Whitney Cummings has a bone to pick with the healthcare system. A few, actually. In between critically-acclaimed standup specials, starring in and directing films, and churning out episodes of her side-splitting podcast, Cummings is somehow also managing to lead the charge for women's healthcare rights, agency, information, and space. And while it's an undoubtedly serious topic, Cummings navigates it with all the humor and "it's you and me, girl" camaraderie of a proverbial older sister.
As the new face of Annovera, a one-and-done birth control ring that requires just one prescription per year, Cummings not only learned about the confidence boost that comes with seizing space at the doctor's office, but the power of language when it comes to describing our bodies. Together, Cummings and Annovera lead their signature "Just Say Vagina" movement that empowers vagina owners through medical language in lieu of froo-froo euphemisms.
Here, Byrdie speaks to Whitney Cummings about her own rage against the healthcare machine, why a notebook at the doctor's office is a must, and why superfluous apologies need to be canceled forever.
Tell me about your past experiences with birth control.
I had to go on birth control when I was 14 because of my migraines. I also did Accutane very young and at least at the time, you had to be on birth control. I just have such a fraught history with birth control, I've just been on it, as many women have, for so long. It's like this game of Whack-a-Mole: this one gives me headaches, this one makes me cry, this one makes me gain weight, this one I can never remember to take it or find it, this one isn't covered. I've been on every birth control.
In my third special, my HBO special, I do like a 10-minute rant on how much I hate birth control because it's like there's an IUD, there's a patch, there was a sticker for a while...like a bumper sticker? You spend all this time getting naked and sexy for your man in lingerie and then you're just like, "...Hey" with a patch that looks like it has a rattail and fuzzies. So gross. And I always found the packaging insulting. It was always pink—because women love pink, right? Like, are you marketing this to children? Grown women don't need things to be pink!
Just Google me. I was like the first person to get canceled, and I was saying vagina.
How does the Just Say Vagina campaign fit in with health empowerment?
Concurrently, in my career, I started doing standup, the roasts, 2 Broke Girls, and the NBC show, and I would make jokes about women talking about their vaginas. People thought I was dirty, articles came out saying I was raunchy, I'm gross, I'm bad for women, I'm sexist...I was being dragged on the internet. Just Google me. I was like the first person to get canceled, and I was saying vagina. Other showrunners came after me, comics, writers I looked up to too were tweeting and making fun of me, and it was this thing of "why 'vagina'?" Half the world has one and the other half wants to touch one. A lot of us aren't getting the medical care we need because we're too embarrassed to say like, "I have this bump inside my vagina." It's this weird thing we have to pretend we don't know we have.
Then I finally went to this gyno who was like "Boom! Here's the deal!" and it was just not a thing. We have this collective "ewww" about it. So when Annovera was like, "our website is Justsayvagina.com" I was like, swipe right, I believe this is a match. I'm also fascinated by how women are programmed to apologize for their existence and taking up space. Sorrysorrysorrrysorrrysorrysorry! Annovera is about being unapologetic. That's my 2021 New Year's Resolution—every time I say "I'm sorry" when I haven't done something wrong, I have to do 10 pushups. Whether it's nature or nurture, ancestral, who cares, we're wired to apologize for everything, all the time. And I'm good on that. Let's cancel apologizing!
Why do you think women are so conditioned to apologize for our existence?
I made that movie The Female Brain after reading (the book it's based on) and it blew my mind how much of it is wired into us on a reptilian brain level, on a primordial level. We're wired to be safe and make sure nobody kills us. Back when we were in tribes, that served us really well because you're incredibly vulnerable: "There's a lion and I need you to like me so you'll protect me when the lion comes, sir, because I'm pregnant." It comes about honestly. But our neurology hasn't really caught up to our current circumstances. It's very en vogue to blame...Vogue, frankly! To blame like, magazines and models, everyone is so addicted to their self-righteous indignation they want to blame everyone but we get it honestly. We inherited it. We also inherited a tremendous amount of strength but no one ever wants to talk about that. My ancestors are West Virginia and Virginia women. In West Virginia, women had to ward off bears with their f—ing personalities! And that wasn't that long ago! When we over-pathologize our superpowers, that annoys me.
You are on Annovera now? Can you tell me about your experience with it?
I'm also on DayQuil [laughs]! Every woman's body is different. Hot take, every woman is different! Annovera is annual. You just put it in and there's an app that tells you when to take it out. My personal experience with migraines is that because I travel so much, I'd be on different timezones and math is not my strong suit so if I missed my birth control pill by like an hour...[snaps fingers]. Migraine, headache, crying in the car, eating an Entenmann's' cake, I need to text my ex, just hormonally gone. So Annovera was like the perfect fit for me. And as everyone knows, I have a very small vagina. Tiny. Can you put that in the clickbait? It's tiny, sooo tiny. And then tag Harry Styles, thanks [laughs].
I have a very small vagina. Tiny. Can you put that in the clickbait? It's tiny, sooo tiny. And then tag Harry Styles, thanks [laughs].
Are there any other areas of women's healthcare you want to see changed? Where else can we reclaim our agency?
Well, I think we need to pay receptionists more money. Like scheduling. Our healthcare system is so...dicey. You go in and you're paying for your healthcare but you feel rushed, you feel like you're walking on eggshells, and the doctor comes in and you're like [says frantically], "I need to see you." You know that feeling? Aren't I paying you to be here? Why am I acting like I'm so lucky you're here? I'd like to find a way for us to claim space in a mental health moment. Like when the doctor comes in, I have to be like, "How much time do I have? I don't want to feel rushed." I go offline when a doctor isn't listening. It's like, "Hold on, I have this weird pain, no it's not PMS." Because doctors can be dismissive. They can! And that's fine, you want your doctor to be busy and a little emotionally detached because otherwise, they'd be too emotional.
And so I make a list when I go in of all the things and claim my space and ask really specific questions and take notes. Like I go in and I take notes and, "Can I write down what you're saying?" And I often say, "Can I record this on a voice memo, do I have permission so I can listen back to it?" We have to participate in our self-care, we have to participate in our medicine. We have to be proactive about it. And it's very healing at a time when a lot of families are being torn apart because of politics. Ask your ancestors and your grandmothers and your aunts about their health history. Ask them, "Did you have headaches, did you have this or that, what were your periods like, what was your childbearing experience like?" That's what people should be talking about at Christmas, not...don't make me say the politician's name [laughs]. And stop yelling about QAnon. Just be like, "Okay, my great-great-grandfather died of cirrhosis and then he had cancer, [breast] cancer. I should get the BRCA Test." Google yourself within your family.