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Its little cloud body drifted across my iPhone screen: “7 days late!” written in friendly blue lettering on its belly. It was very cute, and indeed, two pregnancy tests later, it could be confirmed that I was pregnant – not cute at all. “8 days late! 9 days late! 10 days late! 11 days late!” the cloud informed me, as the day of my abortion approached. “25 days late! 36 days late! 41 days late!” it announced, as I waited six weeks for my post-procedure cycle to reset. When it did, I realized I couldn’t just go back to logging my period as normal: The app would think I’d undergone a cycle more than twice as long as usual and adjust all my averages, rendering all of its future predictions completely useless to me.
I had been using the same ad-riddled, ultra-pink app since I bought my first s, and now I was going to have to delete all of its learnings and start over. There was no way to explain to it that something out-of-the-ordinary had happened to my body, and while this wasn’t a huge inconvenience, it did strike me as wildly silly. I mean, the culture I live in had already done a thorough enough job prompting me to codify myself as a “bad” woman, and now some poorly designed app was telling me I was also bad data.
In the past three years, an estimated $1 billion of investment has been poured into women’s health technology. This has nothing to do with the tech industry becoming pro-woman.
The “femtech” , but globally, only 10 percent of investor money goes to women-led startups. At Apple, women hold 29 percent of leadership positions and 23 percent of tech positions, and almost all of those women are white. This is very much the industry standard – if anything, slightly better than it. Because “femtech” is everywhere these days, it’s easy to forget that when Apple Health debuted in 2014, senior VP of software engineering Craig Federighi told users, “You can monitor all of your metrics that you’re most interested in.” This did not, for nearly a year, include period tracking.
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In Apple Health today, users can log not only their menstrual cycles but their basal body temperature, their cervical mucus quality, and results from their ovulation tests. The resulting graphs and data displays are academic-looking and confusing, and most of this data must be collected elsewhere first (there’s no iThermometer or MacMucus, you know, yet).
To fill in the gaps, there’s a handful of fancy, venture-funded period-tracking apps. And there are hundreds of free, ad-supported, easy-to-use apps that track menstruation and fertility and simultaneously invite users to track their diet, their workouts, their sex lives, their mood, the state of their skin, the smell of their vaginal discharge. They are mostly glitchy and cheaply made, and the result of opportunists seeing a need and kind of, not really, fulfilling it.
In the health category, this type of app is reportedly the fourth most popular among adults and second most popular among lesbian hookup apps ads adolescent women. My floating cloud app was one of these junky, generic options, and the choice to download it was not an educated one; it was just whatever the App Store guessed I would want when I typed in “period tracking” more than four years ago.
This app wasn’t designed for me. It wasn’t designed for anyone who wants to track their period or general reproductive health. The same is true of almost every menstruation-tracking app: They’re designed for marketers, for men, for hypothetical unborn children, and perhaps weirdest of all, a kind of voluntary surveillance stance.