A cartoon has somehow taught me more about the female experience than any other show I’ve watched. I’m talking about Netflix’s adult animated comedy Big Mouth, which centers on three teens, Nick, Jessi, and Andrew, going through puberty. Interestingly, the show is doing some serious heavy lifting for feminism—educating both women and men, in hilarious ways, about the realities of the female body. I admit, as a 41-year-old woman, I felt embarrassed at first about watching a cartoon until I realized that Big Mouth covers topics relevant to women’s lives—including, much to my surprise, menopause.
This specifically happens in the fifth episode of season three, when a hormone monster dressed as a witch approaches Andrew’s mom, Barb, who’s sweating for no reason. “The change is coming,” the witch says to her in a maniacal tone. At first Barb has no idea what the witch is talking about, but soon it hits her: menopause. She’s initially terrified of the concept, but the witch, in her own bizarre way, eases Barb’s concerns. I’ll reveal how she does this in a second, but first I should explain why this episode means so much to me: I’m currently experiencing changes in my own menstrual cycle. And, like Barb, I was originally freaked out.
For months now I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Last winter, my periods went from being exactly seven days a month to, now, only three. But when I went to the doctor (a female one, mind you) and asked why this might be happening, she said, “Well, our bodies are not machines. Nothing is perfect.” OK, sure, but my periods have always been machine-like in predictability. So what was the deal?
It wasn’t until I spoke to my older sister that I found out what was going on. “Night sweats, weird periods: you’re in perimenopause,” she told me. “Nobody warned me about this crap, either.” This was the worst thing she could’ve told me—or so I thought. You see, thanks to TV and movies—and a complete lack of sex education, but that’s a rant for later—I’ve dreaded menopause for as long as I can remember. The general consensus seems to be that menopause turns women into perpetually-angry monsters who are always hot. Think back to the episode of Sex and the City where Samantha receives an unsolicited magazine in the mail about approaching menopause. She viewed this as a death sentence, and relief only comes at the end, when she gets her period.
My ingrained, internalized misogyny has convinced me to fear menopause as the time when women become “dried-up,” “un-fuckable” hags who can’t have babies. But Barb’s story in Big Mouth makes me see it in whole new light, as something I should maybe look forward to.