incredibly important and ubiquitous experience.
After having that awkward conversation with her husband and doing some thorough searching online to understand exactly what perimenopause is – it’s the transitional period into menopause before your period stops completely – Libby turned to her friends of a similar age to ask if they knew anything about this phenomenon. They were all experiencing similar issues and were relieved to hear that they weren’t alone. Then, online forums provided a broader sense of connection to many other women going through exactly the same thing. ‘It‘s wonderful when you find you‘re not alone,’ Libby says.
But this left her and her friends wondering – why hadn’t they heard about this before?
Libby got in touch with a therapist, a woman in her 50s, and they arranged to have a presentation for some of Libby’s friends. They all had so many questions, so they expanded their circle and ended up with so many women sharing their stories and sharing the experience of learning about perimenopause and menopause for the first time.
This experience of true honesty and vulnerability led Libby and some of her friends to join forces as a collective called She Listens and create their film, Giving a voice to menopause. The film is a series of diverse personal stories shared by women experiencing perimenopause and menopause.
Libby is dedicated to breaking down the stereotypes associated with women experiencing menopause. Stereotypes are harmful, and don’t represent the full experience. But when we break the stereotypes, we can understand each other better and embrace and appreciate menopause as being an important stage of life.
‘During the making of this film and design of the project, my husband, daughter and son have learned alongside me what menopause can be and how it affects women and impacts us as a family,’ Libby says. ‘I’m so proud of this work because it’s a way of demonstrating how useful it is to be part of making space for stories that break stereotypes and make room for women to feel empowered just by sharing their lived experiences.’
Libby’s film, Giving a voice to menopause, will be screened online in August. Get your tickets now.