Period Power with Nadya Okamoto
Welcome to the periodcast! Yep, today’s show is all about menstruation—the good, the bad, and the get me a frickin’ heating pad already. So grab your period product of choice, and join us as we get comfortable talking about the politics of periods, what it’s like to talk about your cycle at work, and why we refuse to keep quiet about this super normal bodily function.
Our guest is Nadya Okamoto, executive director of PERIOD, a nonprofit she founded in high school that’s dedicated to turning menstrual care from a taboo topic into a basic right. She’s also the author of the new book Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement, which comes out October 16.
Eighty percent of our congressional positions are held by men. And if people in power continue to be afraid to talk about periods and do not acknowledge it as an actual need, then where it counts, periods will continue to go unaddressed. So that’s why we need people who don’t menstruate and people who identify as men to be involved.
- How experiencing housing instability as a teen led her to see what happens when people can’t afford period products
- Why PERIOD is on a mission to make periods something we celebrate, not hide
- Why she ran for Cambridge City Council at the age of 19—and what she learned in the process
- What it’s like to be running (and scaling) an international nonprofit at the age of 20
Links on bloody links
- Nadya’s Instagram
- On Nadya’s city council run
- Pre-order for Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement
Also on the agenda:
- Bringing up menstruation on stage
- Monster post-pregnancy periods
- The unbearable gender-normativity of way too many period-tracking apps
- The magical properties of heating pads
- Stop calling us “girls” already
And finally: if you’re eligible to vote in the U.S., time to check your registration—your state’s deadline might be coming up in the next couple weeks, and you don’t want to miss all the awesome women you could be voting for in the midterms this year.
This episode of NYG is brought to you by:
Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.
[Ad spot] Sara Wachter-Boettcher This season of No, You Go is sponsored by Harvest—my favorite tool for tracking time, projects and payments. Today I used Harvest to send a couple invoice reminders and to run a quick report on year-to-date payments. It only took two minutes and now I feel totally on top of things, or at least on top of that one thing. Try it for yourself at getharvest.com and if you like it, make sure to enter the code NOYOUGO when you upgrade to a paid account. That will get you 50% off your first month. That’s getharvest.com, code NOYOUGO. [intro music plays for 12 seconds]
Jenn Lukas Hey, welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.
Katel LeDû I’m Katel LeDû.
SWB And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher. And today’s show is all about periods. Not the ones at the end of a sentence—although I do really like to talk about punctuation—today we’re talking about menstruation. And it’s one of those super normal things that we just don’t talk about enough. We are joined today by someone who is working to change that. She is Nadya Okamoto and she’s the founder and executive director of Period—a non-profit she started with a friend in high school that is dedicated to turning menstrual care from a taboo topic into a basic right. She is awesome! And I have to say, I freaking love talking about periods. I seriously bring them up in almost every conference talk I give, which means I bring them up a couple times a month.
KL That’s so awesome, and I have to personally say I’ve seen you do it twice recently and I’m [laughs] so excited you’re doing that.
SWB Yeah, so I remember the first time I did it, I was actually really nervous about it. It was 2015 and at the time I wanted to talk about things like bias in tech products. And I realized that period tracking apps are a really great way to do that because there’s so many assumptions about gender and sexuality in them around things like pink and hearts and flowers, but also things like assumptions that you must be using this app because you’re trying to get pregnant or trying not to get pregnant. And so I decided it was important to talk about this on stage, both because I thought it was a good example and because I was just like, “people have periods, we should talk about them!” And so after that talk—I will tell you—people loved it. People came up to me, tons of people—definitely mostly women—and they told me that it was so powerful to hear me up on a stage just acknowledging periods as something that exist like it was a totally normal thing because they felt like that wasn’t something they had been allowed to talk about. And I was just like “fuck it, I’m talking about periods every time I get on stage now!” [SWB and JL laugh]
JL Yeah, I mean I knew about period tracking apps, but I never really used one until I heard it in one of your talks and then I was like “oh.” And then I actually started using it when I was trying to get pregnant again. And also after you have a baby, your period is so irregular, so I was also just trying to have any semblance [laughs] of like what my body was trying to do. So I started using one regularly and it just was really helpful. And I mean I do have to admit, I really, really love not having my period right now, [SWB laughs] but of course that’s really going to come back to haunt me after I give birth and I bleed for possibly up to six weeks, which is really pleasant let me tell you.
KL Oh yeah, that just does not seem like the appropriate treat [Jenn laughs] after having given birth.
JL People don’t really talk about that part.
JL It’s like you skip a period for nine months and then it’s like [laughing] “hey! remember me?”
KL Your body’s like, “hey, what’s up!” [laughs]
JL [laughing] Yeah!
SWB It just sounds so tiresome because you’re already exhausted, you have a newborn and then when you’re on your period, you’re losing all that iron, that just wears you out all by itself. And so the combo sounds deadly.
KL Seriously. I tried a period tracking app for a little while because a couple years ago, I wound up being off the pill for a little bit. But when I went off the pill at that point, I realized that it was the first time in twenty years that I’d been off the pill. And when I started having a natural period—which was all over the place and hence the period tracking app—I felt kind of sad because I was like “oh.” Like I haven’t really understood what my body is doing for this whole time, so it was kind of cool to get back in touch with that, but I also felt lots of feelings about it.
JL I had started the pill really early because I had really irregular periods so before sexual activity or anything like that. And I had really bad cramps and once you change that, your body is like…it reacts!
KL Yeah. I had no idea what to expect and I feel like when I went to my doctor and I said, “okay, I’m going to do this, I’m going to go off the pill,” they just don’t really tell you a whole bunch of details. They’re like “okay, it may do this, it may do that [laughs]. You may get lots of periods, you might not get any! [laughs] And it’s sort of like, why don’t we know this?
SWB And I think part of it is everybody’s body is different and who knows what’s going to happen, but then part of it is that a lot of women’s health stuff is just so chronically understudied—
SWB —that nobody’s done the research to figure out what tends to work or what tends to be a good way for people to do this. I also went off the pill to get an IUD and I had been on the pill for a very long time and I had not gone on the pill because of cramps and heavy periods, but I had cramps and heavy periods. And I remember being sixteen years old or something and getting like nine-day periods. [JL sighs loudly] I know that’s no six-week, post-pregnancy period, but it was still awful and it was just very, very draining. When I mentioned it being exhausting, like that would wear me out, and I’d just be craving spinach and steak—[laughing] because I’d like need this iron supplement [JL & KL laugh] and so I feel like being able to have access to a range of different ways to lessen the impact of the period on my life has been obviously really important for me. Like if I had to go through these massive nine-day periods to this day, I think that it would be harder for me to get the things done I want to get done in my life!
JL Yeah, I mean, but that’s the thing, right? Like who do you talk to about this? It’s one of those things you didn’t talk about. You didn’t turn to your friend and be like “hey, are your periods nine days also?”
SWB I know, I talked to my mom about it and her periods were also really heavy! [laughs]
KL [laughing] Ohh!
SWB But of course—what do you feel like you’re going to do about it? But of course going on the pill helped me a ton, but now looking back on that, I think like, well shit, we should all be talking about periods a lot more—which is, hence, why I get on stage and talk to hundreds of people about periods. Because they’re just periods, right? They’re just a normal thing that a huge percentage of people have and it’s totally fine to acknowledge they exist and to acknowledge the part about them that sucks and also the part about them that’s really cool.
JL Yeah, I won’t ever forget the time that I worked at Lockheed Martin. As you can imagine, it’s very business [all three laugh] and I was sick one day and my manager was asking me if I was okay or something and I didn’t want to talk about it, I was just having really terrible cramps and I just didn’t want to talk about it. And what I would normally do in that situation is like make something up like, oh, I don’t know, I had food poisoning or a cold. And then I remember finally saying like, “I’ve got my period and have really bad cramps” and he was like “oh, okay.” And I remember feeling so free!
KL That’s amazing. I want to start doing that more and just being like “you know what? [laughs] I’m really crampy and I’m really not up to doing this particular thing right now.”
SWB Excuse me, I need a no bullshit day—
KL [laughing] Exactly!
SWB —because I can not handle any bullshit.
KL Can we just like write each other notes to get out of stuff for period cramps and period nonsense?
SWB [laughing] I mean yes, although a part of me is like, I would so abuse the privilege.
JL I mean I don’t necessarily want to get out of it—right—I just want people to acknowledge that I’m coming from like—
JL —they have the Myers-Briggs test and these color tests and I just want you to know that my personality right now is period. [SWB & KL laugh euphorically]
KL You are so right, you are so right.
SWB Well I mean if you had some other issue like if you had a migraine, for example, you could tell your coworker “I’m sorry, I need to be in a dark space, I have a migraine.” I think having really bad cramps is similar, right? Where you’re like, “I’m sorry, I just have really bad cramps right now, and it’s hard for me to focus”—it’s a totally normal thing to say if we just let that be a normal thing to say.
KL Yeah, you’re totally right. And I was just thinking that I still—there’s always one day whenever I get my period now where I want—like all day it would actually be ideal if I could sit there with a heating pad. And I do it for as much of the day as I possibly can, but it’s like yeah, if we could just say, “this is something I need to do to like actually get work done today,” so.
JL [laughing] Yes.
SWB So I think clearly we have a lot of thoughts about periods, but there is a lot more that we haven’t even gotten into about some of the politics of periods and how people get access to period products and who pays for those and I think we should hear from our expert on the topic.
JL Yeah, definitely. [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out]
Interview: Nadya Okamoto
KL Maybe you haven’t picked up on it yet, but we’re always looking for reasons to talk more about our periods. But why do we have to look for reasons? Why can’t we just talk about them? We are going to ask our guest today that exact question. Nadya Okamoto is an activist and entrepreneur and she was sixteen when she founded PERIOD, the menstrual movement—four years ago. She did it after realizing that menstrual products are not reliably available to those who need them the most and we have so many questions about Nadya’s journey and what’s next for her, and we cannot wait to dig in. So, Nadya, thank you so much for joining us on No, You Go.
Nadya Okamoto Of course, thank you for having me.
KL Well, let’s start with PERIOD. Tell us what it is and what y’all do.
NO So, PERIOD—we are a global youth-run NGO that provides and celebrates menstrual hygiene through service, education and abbacy. And we do that through a number of different ways. We do it through primarily the global distribution of menstrual products to menstruators in need and we mobilize young people all around the world through our campus chapter network to push forward social and systemic change around periods. So, as you were saying, we work to change the narrative around periods to be something that’s more positive and normalized, while also pushing for systemic change towards menstrual equity. So in the last about three years, we’ve addressed over 300,000 periods through product distribution and registered over 200 campus chapters at universities and high schools around the US and abroad.
KL Was there a moment that made you decide this is something I need to do?
NO Yeah, so my passion for periods comes from a really personal place. I started the organization when I was sixteen after my family experienced housing instability my freshman and sophomore year of high school. And during that time my commute to school was about two hours long each way and my bus stop was in old town Portland, Oregon, where there are like ten shelters in a two block radius. And at that bus stop was where I actually became sort of accidental friends with a lot of homeless women who were there trying to go to their local shelters or just trying to [laughs] pass the day. And I think I was really curious about their stories, especially at this time when my family was on paper legally homeless and through hearing their stories of hardship, but then also sort of collecting this anthology of their stories of using toilet paper, socks, brown paper, grocery bags, and cardboard to absorb their menstrual blood and take care of their period, that I essentially became obsessed with periods and would spend my free time learning that periods are the number one reason girls miss school in developing countries, are a leading cause of absenteeism in the States for girls in school and about the sort of systemic barriers like the tampon tax that exists here in the US still. And so it was really after becoming obsessed with it, learning a lot about the issue, realizing that there weren’t really any non-profits around that were doing what I thought needed to be done that I decided that as soon as my family got our feet back on the ground, that I would start my own organization.
KL This is so interesting to me because I feel like very specifically you talk about period hygiene and it seems like it’s one of the tenets of PERIOD’s mission. So why is that aspect so important and why is it a focus for the education part of what you’re doing?
NO I think we really operate off of the idea that it’s a fundamental human right to be able to discover and reach your full potential regardless of an actual need, right? So we support menstruators feeling clean, confident and capable regardless of whether or not they’re menstruating. And I think that the word hygiene is very controversial in this space because it implies that menstruation is inherently dirty and we’re not saying that menstruation is inherently dirty, but we’re saying that when people do not have access to period products and they’re menstruating, it can be an unclean experience that can one, cause infections, can cause discomfort. Because of the stigma around periods, the shame around free bleeding or the nervousness about bleeding through your clothes or just people finding out that you’re menstruating can cause someone to feel less confident about seeking and reaching their full potential while they’re on their period. And that’s something that we’re really fighting.
KL Related to that—how do you see the taboo of talking about periods manifest itself most in terms of that stigma? For example, when we’re at work, there’s been a long history of just you’re kind of trying to scuttle to the bathroom and hide your tampons or your feminine products and that just feels really shamey. How do we get past that and just talk about it more?
NO That’s something we’re really working on as well. So making sure that we’re pushing schools especially—but also workplaces—to hold period products, make them available and make it known that they’re available. Being able to have a workplace where you can say, “hi, for all menstruators in the office, we have free tampons and pads in the bathroom,” because like—treat it like toilet paper, it’s something that we all have to do and that happens to us and that’s a healthy part of life that we should really be supporting. I think a big part is one, making it clear that people deserve access to period products and creating a space where people if they’re having cramps, if they’re struggling with their period, can feel comfortable talking about it.
KL Does everyone want to talk to you about their periods?
NO Um, no, but I usually push them to do so. And I will tell you—I think as a young activist, I get so much excitement and pleasure when I meet someone who doesn’t want to talk to me about their period and I push them to. Like I think every, single person in our chapter network in our team sees it as sort of like an exciting challenge to make people think about periods and realize the need for the menstrual movement. And I think that’s why we’ve been so successful. That’s why we’ve been able to grow so fast and so big. We’re now the largest youth run NGO in women’s health in the world and a lot of that is due to being able to convince people that they need to care about the menstrual movement very effectively.
SWB So you said that you oftentimes find yourself pushing people who don’t necessarily want to talk about periods to talk about them, how do you do that? And is there a time when you’ve done that where you feel like it really changed the conversation?
NO Of course. I mean, we do it every day. We’re constantly meeting people who don’t want to talk about periods or haven’t even thought about it before. You know, our tactic is really being able to frame the menstrual movement as a small part of the larger movement towards gender equality, right? So being able to talk to people and say ‘if you believe in gender equality and global development or breaking the cycle of poverty or you call yourself a feminist, you inherently have to join our army of what we call [laughing] ‘period warriors,” right? We’re a movement of people who are fighting to normalize the conversation of periods because we can throw stats at you about how periods hold people back from equal opportunities in education and employment and if you really support equal opportunity in every field and support our achieving gender equality, it is an integral part of progress to be able to accelerate the menstrual movement. And I think that we’ve also mastered being able to combat ways people might challenge us. You know, we often get ‘oh, I get what you’re saying, but what about climate change or sustainability, or what about equality in sports?’ Like anything like that. And regardless of what people throw at us, I think we’ve found ways to bring periods into the conversation. So for example, with sustainability, that’s the one I get a lot. How do you prioritize periods when we’re really talking about the Earth and I can say ‘well, you know, the average disposable pad or tampon can take up to five to eight centuries to decompose and people are using tens of thousands of products in their lifetime, how can we open up conversation for more sustainable use of period management?’ Right? So I think that there’s ways that we’ve been able to find avenues to bring people into the conversation regardless of how they’re coming into it and I think that that’s been a big way Period has grown our movement.
SWB You know, there’s a couple things in there that really caught my attention. One of them is this idea that there’s this what-about-ism, right? With every time you bring up one issue, it’s like ‘well, that’s not the biggest thing we should be worried about right now.’ And that’s such a derailing tactic I think is oftentimes—even if it’s unintentional, I think so many times that ends up derailing conversations where it’s like, well, nothing gets better if we don’t talk about it, and so if you create the situation where it’s simply undiscussed, then there’s no way to actually improve things for anybody. We’ve had guests on before who have talked about things like racism in the workplace and how reluctant companies are to even say the word race or to even talk about black employees and say the word “black”—they can’t do it because they’ve been trained that somehow talking about race is the real racism. The result of that, is they can’t put their finger on the actual issues, like how can you actually affect specific gendered issues—in your example—if you can not talk about what they are as what they are? So I really love that message of like, “it’s just a fucking period, talk about periods!”
NO Yeah, of course. I think a big part of it is—we will tell people like, “do you know that in 36 States, there’s a sales tax on period products because they’re considered luxury items, but Rogaine and Viagra aren’t?” And I think that we bring up the tampon tax a lot because I think it’s such a clear example of misogyny in the US that people don’t really think about and take for granted and we say ‘we need to talk about these issues’ and in the US, less than 20% of our congressional positions are held by women. So whether or not you get a period, whether or not you identify as man, woman or anything in between, we all need to be talking about periods.
KL So, I think I read somewhere recently that you’re taking leave from your studies at Harvard to focus on scaling PERIOD and speaking more, which is amazing. So what does scaling mean for the organization—you know—now and kind of as you look forward?
NO As an organization, we have full time staff now, which is still crazy for me to think about and as an organization, we’re constantly thinking about how we can push deeper impact in our focus cities. Right now we have offices in Portland and New York City and interns at both places and remotely. And we’re continuing to figure out how we’re going to scale. Right now our focus cities for 2018 were New York and Portland and Boston and we’ve really scaled up our distribution there. But it’s making sure that we’re supporting shelters and supporting legislation in those areas and really deepening our impact with chapters.
KL So, related to that, what has it been like to be such a young entrepreneur, but an entrepreneur in general?
NO I think every day is a challenge and I constantly struggle with imposter syndrome and feeling like I’m not doing my job well, [laughs] but I think that that sort of insecurity is definitely what keeps me working really hard. I think one of the biggest challenges on a personal level is maintaining self care and confidence because I think that—I run into all the time people telling me that I’m doing my job wrong, or I could be doing my job better, or people telling me they disagree with what I’m doing. And of course we get a lot of support, but as a perfectionist, [laughing] those are definitely the comments I remember. And I think also PERIOD the movement is growing so fast, which is so exciting, but our resources are not growing at an equal rate, so a big challenge for me has been teaching myself and then learning how to do non-profit development when I don’t have a degree in non-profit or business management. So it’s been very much learning as you go. And I think the reason we have been successful thus far is because I’ve sort of adopted this mentality of being completely unafraid to ask for help, Google questions and admit when I really don’t know what I’m doing.
KL God, everyone loves to tell you how they think you should do something from the outside. I have also learned this and [laughs] I feel like it’s extremely frustrating. Is there anything that you kind of felt surprised to learn along the way? Like something that has made you grow?
NO I’ve been really pushed to think about gender when I work on this. Like gender is a social construct because when I started this organization I started it to help homeless women and I wasn’t even thinking about—to be completely honest—trans identity and experience with periods for trans people. And it’s been through working on this organization, being called out by trans people about the need to be more inclusive that PERIOD has sort of become one of the leading organizations in being gender inclusive and that’s very much because I think for me it was a surprising learning experience to be able to take a step back and realize that I am not the person to be leading those conversations, but we’re building a platform to have conversations like talking about gender as a social construct and people who don’t identify as women but also menstruate.
SWB We’ve talked about trans issues on the show a lot of times—both with guests who are part of those communities, but also with each other, kind of talking about how we’ve learned and continue to learn, right? Like still have a lot to learn when it comes to questioning things about gender and it’s so useful to say the way that you came to this issue is via these homeless women that you got to know, but that you’ve realized that it is not limited to that and it’s not limited to women and that you were able to kind of hear that and make that part of what you do. And I think that’s so hard to do in the moment—it’s so easy to go to that place of defensiveness like, “ugh, I mean well though, like don’t they see that I mean well?” And to learn that skill of holding that feedback and processing it and then choosing to do something productive with it is great. Was there anything that you found helped you learn to do that well?
NO My biggest inspirations and the people who keep me extremely grounded are my mom and my two younger sisters. I think that it was very much my sisters and my mom who taught me to listen and know when it’s my time to take lead and know when it’s my time to empower others. And I think from a really young age I have always thought about leadership as truly being able to empower others to be leaders themselves and I think that that’s something I carry really deeply within me as we grow PERIOD and we’re not just about recruiting volunteers, we’re about recruiting chapter leaders and people to lead activism in their own communities.
KL So we heard that you’re now also releasing a book about periods. Can you tell us about that?
NO Yeah, so a few months ago—actually like last, oh my gosh, like last year in 2017—I signed with Simon & Schuster, the book publisher, to write Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement. It’s my first book and it comes out October 16th and I’m very, very excited for it.
KL Congratulations, that is amazing. [laughs]
SWB I want to ask some questions about the book, but before we ask questions about the book, can we just say, like, hell yeah, that’s so great, congrats! It’s so much work to write a book and you mentioned like, “oh my gosh last year.” Even that—that’s moving pretty fast. Most books take so long—
NO Oh, I wrote it in like a month! [laughs]
SWB Wow! What was that like?
NO It was crazy, I was constantly behind deadlines. I missed most of my deadlines and my literary agents are incredible and were really the ones who kept me on track and then thank goodness some higher power might have been watching out for me, [laughs] but I ended up getting stranded at the Tokyo airport for 30 hours coming back from a speaking gig in Singapore and wrote half the book in my extended layover. So I think that it was definitely a hectic process. I don’t think of myself as a great writer so it was definitely a challenge of believing in myself, but my tactic was just I would say the words as I would write and I just sort of thought of me explaining to a little sister—or someone I thought of as a little sister—about their period and how I think that they should think of their period and what they should know about it, what they should know about the menstrual movement. And I would just write down what I was saying out loud. And that was sort of my strategy with writing.
SWB That’s so cool. Was your audience for it as you were working on it—were you really imagining that being sort of like the younger sister, the younger version of yourself—is it really meant for teen girls and young women?
NO Yeah, so it’s young adult non-fiction.
KL Well, I definitely want to read it regardless. [laughs]
NO My dream is for this to be a manifesto for the fourth wave feminism. Of young people using social media to mobilize thinking about feminism in a very intersectional way. But I want this book to be super accessible to people of all ages and of all genders and of all menstruation or non-menstruation experiences.
KL This makes me think of how, you celebrate periods a lot and I think that is so important. Like on PERIOD.org’s website, the team’s bios have a stat and it’s essentially ‘menstruating since’ and I—for some reason I loved that so much because I thought about when I first got my period and I was like, hell yeah. I’ve been menstruating for a long time and that’s really fucking cool. And it’s just this little thing that starts to destigmatize—and again—celebrate our period. How do you advocate that people start to do that a little bit more?
NO The whole book opens with my own personal story of my first period about how when I got it, it was a really scary experience. But when I told my mom, it was a really happy experience because she was so excited that I was a woman [laughs]. And I think that for me, I talk in the book about how this is something that tells us that our body is growing and working. Like framing periods as something that’s like about growth. There is so much we can know about our bodies from getting our period. Whether it’s knowing whether or not we’re pregnant or—you know—knowing how our blood health is. Like anything like that. I think being able to frame periods as like—this is something that first of all—makes human life possible, but also, is something that is positive in many ways. Like the experience might be hard, you might get cramps, but at the end of the day, getting your period is something that should be celebrated.
SWB So Nadya, there’s one other thing I wanted to ask you about. So earlier, you were talking a bit about how you really want people who have periods to have more access to information, feel more comfortable talking about it, and I’m curious what your thoughts are about people who don’t have periods and what their role is in the period movement.
NO I always use the example of US congress. The movement can make noise about how we need to make access to period products equitable, how we need to get rid of things like the tampon tax and how we need to change society and change systems to advance the menstrual movement. We can say that as much as possible, we can make people care. At the end of the day, in order to do that successfully, we need to engage both people who have periods and people who don’t have periods. For the most part, people who don’t have periods are men, and we still live in a world where almost 50% of our world identify as men and don’t get their period and still even in progressive countries—quote, unquote progressive countries like the US—80% of our congressional positions are held by men. And if people in power continue to be afraid to talk about periods and do not acknowledge it as an actual need, then where it counts, periods will continue to go unaddressed. So that’s why we need people who don’t menstruate and people who identify as men to be involved.
SWB Yes and—I don’t think that any of our listeners are in Congress probably—I don’t know if they are, that would be great, but—you never know!—but I do know that we have at least a good chunk of listeners who are men. And so men, if you are out there listening, learn to talk about periods. It’s not that hard!
KL Yeah, seriously. Well and speaking of Congress, I want to ask you about in addition to running an organization with increasing visibility, last year you ran for Cambridge City Council. What was that like?
NO It was one of the most terrifying, exhausting, but of course meaningful experiences of my life. I was constantly feeling under scrutiny, but I really believed in what I was doing, I had an incredible team and I was really passionate about the platform that I was running on.
KL So you didn’t win, but you were nineteen and if you had been elected, you would have been the youngest and first Asian-American female city councillor in the city’s history. That’s badass!
NO Yes. Well and it was really exciting! Actually, one of the most surprising learnings I got out of it was learning to be proud of my racial and ethnic identity. I grew up feeling really ashamed of being Asian and it was actually running that I first experienced extreme hatred for being Asian, but also a whole new level of support for being Asian. Because I didn’t know, but Asians are the fastest growing minority population in the US, but more underrepresented at every level of government than any other racial or ethnic group and that’s the same for media and politics. And so I think that it was an incredible experience of learning to be okay with myself and who I am, but it also taught me to be completely unapologetic about myself because every way I turned, there was always someone telling me what I was doing wrong or what made me wrong.
KL Right, yeah, absolutely. What made you decide to run in the first place?
NO For me, it was really the passion about housing affordability. It was me going on runs, being able to see gentrification in the city and then just wanting to learn more, get more involved, ended up with an 80-page word document of what I thought city council could be doing better and then when I started hearing jokes of “oh if you have so many ideas, why don’t you run yourself?” I decided to look up what it took to run. I saw that you just needed to be 18 and I was 19, so I sort of thought, “okay, I’m qualified” and went for it.
KL [laughs] I was reading a Teen Vogue article that you had been interviewed in earlier this year and you talked about campaigning and the toll it took on you. You were understandably tired and exhausted and you also say you felt alone at points and didn’t feel all that confident. That sounds really fucking hard. How did you work through that?
NO I mean, I think that it’s something that I still deal with—I still feel very alone at times, especially when things start to ramp up. I got really close with my mom actually. My mom and I have always been really close, but it was an experience where I wanted to talk to my mom a lot more and I think she was the one that I would always tell I was feeling tired when I was really feeling tired. I think that support was really meaningful for me.
KL I get the sense from following you on Instagram because we follow you and you’re—you’re wonderful [laughs and NO laughs] that you’re always inspiring folks with your energy and your creativity and your drive. What do you do if you’re the one in need of inspiration?
NO I watch a lot of videos of Beyoncé performing. [laughs] I watch a lot of videos of Sean Lew dancing and I follow some incredible people that I really look up to like Alli Webb, the founder of Drybar. Like Blair Imani and Phillip Picardi of Teen Vogue, Elaine Welteroth—I really use Instagram as a place to just be inspired by people and I think a lot of it is—or what I’m inspired by—is people who give their all to what they do and also give us insight into their world of self care too. So, being able to see Beyoncé performing, I’m just always in awe of how much she gives herself to every performance. Like I have friends who aren’t big fans of her or her music, but I’m like, okay, you can not watch a video of Beyoncé and say she doesn’t give it her all, right? No person gets up on stage on tour for two hours at a time and just goes that hard, you know? And I think that I very much use that as inspiration especially when I’m on speaking tour—obviously not performing for as big of crowds or as often—but I sort of take that mentality of no matter who I’m performing, even if I don’t know anyone in the audience or I don’t know what organization I’m actually speaking at, [laughs] I give it my all and I get up on stage each time thinking, like, there’s someone in the crowd who what I’m going to say could really mean a lot to them.
KL Yeah! Hell yeah! I think we—we can all benefit from channeling some of that Beyoncé energy and that drive and just—I really feel like you can feel it. Whether you’re watching on YouTube video or there in concert, it’s like—it’s, yeah, it’s very cool.
NO I completely agree.
KL So one last question. What is next for you and PERIOD?
NO Yeah, I’m not going back to school for this year so I think I’m just going to be growing a lot of it and then we have PeriodCon 2018, which is our global conference. That will be in December in New York City. So it’s doing Period, really working on those and also I guess getting ready for my book to come out!
KL Well, that all sounds amazing and we will absolutely be following along with you. Thank you so much for joining us today.
NO Thank you so much for having me! [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out]
KL Hey everyone. Let’s take a sec to talk about our favorite topic: careers. This week’s focus is interviewing. To help us, Shopify’s VP of UX, Lynsey Thornton, tells us what she looks for when she’s trying to grow her team. Lynsey?
Lynsey Thornton So I care a lot about bringing people into the team who are passionate about the problems we’re solving for independent business owners and who aren’t afraid of challenging us to be better. So that’s what I look for when interviewing at Shopify. What’s different in your company, project or team because of you? And that doesn’t always have to be a big thing. Maybe you were the first person to bring customers into your project process. Or perhaps you were the one who took the initiative to update your companies job descriptions so they were more inclusive. Changing things for the better, even the little things, shows not only that you care, but that you can act.
KL I love this tip. If you’re looking for a new role, show your potential employers how you grow and hey, maybe your new role could even be at Shopify. Check out Shopify.com/careers to see their latest roles. [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out]
KL So girls, should we do a vocab swap?
SWB Bleughh, girls! [all three sigh and laugh]
KL It’s—why. It’s so terrible.
SWB I have been called a girl so much recently. In fact, Katel, me and you—we were at the beach a little while back in the summer with two other women and literally all of us were old enough to be president [KL laughs] and yet, our Airbnb host—as he was showing us around this house—kept calling us girls.’ And I don’t know, it feels so infantilizing to me. It feels like nails on a chalkboard, I hate it so much. And I have been called a girl at the airport, at a hotel, I was at a farm stand buying some fucking tomatoes—I feel like I’ve been called a girl so much in the past month and I am so over it.
KL I know, I am too. I mean, I feel like it’s probably not—you know—everyone’s intention of the person who’s saying it to infantilize or shut things down, but that’s how I feel about it. And—it just seems so flagrant. Like when you’re addressing a group of men, you never think to say ‘well, boys.’
JL Right? Speaking of vocab swaps, there’s plenty of things to say. Women, ladies. I’ve always been a really big fan of ladies because I just think it sounds classy as fuck. [laughs and KL laughs] Just like ‘yes, I’m a fucking lady.’
SWB And I know not everyone loves the word “lady” either, but I do think it’s definitely—for me—always, it’s always a better option than girl.
JL I used to work with this man and he was not my direct supervisor, but I would hear him talk to the women that he worked with and he would call them over and he’d be like “girls, girls, come over here”—to talk about their designs. Like he was in an episode of Mad Men!
SWB Super gross.
JL It was like, every time I’d hear it—“girls, girls”—I would just vomit in my mouth and I was like, “this is the worst—please stop belittling them!”
SWB Yes! I’ve heard some push back about this like, “well, what are we supposed to call groups of women in a casual way like we would say ‘guys’? There’s no equivalent to ‘guys,’ so ‘girls’ is the equivalent to guys.” And the reality is there isn’t really a precise equivalent to the term “guys”—which has its own problematic backstory—but it turns out you don’t even necessarily have to replace “guys” or “girls” with anything else. Sometimes you can just say “hey, how are you all doing tonight?” or “hope you all have a fun weekend,” right? You don’t have to say “girls” or anything to fill that gap in there, because there’s really not a gap. I think it’s just this assumption that you have to add some kind of gendered statement in there and…turns out you don’t!
KL Yeah, the guy who showed us around the beach house, he could have just said, “here’s where the keys are.” [all three laugh] Still works.
JL It’s like magic!
KL So this isn’t so much a vocab swap for us, but it’s something I really wish more men realized and—you know—so just men listening, everyone listening, just please think about it, y’all! Okay? [all three laugh]
JL So, fuck yeah to that statement! But that’s not even our fuck yeah this week, is it?
KL Oh gosh, I think I’ve got something. I know we’ve been talking about this for a while, we even talked to someone who is running for office—Liz Fiedler—early on in our first season. But with the midterm elections coming up, there are just so many women running for office and it’s fucking amazing and I just thought we should take a moment to look at who is running and just—I think it’s amazing, it’s so cool to see so many people.
SWB Well, there’s a few that we’ve talked about in the newsletter, so folks like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York or Stacey Abrams running for governor in Georgia. But there’s so many other people out there who we are just starting to research!
KL Yeah, it’s not just the first time we’re seeing so many women, it’s like then—these people running are breaking through all these firsts in their own areas. Like Ilhan Omar in Minnesota—she, in 2016, she became the first Somali-American Muslim legislator in the US and now she’s running for Congress in Minnesota, which is just amazing. And there’s also Deb Haaland in New Mexico and she will be the first Native American woman in Congress if she wins. And she is currently favored to win. There’s a lot of women currently favored and I think that’s just so fucking cool.
SWB I have recently been following this organization that is called the Voter Participation Center. And what they so is quote increasing civic engagement among the rising American electorate. Which they mean unmarried women, people of color and millennials. And so I think that’s really cool because obviously those are groups that I care a lot about and I care about making sure younger people, people of color and women of all kinds are able to get out and vote. So, they’re looking at stuff like which states are closing polling locations or if states are enacting legislation that makes it more difficult for people to vote and they’re also doing things like keeping track of when different voter registration deadlines are. So, I was taking a look at their site because it’s a little complicated. There’s online registration deadlines and mail registration deadlines for different states and so they have kind of done all of the math for you so you don’t have to read the thing that says ‘within 28 days of this, this has to happen’ and instead you can just kind of get an update on when it needs to happen in every, single state.
JL That is so helpful.
KL I know, that’s really cool.
SWB It is very helpful. And I looked at it and I wanted to give a shout out to them because a whole bunch of states have deadlines in just a few weeks like in early October. The earliest one I saw is October 7th. And so if you’re a US citizen and you want to vote and you’re not 100% sure that your registration is current, I think it’s definitely time to double check because this is the time of year when you want to make sure that you are going to be able to get in and vote. And also if you know people like college students, people who are often really busy in the fall, maybe aren’t paying attention to this, this is a great time to check in with them and make sure they’re registered too.
KL Fuck yeah to women on the ballot and to all of us going to the polls. I hope everyone does. So if you don’t need this list, please share it.
SWB Fuck yeah!
JL And that’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and is produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by the Diaphone. Thanks to Nadya Okamoto for being our guest today. And if you like what you’ve been hearing, which I assume you do because you’ve made it this far, [laughs] please be sure to subscribe and rate us on wherever you listen to your podcasts because your support helps us reach more people and keeps us going. And we’ll be back next week with another great guest. See you then! [music fades in, plays alone for 32 seconds, fades out to end]