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Period Story Podcast, Episode 83, Maya Oppenheim: Find A Way To Shine A Light On Injustice

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Maya Oppenheim, the Women’s Correspondent at the Independent, which is the only role like this at a UK news outlet. 

In this episode, Maya shares: 

  • How she pitched and landed her role as the first Women’s Correspondent at a UK news outlet, where she writes stories from a women’s and gender angle 
  • The range of topics she covers in this role, including domestic abuse, abortion rights, childcare, poverty, periods, the criminal justice system 
  • The story she’s most proud of – ‘The Murky Online World of Andrew T*te and Pick Up Artists’ and the troubling, misogynistic content she uncovered in her investigation 
  • The trolling she receives online and the topics that tend to result in the most angry responses
  • The inspiration for her first book, The Pocket Guide To The Patriarchy 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Maya says that the way that each person chooses to shine a light on injustice will be different, but it’s important, whatever it is that you want to do, to do something to try to make the world a better place.

Thank you, Maya!

Get in touch with Maya:

Instagram

Twitter

Her book – The Pocket Guide To The Patriarchy


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Thank you so much for coming onto the show today, Maya. I want to get into the question that I ask all of my guests, which is tell us the story of your very first period.

Maya Oppenheim:

Hi. It’s great to be here and it’s such a good idea for a podcast, really simple but powerful format. So my first period, I feel like it’s the day that you wait for and then it finally comes. And almost like with a lot of things in life, somehow the waiting for it and the apprehensiveness and nervousness is almost worse than the actual event itself. And it came when I was 12, and I remember I really wasn’t expecting it. I think because of the fact that I’d been carrying around pads in my bag while I was going to secondary school. I always just thought it will come when I’m at secondary school. That was the kind of like, well, that would be the worst case scenario. And that was the situation that I was prepared for. But I wasn’t at school. I was in Essex at a caravan that I used to go to as a kid with my parents and my sister and I had other family friends that went there. Actually, I wasn’t with my parents, and I think that did upset me. I was with my dad’s ex-wife, which that sounds more dramatic than it was. They’re still very close friends.

So I was with her and her daughter and my sister. And I remember I was in my night dress, orange night dress that was a hand me down from my mum’s very nice night dress with embroidered pears on it. And I remember my sister noticing a relatively big patch of blood on my night dress, and I hadn’t noticed it. And I remember once she noticed that, I thought, oh, it must be my period. And I think I was shocked that I wasn’t in pain, not because I necessarily thought that periods would be painful, but I guess there was the kind of unknowing, uncertain nature of them. And I don’t think I had had a lot of education on what periods really were. I definitely didn’t understand the biology of them, no way. And so I just associated blood with pain, like a lot of us do.

So I think I do remember being surprised I wasn’t in pain. I did have a little cry. I was upset, not devastated, but I think I was a bit shocked and unsettled. And then it wasn’t a major thing, but it must’ve been a bit of something because I remember my grandparents lived, they’re not alive anymore, but they lived in Essex, they lived in Chelmsford. And they drove down to get me, and then they took me back home to my parents in Hackney. Dalston And yeah, I remember my mum saying, have a shower, a normal response. And I remember being scared to get into the shower due to thinking, oh God, it’s all going to pour out of me all this blood, like a power shower, and I’m really scared to see all this blood and I don’t want to make the bath dirty. So yeah, that does show a real lack of understanding of periods. So yeah, I would say I was unsettled by the whole thing, probably due to a lack of education about periods at secondary school.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And when you then saw your parents after your grandparents collected you, what did they say to reassure you and to educate you about what was going on?

Maya Oppenheim:

I think I’d already known quite a bit about what periods were thanks to my parents, especially my mum. So my mum is just, we call her a saint. She’s absolutely lovely. I mean, I’m biased, but people that aren’t related to her and aren’t friends with her also think the same. But yeah, so she was super reassuring and kind and gentle and yeah, I wasn’t kind of like, yeah, I think I was just a bit unsettled because it came earlier than I thought it would. Came at the age of 12. My mum’s had come when she was later. I think periods, from what I’ve heard now come earlier. Is that right?

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, the average age is going down. In the UK, the average age is about 12, but in South America it’s going down to nine, 10 years old, which is incredibly young.

Maya Oppenheim:

So I think I wasn’t expecting it, basically. And I think somehow being off on holiday at the caravan, it seemed to really come from nowhere. It didn’t feel like the right time for it to come, but in retrospect, actually, it was quite a good time for it to come, much better than being at school.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so you were in year eight? Year seven.

Maya Oppenheim:

Year Eight. Yeah, you’re right. Year eight, so 12.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. So you had thought, but what’s interesting is that you were carrying the pads around in your bag almost in anticipation, even though you didn’t think it was going to come until you were in year nine or so.

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, no, that is interesting. I guess that must have been my mum’s input probably. I’d imagine wanting me to be prepared. I mean, it’s a good idea, I think, to have them, because asking teachers for that kind for that kind of thing at the secondary school I went to, and a lot of others, it would’ve been absolutely mortifying. And that’s as much to do with how you feel yourself as a child and your own kind of probably internalised shame and taboo and stigma, which obviously massively surrounds periods still does now and did so way more back then. So I think, yeah, it would’ve been mortifying for me as an awkward teenager to ask a teacher for a pad.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And then after your first period, what was your experience of your period as you went into your teenage years?

Maya Oppenheim:

I was lucky that they weren’t very painful. I’ve never had particularly painful periods. Never. I haven’t had, feel very fortunate. And what was it like? I’d say the main problems were just the bullying about periods in my secondary school. I went to a mixed comprehensive state school in Hackney. There was quite a lot of bullying in the school. It’s definitely, the schools changed a lot now to what it was like back then. You could say the school’s almost been gentrified as the area’s changed. And yeah, it was like, I remember PE was a nightmare. I used to be so anxious if I was on my period in the changing rooms, but I was also anxious even if I wasn’t on my period. And it was just the constant fear of leaking in school. And I remember I’d have these white Mackenzie tracksuits I always used to wear, and I was just mortified that I was going to leak.

And it wasn’t just me. I remember all the girls would be checking each other to see if they had leaked. And it was just, yeah, this constant unshakable fear that you were going to leak even when you weren’t on your period, was it going to spontaneously arrive? And I remember in science lessons, having my tampons burned in the Bunsen burners, I remember going to the toilet and coming back once, and I’m sure it happened more than once actually. And having sanitary, the sticky bits from sanitary pads, having them stuck around the science lab. So yeah, it felt like there was a lot of bullying related to periods.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Was it from other girls or was it from the boys or both?

Maya Oppenheim:

It was more the boys, but also the girls. But I think with what I’m just saying now about the pads and the burning of the tampons and the Bunsen burners, that was the boys.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So they would go through your bag and then see if you had tampons or pads in there and then burn the tampons?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, I mean, I think the burning only happened once, but I think the sticking of the pads happened a couple of times. I can’t remember exactly the exact logistics and details because it was a long time ago, and I’ve probably tried to block it out.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. And did that bullying around periods, did it affect, you mentioned anxiety and feeling anxious even when you weren’t on your period. Did that affect your kind of relationship with your period and your body for a while?

Maya Oppenheim:

I’d say luckily, it probably eased off when I was out of the secondary school environment. As soon as I’d got to sixth form, it kind of went. I wouldn’t say it was something that has been a long enduring and inescapable feature of my life, luckily, I think though, yeah, it was. But yeah, periods were very much something to be hidden. I remember I’d have my period items, I’d keep them in my pencil case. And then I think what was really stressful was when you wanted to go to the toilet and you wanted to take a pad with you and you’d have to hide it, or you’d put a tampon up your sleeve and rush to the toilet, and you wouldn’t want teachers to see it. You wouldn’t want other pupils to see it. So yeah, it was always trying to hide this kind of inescapable, biological function.

Le’Nise Brothers:

It must be so interesting for you now seeing these campaigns like Bloody Good Period had a campaign, I think last year, getting people to stop hiding their tampon up, and pads, up their sleeves knowing what you went through when you were in school.

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, I know. It is great that there’s actually been so much movement on this issue and that there has periods, the whole conversation around periods looks very different than it did half a decade ago, let alone a decade ago, even bigger difference.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. And what’s your relationship with your period now?

Maya Oppenheim:

I mean, I don’t have periods now. I don’t have periods since I went on the contraceptive pill after having an abortion in January 2022. And so yeah, the contraceptive pill that I’m on, which is great. I found it to be yes, super, super good for me, no side effects really. And the Desogestrel pill. And yeah, that’s just stopped my period, so I haven’t had periods for a while. But yeah, before that, I would say I was never someone that had massive or really any kind of particularly bad physical symptoms from periods, a little bit of cramps, a little bit of backache, but nothing too bad and nothing really stopping me from living my life. But I definitely was suffering from premenstrual stress, premenstrual tension. I never know what the right term for it is. I have had that at other stages of my life, and probably when I was younger, not really known what it was, and I wish I’d been better educated on it. But for me as a kid growing up, luckily I came from a very open house. My parents are very open people, so I was educated by periods by them, but I don’t remember having much education about periods in primary school or secondary school. And if I did, it didn’t really seem to stick in my head much.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. So now you have a really, really interesting role. So you are the Woman’s Correspondent at The Independent, which is the only role like this in a UK news outlet. Is that, can you talk a little bit more about the role and how you got this title and the kind of issues that you tend to focus on?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, sure. So yeah, I work as the Women’s Correspondent. I’m a journalist at The Independent. I pitched them this role after working as a general news reporter. Then before that I was on the People section that was like the Indy’s take on celebrity news, but very different kind of style to other newspapers, kind of brand of showbiz people reporting. But then, yeah, this role of Women’s Correspondent, it was amazing to have them create it for me after I pitched it to them. Yeah, so I’ve been in the role since 2018. I write news stories, exclusives, interviews, features, exploring national news, social policy, global stories from a women’s angle, from a gender angle. Main areas I focus on would be domestic abuse, sexual violence, abortion rights, sex work rights, health, childcare, poverty, prisons, wider criminal justice system stories, human rights, yeah, loads of things. It’s a really broad beat. And yeah, that’s one of the many things that yeah, I like about it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Do you find that certain topics tend to come up quite frequently in your reporting? Or when you get articles given to you to write? Are there themes that are just you see constantly?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, just to say, a lot of the articles I write, they aren’t given to me to write. It’s my idea, and I am involved with it from the very earliest stages of idea formulation. I’ll pitch the idea to an editor. Obviously, sometimes they do ask me to write, they ask me to write things, or there’s major stories that break in the news agenda. But yeah, same things coming up. Yeah, I mean, I’m not sure if I totally understand your question. I would say all those issues I just listed, they come up time and time again, and those are the areas that I feel really passionate about writing about.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So you mentioned domestic abuse and violence against women’s and women and girls, and you’ve covered Andrew Tate quite extensively. Can you talk a little bit about Andrew Tate and your investigation into him for people who are listening who may not be familiar with him, and share some of the key insights that you learned from your investigation.

Maya Oppenheim:

So for people that maybe don’t know who Andrew Tate is, or they see his name bandied around and they’re never quite sure who he is. So he’s a misogynistic influencer. He’s a former kickboxing world champion, turned kind of self-avowed success coach. And yeah, I think I’ve done a lot of stories about Andrew Tate over the years. So it’s kind of hard to know where to start in a way. But yeah, a story I did that probably would be the one that I’m most proud of, the headline was ‘The murky online world of Andrew Tate and pick up artists’. So for people that don’t know what a pickup artist is, it’s a lot darker and more sinister than I feel like it sounds like on the tin. So pick up artists. So yeah, it’s a term that’s kind of linked to an industry where men are basically trying to cajole women into sleeping with them, whether that’s via charm and compliments or mind games, but then also coercion and harassment. So yeah, this investigation, it uncovered these videos of Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan, and it kind of shows their former careers as pickup artists and some of the mad stuff that they were saying on these videos. I don’t know, I can give you some examples.

So basically, yeah, I found that for sums that could run into hundreds of pounds, users were encouraged to sign up for access to the brothers content. So it’s, for instance, a Tate webcam program provides a “PhD course”, and that was the name of the program, Tate Webcam program to, to teach you how to obtain and retain unlimited beautiful women in this course will teach you how to turn them into cold, hard cash. Other courses, advertisers being run by Andrew Tate, teach participants “how to lie as well as” unquote “how to intimidate”, and then “how to get your girl on lockdown”, “how to have multiple women who are all loyal to you”. This investigation was from July last year. I’m not sure if the videos are still on nine, but I think, yeah, I’ll give you an example of what Tristan younger brother was saying because this stuff is absolutely mad.

So videos of Tristan Tate show him teaching picky that he basically boasts about being “one of the baddest playboys in the world” and “an elite girl level guy”. He calls himself. He also talks about how to sleep with virgins. In one clip he explains, he has multiple girlfriends who are all exclusive to him. He brags about women who, these are his words verbatim, who cry their eyes out if I stop speaking to them in his own words, he says, that is power, the influencer. He also explains how he looks for girlfriends who leaves their phone unlocked and do not mind if he looks at the device as well as someone he says, who never goes out the room to take a phone call, cleans up my house and cooks my meals. And then he says, I’m reading his quote. “If those things are adding up, then I’ll usually turn it into something serious. I’ll tell her she’s exclusively with me”. He also says “he will never trust a woman like I will trust a man” also saying that while “he knows his girlfriends, do not cheat on him, you have to test their loyalty”. And he suggests that you do this by saying, “Hey, baby, give me your phone. Unlock it. I want to do something. Don’t do shit. Take a selfie and give it back to her”. So yeah, I just found it all incredibly disturbing and depressing.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, what’s really wild about all of this is how it, and I’m not a Luddite by any means. I’m not one of these people that is very reactionary about TikTok and Instagram, but how these messages, these video clips that other, their followers were sharing on TikTok spread like wildfire. And the TikTok algorithm kind of fed into that and was just showing these videos to very impressionable young boys especially. 

Then seeing the impact of this in schools, it’s, I have a 10-year-old son, and I’ve had to have conversations with him about Andrew Tate and the messages that him and his brother are sharing about women, because some of his friends talk about Andrew Tate. It’s wild at 10 years old hearing this kind of stuff. 

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, God, it’s shocking, isn’t it? And really worrying. These are very impressionable. Kids are very, very receptive. There’s a lot of bullying that goes on in schools and probably young teenage boys that do a lot of vile things, but then maybe grow up, and some of them hopefully grow out of it. Some of them sadly do not. So I guess it’s just the fact that he’s getting this massive influence on such young boys. I think it’s just the opulent jets and yachts and the luxury lifestyle. So then that can kind of serve as a gateway to getting people hooked on more dangerous, more extreme, more far right, heavily misogynistic content. And that some people, they just see a clip of him waffling on about being successful and all of this, and it kind of looks far more benign and innocuous than it is. And then sometimes I’ll speak to people who, in my personal life and stuff, I’ve encountered people who like him, but to be fair to them, it’s because it’s naive and idiotic of them to be lured in by him. But it’s also because, well, they claim to have only watched his success videos and they like what he says about success, and they haven’t seen the other stuff.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I think it really speaks to the importance of media literacy and being able to really interrogate the messages that you’re seeing, and also the importance of this teaching this in schools understanding when someone says something, you don’t just accept it at face value, you need to do you own research. And especially with messages like this, what they’re saying about women and how women and girls need to be treated, it’s absolutely wild. It’s very disturbing.

Maya Oppenheim:

Definitely. I think what’s hard about it is sometimes people, there’s so much bad and dark stuff that Andrew Tate has said about women and gender relationships on the internet. You can just see it’s all there. And yet then people will kind of deny that he’s misogynist. And it’s like these comments that he’s made, they’re not veiled. They’re out and open and brazen and plain for all to see. So then you just think, yeah, I’m kind of coming against someone who it seems like they’re quite delusional. They are just defending him till the end of the earth.

Le’Nise Brothers:

This actually leads really nicely into my next question, which is about your first book, called The Pocket Guide to the Patriarchy: The Truth About Misogyny And How It Affects Us All, it came out last year, and it’s such an interesting title, and the topics that you uncover in the book are really interesting. Can you just talk a little bit about why you wanted to write about this topic?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, sure. So just to say that, yeah, I don’t know, you know, but the book’s got a chapter in there about periods, so that’s one of, yeah, 21 chapters. Yeah, sorry, 22. The idea for the book was very much informed by the journalism I do day in, day out in this role as Women’s Correspondent, feeling like I was encountering friends, family, friends, acquaintances, and just feeling even very well-informed, kind of curious, engaged people. I felt like actually they weren’t aware of just quite how virulent misogyny was quite, how widespread mainstream, quite how the rise, the wider rise of the far right was feeding into misogyny, becoming more kind of acceptable and normalized and legitimized, and just feeling like there’s just so many kind of facts and figures and examples out there that people need to be aware of.

So the book, yeah, it’s got 22 chapters. I won’t list them all, but just to give you a vague sense, it is chapter and abortion, domestic abuse periods, like I said, gender pay gap, men in the far right, childcare policing, but yeah, mental health, I won’t list them all. And then the last chapter on feminist icons to galvanize you, another chapter on intersectional feminism. So I guess it was just kind of the issues that felt most important to me, closest to my heart, obviously then it’s no means exhaustive, and there’ll be other issues in there that I wasn’t able to include in the 200 pages.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And what sort of reaction have you got from the book? Because when you talk about misogyny and the patriarchy, those words can be quite loaded for some people, and they can have quite a strong reaction to, oh, that’s a misogynistic, well, what do you mean by that? And they can take it as a personal attack. So can you just talk about the reaction that you’ve had to the book?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, totally. To be honest, it’s been really positive. People have been really positive about it. I’ve had endorsements from Olivia Colman, the actor, from Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, and lots of others. And yeah, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. And I haven’t actually, I have had trolling about it online, but I’m used to it trolling, and it actually, yeah, it hasn’t been particularly bad.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So can you say a bit more about trolling, because being the Woman’s Correspondent at the Independent and the topics that you cover and the way that say platform like Twitter or X is now, do you find that trolling is more prevalent on certain topics that you write about? Or is it just in general?

Maya Oppenheim:

Abortion stories you get anti-abortion ideologues trolling you, that would be something which seems to invoke kind of angry responses from people other particularly, I’m trying to think what other issues.

Domestic abuse? I would say those are the first two that spring to mind.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. That’s interesting. As in domestic abuse, people saying, oh, it’s not that big of an issue, or denying it, or she deserves it or they deserve it, or that sort of thing?

Maya Oppenheim:

So you’ll get things like, I also think sexual violence, and that wouldn’t be, I just thought I didn’t say that issue. It wouldn’t be necessarily that they’re trolling me. But I think those are kind of issues which seem to, and I have had trolling around those issues when I’ve written about them, but it’s more just, it just seems to invoke with sexual violence, people will say things like, oh, this victim, let’s say an anonymous victim has come forward to the media to speak out about celebrity, and it’s 10 years later. And why didn’t she go to the fact basically that she didn’t go to the police in the first place? You often see that’s used to undermine and discredit their allegations. And then in terms of trolling, when I’ve written about domestic abuse, you get a lot of whataboutism from people and just people saying, actually, people just sending me the mad tweets with the most completely false, erroneous data, which is basically trying to say that there’s an epidemic of against men being perpetrated against women, and they’re just sending you completely wrong data.

And they’re just trying to kind of say, challenge the fact that, yeah, we know in this country, let’s say in England and Wales, between two and three women are killed by a former or current partner on average every single week, and they’re just trying to push, it’s like they’ve got a completely warped view of reality, and their grip on reality is very, very loose. It’s like they’re living in a different world where men are the massive victims when it comes to domestic abuse and sexual violence. That’s essentially what they think. And I don’t even want to talk more about what they think because some of it is just so mad and ludicrous.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So he’s from, what’s his name, Stephen Bear from, was he Geordie Shore or some reality TV show?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, he got released from prison this week, didn’t he?

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. And I happened to see that his name was trending on Twitter, and then I just clicked into it. And a lot of the tweets were very kind of like, he should have served more time. What he did was horrible. But then some of the tweets I was seeing was just explaining away what he did and saying, oh, she deserved it. And all of this just really wild statements.

Maya Oppenheim:

That doesn’t shock me because of the role that I’m in. So I’m aware of how commonly held a lot of misogynistic views are, but I do think that would shock a lot of people. I think people do live in their own respective echo chambers and probably have a bit of a kind of blind eye and oblivious to other people’s views. And I think, yeah, and to go back to Andrew Tate, that’s the thing, the kind of sentiment of the views that Tate is pushing and espousing. They’re not new. Lots of men hold similar views like that, but he’s someone who’s built up a massive platform to share those views.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And do you think that when you have someone like him with all these kind of trappings of, so-called success saying these things, it gives more of a permission for men to say these things out loud, things that they may have just been thinking?

Maya Oppenheim:

Definitely, a hundred percent. Not only does it kind of make these views more prevalent, because lots of people are absorbing his opinions and potentially adopting them as their own, they’re also being indoctrinated and brainwashed by him. You could say he’s indoctrinated a whole generation of young men. Some people might say that was too far, but he’s definitely had a strong influence and a lot of young men out there. And yeah, he’s one of the most Googled people in the world, which I guess that is a bit of a misnomer in the sense that a lot of people will be Googling him, not because they agree with him, but I do think there’s no two ways about it. He’s got a dedicated, loyal fan base who love him.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So you released your book last year, your first book. What have you got coming up, coming up next? More work with The Independent? Are you going to be writing another book? What else do you have going on?

Maya Oppenheim:

I guess I’m just enjoying not having to work to do this book. I had to do the book on top of my job as the Women’s Correspondent, and that’s already a labour- intensive job that was, so the book was written weekends, late nights, early mornings type thing. So no plan for another book at present. Would love to do one in the future, would love to write some creative writing, some fiction, not just nonfiction. Yeah, I’m just focusing on my role at the Independent and definitely got some other projects in the pipeline. But yeah, nothing’s set in stone yet. Nothing that I can talk about yet. 

Le’Nise Brothers:

So given all the work that you do and the insights that you gain from your reporting, is there any one thought that you want to leave listeners with maybe about the issues that you cover or patriarchy or your book? Anything?

Maya Oppenheim:

One last thing. I guess. Just whatever, when I’m not going to tell you to you do some particular thing or sign a petition or write a book or go out to a protest, because the way that people want to shine a light on injustice or tackle injustice is very different. But yeah, do something, whatever it is that you want to do, it’ll be deeply personal and subjective for people. But yeah, do something to try and make the world a better place. But that sounds so trite and cliched. But yeah, to be honest, that’s not really a phrase I like to use, but it’s the first one that came into my head.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I love that. I think that’s really important. Everyone has the capacity to do something. Thank you so much for your time, Maya. It’s been really great talking to you.

Maya Oppenheim:

Lovely to talk to you. Yeah, thank you so much for having me. Have a lovely weekend.

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