When One Face Leads A Movement

Hannah Duke

Politics and activism can seem daunting when you’re first learning about them. It’s easy to push it away and think I’ll just worry about that later. When I was younger, I used to feel this way often. I would observe adults bickering at the dinner table and question, is it really worth it?


Then, one day, as I was browsing the shelves of Barnes & Noble and contemplating what my next read should be, I saw a conspicuously bright pink book with the title Period written down the side. I thought, this can’t be about menstruation, can it? Sure enough, it was. I bought the book, and thus began my passion for the menstrual movement. 


All it took was one book for me to find out what truly got my blood boiling. Once I had a place to begin, my passion surrounding feminism, activism, and politics blossomed. It’s like building a web; you have to start somewhere. Then, you can build outwards, expanding both your knowledge and excitement to make a difference in issues that you care about. 


I’ve followed the menstrual movement for years now. I am very passionate about its central issues, which include helping end period poverty and ending the stigma around menstruation. (Don’t even get me started on the tampon tax.) I’ve also followed the author of Period and founder of the non-profit PERIOD, Nadya Okamoto, closely ever since finding her book at Barnes & Noble. She was a major source of inspiration and a role model for me — that is, up until this summer. 


Looking back, a problem I should have foreseen with the “period movement” was that it all centered around Okamoto. From her partnership with Adidas and L'Oréal to attending the Golden Globes, Okamoto received all the glory for “her” movement.


Over the summer, Ìlérí Jaiyéọba posted an article calling out Okamoto for monopolizing the menstrual movement and coercing other pre-existing menstrual-related organizations to dissolve their groups and join hers. Since this article’s release, many have come forward stating that similar acts of coercion resulted in their smaller grassroots organizations being dissolved into the greater PERIOD nonprofit, resulting in the theft of intellectual property, plagiarism, and other manipulations. Most saddening is that many of the organizations affected by Okamoto’s actions were run by black women and women of color.


The original idea behind PERIOD’s work was amazing and inspiring, but it is overshadowed by Okamoto’s attempts to monopolize the menstrual movement for personal glory. Intentional or not, Okamoto hurt countless people in her rise to recognition. (You can read her response here.)


I learned a lot watching these events unfold over this past summer. Most importantly, ‘we’ is so much more powerful than ‘I.’ True change can only happen when people gather together, and the leaders of these movements focus on the people in the movement, not themselves. With Okamoto, I should have seen it sooner. I should have wondered, why does there only seem to be one organization (PERIOD) at the forefront of the menstrual movement? Why is there only one person (Okamoto) visible at the head of that organization, receiving all the glory for the organization’s work?  


It’s true; activism and politics can seem really daunting at first. But if you’re interested in getting involved, the first step should be understanding that at the end of the day, it should be about improving the quality of everyone’s lives, not about personal gain or glory. 


And… if you want to be part of the change and support some incredible black-led menstrual-related organizations, here’s a list courtesy of Jaiyéọba’s article: