, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 299-319

The change of life, the sorrow of life: Menopause, bad blood and cancer among Italian-Australian working class women

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Abstract

This paper explores the discourse of menopause, health and illness among 20 middle aged Italo-Australian working class women living in Melbourne. Using the methods of interpretative anthropology and the perspectives of critical feminist theory, I argue that women's discourse about health and illness is one way in which they express feelings of loss over the fertility of their youth, ambivalences about their lives in Australia, and grief over a life left behind in Italy. These losses are experienced physically and expressed metaphorically through conditions of bad blood and nerves and are perceived to contribute to their vulnerability to a range of diseases including cancer. For these women, the change of life is experienced as the end of life and their fear of cancer is representative of their fears of social and physical death. Cancer is also seen to be a disease more common in Australia and is used as a metaphor for expressing anxieties relating to feelings of placelessness, of being disconnected from one's roots, and anxieties about becoming old and dying far from “home.”

When you get to the change of life at 50 you know now that you're waiting for death. You stop, it's an age that you stop...After all, I'm 50, what can I do any more?
This research was supported by a grant from the Public Health Research and Development Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and from the Victoria Health Promotion Foundation. Special recognition goes to my co-investigators Meredith-Temple Smith, Nan Preswell and Cathy Banwell, who have provided helpful comments and who have written up other parts of the research study. Special thanks to Maria Corbisiero for her diligent work as the research assistant on the project. I appreciate the valuable comments on early drafts of this paper provided by Kimberly Dovey, Mary Jo DelVecchio Good and the two reviewers.