October 19th is National Period Day, which aims to bring awareness to the issue of period poverty (meaning, lack of access to hygiene products because of financial constraints) and make period products more affordable for people who menstruate everywhere. One main way we’re trying to do that is by ending the Tampon Tax—a sales tax placed on hygiene products like pads and tampons, that other items, like Viagra, do not have. We tapped Nadya Okamoto, the founder of PERIOD, to tell her story on how she found out about period poverty, why she’s so passionate to end it, and what we can all do to help.
It’s 2019. People have been menstruating since the beginning of humankind. Periods make human life possible. And yet, still today, 34 states have a sales tax on period products, basically considering them luxury items. WTF?
When I was 16-years-old, I discovered an unaddressed natural need I’d never thought about before: periods. At the time, my own family was living without a home of our own, and I was facing a two-hour commute to school on public transportation. I became friendly with homeless women who I saw at my bus stop every day. In asking them, “what do you find most challenging about your living situation?” I collected an accidental anthology of women using toilet paper, socks, brown paper grocery bags, and even cardboard to take care of their periods. I distinctly remember one woman showing me how she would take a small piece of cardboard, rip off the outer layer from each side, and then rub the middle section in between her hands to make it a more flexible homemade version of a pad.
Privilege check: Even when my family was experiencing housing instability, I always had access to menstrual products, and had never even thought about using trash to take care of my period. In fact, I had never even thought about what it would be like to menstruate without access to period products. Hearing these first-hand stories of period poverty ignited anger and curiosity within me. I kept thinking: How is it that menstruation makes human life possible and we haven’t figured out a solution for all people to have period products?! While simultaneously wondering, how far does the issue go? Who else can’t afford access to period products?
So naturally, I took my questions to Google. In my free time, I would search keywords about menstruation, poverty, and different geographical regions, just trying to learn more.
Through my research, I learned that periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries, and often times a girl’s first period is the single event that leads to her dropping out of school, getting married early, or undergoing female genital mutilation or social isolation. It was actually easier to find information about period poverty in other countries than it was about the United States. I learned that at the time, in 2014, 40 states in the US had a sales tax on period products, considering them “non-essential goods”—so, basically luxury items.
Meanwhile, products like Rogaine and Viagra were considered essential and didn’t have this tax. I remember reading this and refreshing the page a few times to make sure I was reading it correctly before thinking: Are you f*cking kidding me?! Old man hair growth and erections are considered more of a necessity than over half of our population feeling clean, confident, and capable 100 percent of the time, regardless of something so natural like a period? What?!
These exact thoughts and emotions have not left my mind since I discovered the “tampon tax,” the term used to describe the taxation of menstrual hygiene products.
Since 2014, when I started my activism in the #MenstrualMovement, we’ve seen incredible progress: countries like India and Australia have nationally axed their tampon tax, the UK has repurposed the revenue from their version of the tax to directly provide period products to girls in secondary schools, and the US is down to 34 states (still an overwhelming majority) that still have the tampon tax.
Eliminating the tampon tax is not going to be a blanket solution to period poverty—I mean, realistically, the tax is not impacting the menstruators who have the least access to tampons. It’s affecting the people who are already purchasing the product, making the cost a burden for primarily low-income consumers. That being said, the reason period poverty persists is because menstrual hygiene is not treated like a right, it’s treated as a privilege.
Here’s an example: Just earlier this year, a GOP Representative in Maine voted against a bill to make period products accessible in prisons, saying that “the jail system and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club.” As if we can opt out of periods like they’re a Netflix subscription.
The #tampontax frames menstrual hygiene as a LUXURY—an inaccurate assumption we need to deconstruct once in for all in the movement against period poverty. At the end of the day, this fight isn’t just about periods, this is about the fundamental human right to be able to discover and reach one’s full potential regardless of a natural need. And what could be more natural than menstruation?
Join us this Saturday for the first-ever National Period Day. On October 19, my organization PERIOD will be mobilizing rallies in all 50 states and major cities, demanding action and an end to the #tampontax. Join us at one of our rallies in-person, or share why you’re joining the #menstrualmovement on social media by using #nationalperiodday and tagging @periodmovement. There are so many ways to get involved both nationally and statewide—check out Utah’s legislative campaign and help us keep putting pressure on Ohio lawmakers to end their “pink tax”! I truly believe that if we unite and we refuse to shut up about periods, we can take down the tampon tax in the new few years. Just 34 more states to go.
Let’s do this.
Image: Noah Shaub
There are a few facts in this life that we can count on. Men lie. People who say “I’ll pay you back” will never pay you back. Your period will arrive like clockwork every 28 or so days. And before you come at me for that first assertion being untrue, I have enough text message receipts to fill the Old Testament to prove it. The bigger issue is that a new study led by UCL and Natural Cycles, a contraceptive app, found that a basic assumption we take for granted about menstrual cycles is not actually a given. And by that I mean, this “rule” that your period comes every 28 days? You know, the premise that a lot of hormonal birth control packs are based off of? Yeah, it doesn’t even apply to a vast majority of women. Cool cool cool cool cool. Good thing we don’t base a whole slew of other science on this premis—oh wait.
The study, published in Nature Digital Medicine earlier this week, examined over 600,000 menstrual cycles of 124,648 women who used the Natural Cycles app. These women were from the United States, Sweden, and the UK. Researchers set out to look at how menstrual cycles were influenced by factors like age, BMI, and body temperature, in order to try to understand when women are more or less likely to get pregnant. Now, to be clear, the sample size of this study is not a complete accurate representation of the general population. For one, the sample only consists of app users. For another, only 8% of the app users in the study are obese while 15% of women in the general population are obese. Finally, the study excluded those with a pre-existing condition that would impact fertility, like PCOS, hypothyroidism, or endometriosis, as well as women who were experiencing menopausal symptoms. This makes sense considering the study was specifically concerned with pregnancy, but it does mean its findings are not applicable to everyone.
i can always tell when i’m going to start my period by how close i get to cutting my own bangs at 3am
— gabbie hanna (@GabbieHanna) November 6, 2017
Now that we’ve gotten all the disclaimers out of the way (shouts-out to the AP Psych class I took senior year of high school), let’s get into what the study found, because it’s actually very interesting. Researchers collected data from women ages 18 to 45, with BMIs between 15 and 50, who were using Natural Cycles from September 2016 to February 19. The women had not been using hormonal birth control within 12 months from registering for the app. So, remember how I said that it’s basically taken as gospel that menstrual cycles last 28 days? Yeah. Guess how many of the cycles actually lasted that long.
Just 13%. Thirteen percent of women in the study had 28-day menstrual cycles, and yet that timeframe is the basis for a lot of birth control methods and, equally importantly, fertility windows. If you literally Google “when does ovulation occur”, the top answer will tell you that ovulation typically occurs about 14 days before your period starts, if your average menstrual cycle is 28 days. The problem with this model is that, according to this study, very few women do have a 28-day cycle, and in fact, researchers actually found the average cycle lasts 29.3 days. And, furthermore, 65% of women had cycles that lasted between 25-30 days—but that means 35% of people (or over a third) do not. That is a good chunk of people who do not even fall into this window that we take for granted as “standard”.
I love period dramas, I have one every month
— Karen Chee (@karencheee) August 11, 2019
So why does this matter? Researchers’ big takeaway was that this has significant implications for people trying to get pregnant. As Professor Joyce Harper, one of the researchers of the study, put it: “ovulation does not occur consistently on day 14 and therefore it is important that women who wish to plan a pregnancy are having intercourse on their fertile days.” More specifically, these results are important for people who are trying to conceive and are using apps or cycle dates to predict fertility days. “An individualized approach to identify the fertile window should be adopted,” said Dr. Simon Rowland, Head of Medical Affairs at Natural Cycles. “Apps giving predictions of fertile days based solely on cycle dates could completely miss the fertile window and it is therefore unsurprising that several studies have shown that calendar apps are not accurate in identifying the fertile window.” Harper added, “In order to identify the fertile period it is important to track other measures such as basal body temperature as cycle dates alone are not informative.”
On the surface, it’s not a particularly shocking conclusion that all reproductive systems are not identical, or that in general, biological functions and processes are complex and unique to the individual and cannot be generalized to a neat window or category that fits every single person. But then again, this is done all the time—whether we are talking about menstrual cycle lengths, body mass index, diets, or anything else. Am I surprised we are only now just being confronted with data that confronts the standard 28-day menstrual cycle, given that understanding of the female anatomy seems to be so low on the priority list that the clitoris was not even fully discovered until 1998? No, I am not surprised. But this study is giving me, and the researchers, hope that more studies will be done on the menstrual cycle, particularly, clinical trials done in controlled settings. “These initial results only scratch the surface of what can be achieved,” said Professor Harper. “We hope to stimulate greater interest in this field of research for the benefit of public health.” She added that with increased interest in and dedication to doing empirical studies, “there is enormous potential to uncover new scientific discoveries.”
Images: karencheee, GabbieHanna / Twitter
We think that kids believe the stupidest things, but turns out, so do adults. Throughout history, people have believed tons of crazy myths about sex, no matter how ridiculous they sound to us now. But at the time, these people thought they were right (and they probably thought they were like, really smart). I don’t mean to sound smug, because the reality is, even today people still believe a variety of sex myths. And, look, I get it. Sex can be uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels like limbs are everywhere, and it can be overall an awkward experience. For some people (not me because I publicly write about my sex life), the thought of talking about sex with their parents, friends, or doctor is scary and uncomfortable, so they turn to the internet, which we all know is not always the source of reliable information.
To be honest, as a kid, I was so uncomfortable with the idea of sex that I refused for my mom to ever give me “the talk.” Hard to believe, I know. All I can say is thank God that the internet exists, or I would definitely still believe some of my own absurd sex myths. Here is a list of some of the craziest sex myths throughout history, that you’ll have trouble believing other people even took seriously (I hope).
Farts Caused Erections
Aphrodisiacs are a beautiful thing. Oysters, chocolate, wine, etc. are considered to be aphrodisiacs. But we don’t typically think of foods that make us gassy to be foods to set the mood. But up until the 18th century, Roman physician Galen believed foods that are “warm and moist” (yuck) and “windy” (aka that make you fart) were aphrodisiacs. Spicy foods (specifically peppers), carrots, asparagus, and others were thought to get people horny. Why? Because people used to believe that erections were caused by wind inflating the penis. Oh god. I don’t even have time to get into all the ways this is wrong. I trust you all took some basic sex ed, yes?
Sneezing After Sex
People really used to believe this myth that in order to prevent pregnancy, you needed to sneeze. Greek Physician Soronus recommended a woman do squats, sneezes, and then rinse out her vagina to avoid getting pregnant. This sex myth is absurd … if I just
had sex did some exercise, I don’t want to do more exercise by doing squats. And if this were the case, no person with seasonal allergies or a cold would ever get pregnant. Honestly, I wish it were that easy—then we would never have unwanted pregnancies.
Masturbation Cures Hysteria
This sex myth is crazy. Starting in the first century A.D., hysteria was described as a female-specific illness and was a result of a “wandering womb.” So what was the cure? Doctor-induced orgasms. It was thought that an orgasm (known as hysterical paroxysm) could help cure a woman of her symptoms. As a result, the vibrator was developed to help doctors with their verrry difficult jobs. The worst part? “Hysteria” was considered a medical condition in the DSM (aka the psychiatry bible) until 1980!!! Aka 5 years after the Vietnam War ended and Jaws was released. (Ever realize that a hysterectomy is the word for when a woman’s uterus is removed? Yeah.)
You Can’t Get Pregnant From Rape
This list of sex myths could not be complete without a scarily recent one by Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin. In 2012, he told KTVI-TV that if a woman is legitimately raped, her body has a way of rejecting the sperm so she does not get pregnant. WTF?? The best part of his statement is that he said, “from what I understand from doctors.” I’m sorry, but what doctor is he talking to? Because they can’t possibly be licensed physicians. Also, don’t get me started with his use of “legitimate rape.”
Masturbating Ruins Your Eyesight
In 1758, Samuel Tissot, a Swiss physician, believed that the more semen a man lost from masturbating, the worse his eyesight would be. He wrote a whole book on the disease of masturbation. V curious about what other sex myths he believed. This sex myth also made people believe that masturbation causes a wide range of symptoms and that it is a disease in and of itself.
Periods Deform Babies
The French believed that if you had sex on your period and got pregnant, the baby would be deformed. The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation outlines the history of period myths. The book says that a baby conceived while a woman has her period will be “puny, languid, and moribund, subject to an infinity of fetid maladies, foul and stinking.” What vivid, gross imagery! There is also the myth that if you’re on your period, you can’t get pregnant. Although unlikely, it is still possible, making this among the common sex myths that people still believe. TBH people believe the craziest things about vaginas in general.
Thank god we as a society still don’t believe some of these truly ridiculous sex myths, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding the human body (and particularly the female anatomy). If nothing else, this proves we really need better sex education.
Images: Giphy (3)
Welcome to our new profile series, Women Who F*ck Sh*t Up, where we highlight accomplished, smart, driven women who are making waves. First up is Nadya Okamoto, activist, non-profit founder, professional speaker, and Harvard student.
Have you ever watched a 20-year-old woman roast a grown man in front of over a hundred people because he was physically incapable of uttering the word “period?” If not, I can’t recommend it enough. Nothing soothes the soul like watching older men be made uncomfortable by young, brazen women.
This was my introduction to Nadya Okamoto. She was the keynote speaker at a conference my company was hosting in the spring of 2018. The theme of the event was “Decoding Gen-Z,” and we probably couldn’t have found a more apropos guest. As an activist, non-profit founder, and professional speaker who still wasn’t old enough to legally drink alcohol, Nadya ticked many of the boxes we’ve come to expect when we think of the next generation. She was up on stage in a packed industrial event space, preaching to advertising industry leaders and high-level executives from prominent companies about the menstrual movement, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. To be fair, for her, it kind of is.
At one point in her speech, the aforementioned man raised his hand to commend Nadya for her vigor, and then asked how he could best talk to his daughters about their periods. Except he couldn’t get the words out.
“Period. The word you’re looking for is period,” she deadpanned. The room went up in laughter, all tension diminished, but I was struck by the surreal nature of what had just happened.
Like most women, I‘ve spent a large portion of my life pretending that I don’t succumb to the biological flaw that are periods: shoving tampons up my sleeves while sneaking off to the bathroom, sitting at a desk and silently powering through cramps that would debilitate any full-grown man, begrudgingly laughing at sh*tty jokes about PMS that only seem to crop up on sh*tty sitcoms written be equally sh*tty men. We’ve all done it. Worse, we’ve all done it and pretended that we didn’t, because to recognize a period is to admit to the shame of having a period.
But here was this young woman casually flipping every paradigm I’ve ever known on its head, making men feel embarrassed for once for their general ignorance and disregard about a topic that we’ve spent a significant portion of our lives shamefully hiding. It was liberating! But in that conflicted way where you’re super excited about progress that should have been commonplace to begin with. I stood there and thought “who is this?” while I clapped along with the rest of the audience and Nadya picked up her speech right where she’d left it.
It wasn’t the last time she’d surprise me.
Now, Nadya Okamoto is a 21-year-old college student. More accurately, a 21-year-old Harvard drop-out (officially on indefinite leave, but due to return in the fall). That moniker may have been shameful 20 years ago, but in this post-Zuckerberg era we all know that dropping out of an Ivy to pursue something bigger is the new Magna Cum Laude.
More interesting than that, though, Nadya is the Founder and President of PERIOD, a youth-run non-profit that celebrates menstruation through service, education, and advocacy. Don’t know what means? You’re not alone.
When Nadya was 16, her mother parted ways with her job and their family lost their home. What followed was a period of crashing at the homes of their friends while her mom got them back on their feet. Suddenly, what was once a 12-minute drive to high school in Portland, OR, became a two-hour-plus commute, and during that time Nadya came into contact with many homeless women. It was these women—their stories, their daily struggles with an issue that nearly half the world takes for granted and the other half merely ignores, their desperation that lead them to use unsanitary items like socks or cardboard or paper bags in lieu of menstrual products—that drove Nadya to action. At the age of 16, with no experience or credentials to her name, she co-founded PERIOD alongside her classmate, Vincent Forand.
“I think from a big wake-up call in knowing how much privilege I have in many ways and recognizing the blessing and platform that I had in comparison to these women in much worse living situations,” Nadya explained to me over the phone last Thursday, taking a break from creating a vision board for yet another meeting she had scheduled the next day. “It was only a matter of months of, you know, spending time Googling and learning more about period poverty that pushed me to realize that not enough was being done around this.”
Period poverty is, quite simply, the inability to afford menstrual hygiene products. Much like the homeless women Nadya once encountered on a daily basis, period poverty forces people all over the world to resort to using unsanitary items to manage their menstruation. It’s the number one reason that girls leave school in developing countries, but they aren’t the only ones to suffer. The UK is the 5th richest country in the world, and yet 10% of girls and young women there have been unable to afford sanitary products at some point in their lives. Just this month, the British government pledged to invest two million pounds into international aid to fund projects around the world providing sanitary products and education.
This is a very real problem, just one that most people have never even heard of.
PERIOD started with a simple mission: to provide people in need with menstrual hygiene products. That was in 2014, and since then Nadya, Vincent, and their now 350+ university and high school campus chapters have delivered over 500,000 period packs to those in need. But why stop there? PERIOD chapters around the country have been lobbying to get free and accessible period products into schools—and they’ve succeeded. The Portland Public School system, Ohio State University, UC Davis, Texas A&M Corpus Cristi, and Harvard have all taken steps toward ending period poverty, all thanks to the tireless work of local students who’ve taken Nadya’s message to a grassroots level.
This year, Nadya has set her sights even higher: Betsy DeVos. In partnership with THINX, PERIOD drafted a petition to the Department of Education, demanding that it “acknowledge period products as necessities, advocate for policies that support students who menstruate, and make period products free and accessible for all public school restrooms.” It currently has over 44,000 signatures. In the event that they reach their goal of 100,000 signatures, will Betsy take a break from defunding the Special Olympics to read it over? Only time will tell.
Beyond that, Nadya’s goals for PERIOD over the next year are simple: make a f*ck ton of noise about period poverty. “I know this sounds like a huge goal and maybe not very realistic, but I think my goal for the year is to get all Americans all over America as obsessed with ending period poverty and period stigma as I am.”
Not very realistic, indeed. I hate that my initial instinct was to laugh, but when you think about who sits in the White House, who sits on the Supreme Court, who sits in C-Suites and governing bodies all over the country, it’s hard to imagine her dream becoming a reality. Republicans may want to control our uteruses, but they sure as hell don’t want to clean up after them. I said as much to her, asking how she could possibly combat the sexism that runs rampant in this country.
Her response was so immediate that I’m almost ashamed I questioned it in the first place: “call them out.” Apparently my first interaction with Nadya wasn’t an irregular occurrence.
“When I give speeches, when I say the word ‘period’ and someone makes a physical reaction, I’m like, ‘do you see how you just reacted? Did you know that menstruation is a natural human body process that makes life possible? Did you know that your wife, your daughter, your sister, your mother all menstruate for 40 years of their life on a monthly basis?’” It’s tragic that we have to qualify the value of these women by their relation to men, but it’s also a reality.
Beyond providing products to those in need, another major tenet of PERIOD is ending the stigma around menstruation. “This is a matter of human dignity. It’s a natural normal thing and we need to talk about it just like that If we don’t talk about this, we will not achieve gender equality.”
As a younger millennial, it’s not often that I feel entirely disconnected from Gen-Z. But listening to Nadya discuss this, watching the support she’s garnered across the country, across the world, from men and women alike, is one of the first times that I start to realize the gap between our two generations. Because I know that I have male friends who would scoff at this kind of rhetoric. Hell, I know women who would. But her co-founder is a man. PERIOD’s Facebook following is 20% male. These may seem like small victories, but in the grand scheme of cultural conversation around menstruation, they’re feats in and of themselves.
So what does a 21-year-old do when she’s not running a non-profit, speaking at SXSW panels, or taking on the Department of Education? Runs for office herself, of course.
In 2017, at the age of 19, Nadya ran for city council in Cambridge, MA, inspired by her passion for housing affordability. She didn’t win, but she’s not too broken up about that. “Honestly, by the end I was realizing how insane it would have been. Running for office was one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done. Sleeping two, three hours a night, canvassing six hours a day, running PERIOD. And when I started, I was working six jobs.”
Six jobs? Six? Jobs? I winced at this point, reflecting on the toll that a measly 1.5 jobs takes on me. But it appears the endeavor took a toll on Nadya as well: she lost her period for an entire year due to exhaustion. The irony was not lost on me.
Nadya ran against 26 other candidates, and while her campaign ultimately failed, she succeeded in making history for student and youth voter turnout. However, her age and race made her a target of multiple death threats from constituents who didn’t think she represented what they needed, and she ended up having to move as a result. When Nadya returns to Harvard in the fall, it will be to a new house and potentially a new major.
“I think if anything I’ve learned over the past two months, working with people in the space and talking to mentors is, like, what you major in doesn’t really matter… I mean, I’m my own boss and right now I don’t know if that’s going to change, and for me, I think I just want to learn whatever I can use in the real world immediately.”
For Nadya, that means moving from Social Studies to Women and Gender Studies, which would allow her to continue her education while also priming her with subject matter for her next book. Yes, her next book. Because she’s already written a first one.
Over the course of two months in 2018, Nadya wrote Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement. It’s taken me a full week to write this profile, but sure. It was released in October of 2018 and Nadya is already thinking about book number two. “I think a totally new topic, but I’m still figuring out what that’s going to look like. And figuring out when I’m going to have the f*cking time to write my next proposal.”
While she assured me that she wasn’t, in fact, writing that proposal during our conversation, I couldn’t really be sure. Through our professional relationship and over the course of this interview, I learned that there’s rarely a time when Nadya isn’t thinking about her next project. Case in point: her other-other job.
A few months ago Nadya stepped down as Executive Director of PERIOD, passing the baton to Betsy Natter, a member of her board and mother of one of her high school friends. Nadya has been operating as Founder and President since then, which allows her to focus on her favorite parts of the job, advocacy work and managing media and corporate partnerships.
The switch has also allowed her to focus on a new venture—Chief Brand Officer of JUV Consulting, a Gen-Z marketing agency based in New York City. JUV employs around 150 teenagers, between the ages of 14 and 20, who act as consultants to corporate executives who are attempting to build out marketing strategies targeted towards Gen-Z. Skeptics might think this is a lofty ambition at best, but JUV boasts big name clients like TNT, NBC, Visa, American Express, and a handful of Unilever brands.
Considering the fact that you can’t go on Twitter without coming across yet another “edgy” fast-food brand attempting to capitalize on youth culture, it’s kind of genius. I work in advertising. I have suffered through more meetings than I can count where out-of-touch adults brainstorm ways to “connect with the teens.” I have listened to too many middle-aged men describe shoes as “lit.” In hindsight, I would have killed for a 16- year-old to laugh in their face when they said it.
If all of this is making you feel old, it’s because it should. “I’m the oldest person in the company and I’m 21,” Nadya casually mentioned while I felt my 27-year-old bones disintegrate into insignificant dust.
But that very reaction—one that I’ll admit I’ve felt multiple times across multiple interactions with Nadya—is one she’s trying to change. Nadya knows she does a lot. In fact, Nadya knows that she does arguably too much. She’s very open about the fact that her, um, let’s call them extracurriculars, have prevented her from experiencing normal teenage things.
“Yes, I’ve done a lot, but it’s because I’ve given up a lot of social life. I’ve given up a lot of personal life so I could do this because this is what I want to do. It’s not that you’re doing nothing in comparison,” she assured me, “I think that everyone has a story and everyone is doing a lot. I feel like we could all push ourselves to do more.”
She’s emphatic now. Up until this point our conversation has covered what I imagine to be fairly canned responses for her. But the way that people react to her, to the path that she’s chosen and has clearly been criticized for in the past, has brought a new level of urgency to our discussion.
Being a 21-year-old activist does not save you from the unsought and, at times, unwarranted opinions of strangers. In fact, it opens you up to more criticism than you’d experience otherwise. At least this seems to be the case for Nadya.
“Literally people always give me this unsolicited piece of advice that I hate but also respect. People always tell me ‘Oh, you can do a bunch of things or you can do one thing really well.’” This sentiment does not sit well with Nadya, who appears to be hellbent on doing just about every single thing extremely well. She has one question for the world, for her critics, for anyone who questions her motives or her drive or her sleeping habits: why can’t I have it all?
“To me, it’s not good enough to just be like, ‘okay, I’m only going to do one thing’ and think of other things as a sacrifice to that. Why can’t I pursue a non-profit and a speaking career and also try to explore for-profit work and then also have a boyfriend and have a life? Why can’t I have it all?”
I didn’t have an answer for her. In that moment, as I sat in my room lightly hungover from a work event the night before, feeling like I wasn’t fulfilling an ounce of my potential, despite the fact that that’s the opposite of the way she wants me to feel, I too wondered why Nadya couldn’t have it all. But, and aligning with everything I’d come to expect by that point, she had an answer for her own question. Nadya figured out an early age what it takes some many years to realize: the world is uncomfortable with ambitious women.
“The other piece of advice I get a lot from women is ‘oh honey, we love what you’re doing but make sure you’re taking care of yourself.’ People are always telling me, ‘make sure you’re happy.’ And I always say thank you, but I think it’s super interesting that ambition and success equated with giving up happiness and self-care.”
I raced to agree with her before realizing that I had done the exact same thing, not 20 minutes before. Our entire conversation had been a fairly one-sided exchange in which Nadya detailed her various undertakings while I interjected with thought-provoking statements like “Jesus Christ” and “that’s insane” or, the apparently wholly unoriginal “wow, do you even sleep?”
By the way, she sleeps eight to ten hours a night these days.
Had I, unbeknownst to myself, immediately assumed that her success came at the detriment of her happiness? Had I fallen in that far-too-common trap, perpetuating the idea that in order to achieve great things she had to give part of herself away? Was I just another one of the countless women who were intimidated by her ambition, and reconciled that by subconsciously belittling her choices? I might have been, but I won’t be in the future.
If we’re being realistic, compromise is inevitable. There are only 24 hours in a day. By definition, we cannot have it all. But we can have enough. By her own admission, Nadya has missed out on aspects of life because of PERIOD and everything that came with it. But she wouldn’t change any of that for the world. Maybe what we can really learn from her is that missing out doesn’t have to be the end all, be all marker for happiness—as long as you make it worth your while.
Nadya told me that nearly every publicist she’s ever worked with has told her she has a tendency to make people feel inadequate. Once upon a time I might have agreed with them, but not anymore. What became most apparent during my time with Nadya, what’s stuck with me more than her inhuman levels of productivity or unparalleled passion or her general need to do all things at all times, is that she never comes across as intimidating. Success has not jaded her. In fact, she’s incredibly warm.
It’s commonplace, even expected, for a certain level of achievement to turn us into assholes. If you get to the point where you’ve accomplished enough to lose all your friends, you’ve pretty much made it. If you’ve done it by age 21, you get a couple lawsuits and a movie made about you. But Nadya defies that trope. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would mistake her earnest faith in humanity as naïvete.
It’s that single attribute more than anything, her ability to maintain her optimism and vulnerability in the face of overwhelming, near insurmountable obstacles, that makes me think she’ll get closer than anyone to have it all. And maybe, with her leading the way, the rest of us can, too.
Images: Nadya Okamoto (5)
Video: PERIOD. The Menstrual Movement
Donald Trump, America’s #1 respecter of ladies, wants you to know he’s willing to make compromises, okay? Even when it comes to areas his BFFL Mike Pence feels very strongly about, e.g., defunding women’s healthcare organizations. On Monday, the White House offered to chill out on the Republican crusade against Planned Parenthood under one condition: PP has to stop providing abortions. Please join me in an eye roll so intense you strain a muscle.
Planned Parenthood receives about $500 million in government funding each year, precisely zero of which is allowed to go toward abortions thanks to the Hyde Amendment. One more time for the people in back: YOUR TAX DOLLARS ARE NOT FUNDING ABORTIONS. Instead, the funding goes toward any of the other bajillion women’s health services PP provides. Those include, but are not limited to: STD screenings, breast cancer screenings, pap smars, AND YES—even testicular and prostate cancer screenings FOR MEN. You’d think that the man currently in charge of national policy would understand this, but apparently that’s too much to expect from the leader of the free world and his army of skanks.
Because not everyone is shitty, the pushback against defunding Planned Parenthood has been so pronounced that some conservatives are apparently worried about political repercussions if they follow through—that’s where the proposal to preserve federal funding comes in. It wasn’t official yet, but that didn’t stop the certified badasses at Planned Parenthood from shutting that shit down ASAP.
“Offering money to Planned Parenthood to abandon our patients and our values is not a deal that we will ever accept,” one executive told the New York Times.
Then the organization’s president, Cecile Richards, tweeted that PP isn’t ashamed of providing abortions. (Subtext: Republicans can step the fuck off.)
When are old white guys going to learn that they have no business making decisions for millions of women? Until they figure it out, keep donating to Planned Parenthood if you can. Ladies supporting ladies is what makes the world go ‘round.