Leadership Edge: Comedian Whitney Cummings and Yale Physician Dr. Minkin Urges Women to be Bold
Updated: Jan 20
I had the pleasure to sit down with comedian, actor, producer, and writer Whitney Cummings. Whitney is the co-creator of the Emmy-nominated CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls, and is known for her Comedy Award nominated standup specials Whitney Cummings: Money Shot, Whitney Cummings: I Love You, and Whitney Cummings: I'm Your Girlfriend.
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, FACOG, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics at the Yale University School of Medicine has also joined us to share more about what women should consider when selecting a birth control option that fits their lifestyle.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us how you got to where you are today? What drives you?
WC: Whoa! That’s a very intense question. What drives me today are the young girls and women who do not have a lot of guidance. I try to make the content that I wish I had when I was 20 and so lost and confused. Growing up, I had Oprah, I had Ru Paul, I have a lot of heroes. But I didn’t have a lot of women in my family talking about fertility issues, and pregnancy stuff, and how they work. There weren’t a lot of female voices in media and in the public yet and life was shrouded in secrets. I didn’t have the talk, and I carried a lot of shame around. I was in a constant state of embarrassment.
So, my thing is that I believe women are designed to be in tribes, and to pass on stories to the next generation and to share information and secrets and tips and life hacks. I very much see myself as an elder, passing on information to the next generation.
I’d love to say “I’ve made all the mistakes, so here are all the shortcuts.”
Dr. Minkin: I’ve always wanted to be a doctor since I was 5. I grew up in a very medical environment–my family had roots in the field of gynecological endocrinology, and I grew up surrounded by textbooks on clinical gynecological theories. When I started medical school, I loved my obstetrics and gynecology rotation. I thought it was fabulous. So I started with contraceptive work and babies, and as my patients grew older, I started work on menopause and hormones. And one thing that sets OBGYN apart is that not only do we do diagnostic work, and sometimes surgical, we also do well-care. Unlike some other disciplines, we take care of our patients holistically–from looking at hormone levels, x-rays, bones, ultrasounds, and even psychological work, and we really get to be with our patients throughout her life. We get to see her first periods, her first gynecological exam, her first or second or third pregnancy, her menopause, and everything in between. It’s an amazing field.
According to an online analysis of more than 724 million social conversations*, women unnecessarily apologize when talking about controversial topics, such as reproductive health. What are some tips to help women overcome this?
WC: I think a lot of this is inherited. Certain things in our life are considered taboo throughout time, and women have historically been taught to be proper, to be seen and not heard, to value group harmony and to make sure others feel comfortable, sometimes at the expense of our own comfort.
I believe we are now consciously updating our software and our mindset. We are learning that we are safe, and that these ‘teachings’ to be quiet, to be nice, to be good, to make others comfortable, to make ourselves small no longer serves us. They served our ancestors well, and we thank our ancestors for their evolution and for what they passed on to us.
But we are in a different environment now. We do not need to go into that business meeting or family situation and be like “I’m sorry, I’m late. I’m sorry, I’m early. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
No. You walk in there. You take your space. You don’t owe anyone anything. Learn to tolerate the discomfort of others, and learn to let them take care of their own comfort. Be bold, be brave, be courageous.
How do you push boundaries in your comedy? How do you know when or where to stop?
WC: I think that as long as you have a good heart, you can go anywhere. Comedians don’t want to be morally superior. It’s not our job to be role models. We just want to make you laugh, make you nervous, and create tension. We’re just clowns. So for me, pushing boundaries is more than just saying what’s true or what’s shocking. It’s not about saying something dirty or gross, but it’s just to be kind and vulnerable and supportive of other comics.
What are the 3 things you wish you knew and why?
Dr. Minkin: First, ignore some of the ‘common wisdom’ that people tell you. I started in an era when there weren’t too many women physicians in medicine. It never bothered me—I was going to be a doctor, and girls can do whatever they wanted as far as I was concerned. But at the beginning of medical school, many people told me that it is going to be difficult for me because nurses will not like me. And you know what, they were wrong. The nurses were thrilled to have more women physicians in medicine. The nurses were terrific, and even now, during COVID, they are truly heroes on the frontline.
Second, one of the true pleasures in my life is the continuity of care. I’ve stayed in the same practice for 41 years, and I love it. I’ve truly found the discipline that awes me and captures my attention. I always ask my students “Is this area something that’s exciting for now, or is there something else that will capture you long term?”
Lastly, for incoming physicians and healthcare providers, it’s important to determine how hands-on you like. Do you like to operate? This is a key component in picking a career.
What is something that you are working on that you are excited about?
WC: One really exciting project I am working on is my podcast. It’s the first time I can be authentically me and say whatever I want to say without judgment, without people saying I’m too dirty, or too loud, or too dark or too unlikeable. Or too tall. For the longest time, I just couldn’t fit into any of those boxes. And now, I can be whatever and whoever I want to be. I can be myself and tell my truth and find ways to connect with my listeners.
Another reason I like the podcast is that it’s a great way to put out original content and fresh takes quickly. Other forms of media content can take years–a book, a TV show. But the internet has expedited jokes, and people are so so funny. It’s been so cool and so therapeutic to do the podcast and go “I’m insecure. And I cried today because of this.” and be able to talk to other women about their deepest, darkest secrets., I think, I hope, it has been healing for a lot of people. So that’s been big for me.
Dr. Minkin: One of my hobbies is around the issues of sexuality, intimacy, and menopause for cancer survivors. I am trying to promulgate that education throughout the world, and I will be teaching a seminar for OBGYN oncology fellows. It’s something that has a pretty big need and not a lot of teachings around it yet.
What is your blueprint to success?
WC: First, we forgive not because others deserve forgiveness, but because we deserve peace. Forgiveness is selfish. Especially right now, when we are mad at everyone because of the way they vote, or the way they post, or the jokes they made. If we forgive, we can let go of all that anger and resentment. Along the lines of forgiveness, learn to accept the apology you’ve never gotten.
Second, go to the solution, don’t go to the problem. If my boss is screaming at me, and my boss is the problem, I can’t go to her and say “can you stop?” So the solution is going to our therapist, our friends, our parents. And actually, we don’t respect our elders the way we should. Older people have it figured out.
And lastly, say what you mean and mean what you say, but don’t say it mean. As women, as leaders, we have to say what we mean, but in the right way.
Can you share a bit more about the JustSayVagina program?
WC: I started birth control when I was 13 or 14. I had such bad migraines, and the side effects were terrible. And when I started to work, I’m always traveling and on the go, and it’s been such a rigmarole and such big stress to keep taking birth control. Then, my doctor suggested going on Annovera ® because it’s an annual process, and you can still have your normal period. It comes with this app, and it’s completely perfect for me.
And then I found out that their campaign is “JustSayVagina”, and they want women to be bold and unapologetic. I was like, “no way, that’s MY thing!” and it was like this weird fairytale, like some amazing meet-cute story in a romantic comedy. And the key message here is that we have to advocate for our health. We tend to go into doctors’ offices, and we’re scared and intimidated, and we don’t want to ask too many questions because they seem so busy or we don’t want to look stupid or we don’t know what we are talking about. Sometimes, as women, we’ve learned to keep ourselves small, to suck it up, to have a stiff upper lip, to deal with weird pains and bumps.
But, no. Go in there, bring a long list of questions and concerns, and ask every single one of them. Keep a list or journal and write down anything that seems weird or off. Write it down, go to your doctor, and claim your space.
Can you share a little more about Annovera ® ? What makes it stand out?
Dr. Minkin: Annovera ® is a very novel and very pioneering new product in the field of birth control. One of the most important things about contraception is that we need good and safe contraceptives for women. But we also need contraceptives that fit with people’s lifestyles. We need options and choices. And we want people to have the ability to say when they want to get pregnant and say “I’d like a baby now, and it’s the right time.”
If you look at data–and this is fascinating-the US has one of the highest risks of unplanned pregnancies in the developed worlds even though many of the participants in the study were using contraceptives. So obviously, they weren’t using an effective method or they weren’t using the method properly. And that is why we need to have a lot of choices for people.
Current birth control choices such as IUDs require office visits and require a procedure. On the flip side, many doctors and primary care nurse practitioners would like to provide contraception, but they are not necessarily trained in putting in an IUD. Monthly birth control requires constant, daily maintenance. Then you take a look at the pandemic when many women are not able to go to their gynecologists or their primary providers.
And this is where Annovera ® can step in and help. Annovera ® is easy to use, requires less office visits, is patient-controlled, and is very safe. Annovera ® is a contraceptive reusable ring with incredibly low dose of hormones. It’s the second-lowest estrogen product available on the market for contraception, and it has very few side effects.
You only need one trip to the pharmacy, you get this ring, you put it in for 20-21 days, you take it out, wash it off a little with soap and water. You then put it in a case— you don’t need to refrigerate it or do anything odd. You can put it in a drawer for a week and then put it back in. The ring lasts an entire year. It’s easy to use. It takes one trip to the pharmacy a year.
You’re in charge. You don’t have to wait for the provider to insert it or take it out. You don’t have to go to the pharmacy every month or think about it daily.
And research has shown that this is highly effective. Research shows that the more a woman has to go to the pharmacy, the more likely it is for her to forget, or become non-adherent. Annovera ® is better for many people, and the delivery system is excellent.
What should women know when thinking about their health and contraceptive options?
Dr. Minkin: First and foremost, you will want to choose contraception that fits your lifestyle. Can you manage it once a month? Daily? Do you travel often? Is it easy to see your primary physician?
Second, do you get heavy flow or painful cramps? This helps determine what kinds of hormones will be helpful. Combined hormonal contraceptives, in general, offer a lot of relief to women with painful periods.
Third, can you get any other advantages besides contraception? For example, you can get period control. Women going through menopause are still fertile, and can still get pregnant. I’ve personally delivered three 47-year-old ladies who were not trying to get pregnant. So, even if you are going through menopause, you will still need a very low dose of contraceptive.
What do you want our readers to know?
Dr. Minkin: Following what Whitney said earlier, we love the “JustSayVagina” campaign. As professionals, we want our patients to be able to talk frankly about sex and their vagina. When I walk into a new group of medical students that I’m teaching, sometimes I’ll go right up and ask “Hey, how’s your vagina?”
It’s not to be facetious, but as professionals, we want to be comfortable being able to say that to a patient. It is your health, your reproductive health, and it’s important. So I want our students to be comfortable discussing any topic with their patients. And I’d love to have all women be comfortable and be able to speak frankly with all of their healthcare providers.
There is a concept that is floating around medicine lately, and it’s called “shared decision-making”. But to me, I call it “just being a good doctor.” Being a good doctor means working with your patients to come up with the right method, and finding solutions that are going to work for them and be comfortable for them. And I want my patients to be able to ask me questions, tell me any and everything weird or odd that has happened.
And to tie it back to Annovera ® –that’s why I love the product. It is patient-controlled, it’s not provider controlled. She’s the one that I write the script for. And I love that!
Originally published on Thrive Global