Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstruation according to Apple

March 14th, 2013 by Breanne Fahs

Screen shot from GP International LLC

The repetition of all-things-pink=all-things-related-to-women’s-health has started to seriously irritate me. First, we had pink containers for birth control pills, followed by the pink repackaging of Prozac (renamed Sarafem) to treat “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder” (PMDD).” Then we dealt with the reductive and ferociously popular pink ads, logos, banners, and yogurt containers of the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation. Next came special dye that “restored” women’s so-called natural pink color to their labias (“My New Pink Button”), reminding women (especially women of color) that their brown and grey and flesh colored labia are not…pink enough? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the most popular menstruation apps for the iPhone and iPad—Period Tracker, iPeriod, Period Diary, and Monthly Cycle—have a similarly pink, flowery, and “girlie” vibe. Anything designed for women’s bodies apparently has infantilize women by looking like Strawberry Shortcake and Barbie, regardless of how adult we may get. But my issues with these apps do not end there.

Having used Period Tracker now for several years as a way to predict my period, I am most familiar with its particular brand of what it means to menstruate. Much like the messages featured in advertisements for pregnancy tests—which emphasize women’s longing for pregnancy and their sheer and utter joy when finding out the news of their pregnancy—Period Tracker also frames the purpose of the app as a sort of fertility monitoring tool even though reviews of the app suggest that most women use it to do what the title says: to track periods. The assumptions that women want to become pregnant extend into many features of the app: when a woman ovulates, flowers appear on the otherwise-barren tree, reminding her that she should get it on with a sperm provider; during menstruation, the app starts a “countdown,” allowing women to tick off the number of days they have “endured” their cycle; green dots appear for the days women can get pregnant; and, finally, the app features a tool where women can track “intimacy.” (Apparently, the word “sex” is too gauche for the world of period tracker apps, leaving “intimacy” as a code for sexual intercourse).
Further, Period Tracker has a variety of built-in ways to attach menstruation—and the menstrual cycle in general—to shame and negativity.

The app allows women to track a variety of symptoms throughout their cycle, but every single one of these has negative connotations of pain and misery. Acne. Backaches. Bloating. Bodyaches. Constipation. Cramps. Cravings (Salty). Cravings (Sweet). Dizziness. Spotting. Headaches. Indigestion. Insomnia. Joint Pains. Nausea. Neckaches. Tender Breasts. In the list of moods one can track, the first two listed are ANGRY and ANXIOUS. Period Tracker also alerts women to the start date of their period, but it does so by referring to it as, simply, “P” (implying that, if someone saw that we had a period start date alert on our phone, it would shame us). (Note that the app, iPeriod, has similar features, as they call sex a “love connection,” allow three options for mood—normal, sad, and irritable—and construct pregnancy as the ultimate goal of tracking the menstrual cycle.)

All this emphasis on pregnancy, menstrual negativity, and the “monstrous” symptoms of PMS obscures the fundamentally important (and feminist!) work of tracking one’s menstrual cycle for positive and decidedly non-fertility reasons: most obviously, to anticipate our period’s starting date, but less obviously, to understand and track the body’s rhythms, to actively avoid pregnancy, to know ourselves more deeply, to appreciate our cycles, to better predict menstruation and how it coordinates with our schedules, to accurately assess whether we have experienced a drastic change in our “normal,” to track a female partner’s cycles, to signal the start of menopause or irregular cycling, to keep an eye on heavy periods versus light periods, and to feel more in tune with our bodies (among others).

Why can’t a period tracker allow women to celebrate the menstrual cycle or see the arrival of menstruation as joyous or positive? Why can’t we track positive bodily changes like “Increased Libido,” “Elevated Mood,” and “Heightened Sensitivity”? I want a period tracker that dumps the hot pink color, the swirling flowers that only bloom during ovulation, the adamantly pro-pregnancy angle, the sex phobic language, the heterosexism, and the shaming of women’s menstrual cycles in favor of a radically reimagined, positive, celebratory mode of menstrual charting. Knowing what our bodies are up to has long roots in our feminist past—let’s find a way to have our technology reflect that!

8 responses to “Menstruation according to Apple”

  1. Jay says:

    I’ve used this for a while just as a basic period tracker and for a quick overview of past cycle lengths – as a note I used to use FAM as birth control, the idea of using an app like this when TTC just baffles me. The app is girly and rather childish in appearance, but I guess to some women this is exactly what they want, and it’s a handy just to encourage young girls to at least track periods.

    The symptoms bug me though, they include;
    acne, backaches, bloating, bodyaches, constipation, cramps, cravings, dizziness, FCM, spotting, headaches, indigestion, insomnia, joint pains, nausea, breast tenderness, tiredness.

    At least they include FCM, but everything else is so negative and not even common menstrual symptoms…is feeling dizzy really more common a symptom then increased arousal, firmer breasts, increased senses, creativity, clear skin, more energy, etc. Incidently all these positives I’ve listed are my symptoms, I’ve never had any of the negative symptoms they list. They DO allow you to add your own symptoms, which is a plus…but of course the point is; why all the negativity?

  2. Jay says:

    Ooops, FCM was one of my custom symptoms…so yes, all negative, no positives.

  3. kate says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for this piece. It feels really good to have something that has been on my mind for ages articulated so well

  4. J says:

    OvuView for Android seems to be what you are looking for. FAM tracking, chart interpretation (Kippley method), cycle prediction, custom symptoms, customizable colors. They do use flower icons for fertility, but they aren’t cutesy or girly.

    The app has settings for avoiding pregnancy, achieving pregnancy, or simply tracking.

    Unfortunately, there is no iPhone version, only Android.

    As for some of the other issues, software developers produce apps to make money. As I understand it, nearly all of the money is in pregnancy achievement. There isn’t much money in FAM to avoid pregnancy or for body awareness.

    Second, the target audience for tracking apps is sharply divided between feminist FAM users and conservative Catholic NFP users. Anyone producing an app must either walk a tightrope between the two or risk offending a significant number of users.

  5. April says:

    On the issue of not calling it sex, I actually like that feature because I have kids that use my mobile devices…and I don’t think they need to know when when their father and I have sex with each other. But aside from that, it sounds like you might be interested in checking out Ahaba Marriage Meter. it’s not out quite yet, but due out on May 31st.

  6. C Roald says:

    Throwing my two cents out there: I’m the publisher of the iPhone app Selene, which was explicitly designed not to make the mistakes you complain about. It’s a soothing dark blue, it does not presume you’re trying to get pregnant, it allows you to track anything you want, and has built-in icons for “increased libido”, “increased energy”, “increased sense acuity”, among others. If you have multiple partners, you can even track intercourse with them separately.

    Please check it out:

  7. […] These could be useful for basic record-keeping, but most of the apps out there tend to be super-pink, sex- and menstrual-negative, and limited in the data they can collect.So I was excited when a few days later I happened to get an email from Colin, the developer of […]

  8. […] You already know I like to turn to you all to generate collective knowledge. I asked about cycle tracking on Facebook and these were the apps you suggested: My Days, iPeriod, OvuView, and Monthly Cycles. I looked at them and, while I’m glad there are so many apps available, I was honestly disappointed. These could be useful for basic record-keeping, but most of the apps out there tend to be super-pink, sex- and menstrual-negative, and limited in the data they can collect. […]

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