UPDATED: iPhone, iPad Apps Allow Men to Track Women’s Menstrual Periods. Seriously.


This article was updated at 10:26 am Saturday, April 24th, 2010 to include details on the features of the iPhone/iPad application, Code Red and to basically change my mind on whether or not this is funny.

At first I thought it was a joke.  Had to be, right?

And then I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, scream or call Margaret Atwood.

But this morning I opened the paper to read in the Washington Post Style Section (of course) about new iPhone applications that allow men to track the menstrual periods of their girlfriends or wives (or to allow any man to track the menstrual periods of his girlfriends or wives depending on the level of fidelity and cultural milieu applicable).

And on one hand it could be seen as funny–especially as Monica Hesse relates the story in the Post.  She writes:

Men: We are sorry.

Here we have been assuming that our lady-business skeeved you out, that you heard “menstruation” and you went “lalalalalalala.”

We were wrong.

How else to explain “Code Red,” the new iPhone period app that — and this is really linguistically unfortunate — also works on the iPad?


“Code Red,” writes Hesse, “keeps track of periods.”

It keeps track of them for men. It is, in fact, strong enough for a woman but made for the men who love them, or at least want to monitor their bodies the way that creep-o just might on “Law & Order: SVU” before Detective Benson punched him in the head. Just sayin.’

How it works: Type in the first day of your partner’s cycle for a few months. Then sit back and wait for the helpful reminders to pop up on your Apple device. During PMS time, for example, a female symbol appears sporting devil horns. A frisky ovulation alert tells you when your chances for getting down are looking up.

Menstrual apps for men are a booming market, says Hesse.

“PMSBuddy,” for example, is proudly “saving relationships, one month at a time.” “PMS Meter” features “hilarious sound effects.” And the infamous “IAmAMan,” which is nothing if not unapologetic, allows users to track the menstrual cycles of several women at once, for those special times when you are a big cheater.

At a deep cultural level, she writes, “one might speculate that the proliferation of these apps all ties into some deep fear of womanhood — an attempt by men to make sense of what they do not understand.”

And yet, she notes:

One might offer the possibility that men would chart the life cycle of a fruit fly if they could do it on an iPad, that this is really all about gadgetry. One might also say this is gross.

And the more I looked into it, the less funny and the more gross it became.

Just take a look at the MEDL website at which features of the Code Red app can be found.

First of all, the app is described as “Men’s best defense against the monthly Her-ricane.”  (You know: Women are moody, unpredictable, controlled by their hormones.)

The e-brochure helpfully offers that:

Men no longer need to fear the wrath of menstrual madness. MEDL Mobile is pleased—and very relieved—to introduce Code Red: a simple but powerful menstrual calendar for men to keep track of—and survive—their girlfriend’s/fiancé’s/wife’s monthly cycle.

Menstural madness?  Let’s just reinforce that age-old and completely discredited notion that women are determined by biology and beset by “nervous disorders,” and that any and every response to life or thought a woman has can be traced back to this unfortunate reality.

And the creators of this app make clear they are determined to make the world safer–and more sexually promising–for men.

“Code Red will be a life saver for thousands of guys out there,” said Kevin Harrison, Co-Creator, “Its each guys personal color coded Terror Alert System…”

What makes Code Red so much more valuable than other period tracking apps, they suggest “is the profound simplicity and ease of use.”  Use for what?

When the tracking starts, Code Red will provide special alert messages for every phase in her cycle. There are five different alerts, and each calendar day comes equipped with a wealth of tips and advice to brave even the most violent of storms.

It has the following features:

  • Fully automated menstrual calendar
  • 5 special alerts for each phase of her cycle
  • Dynamic animations for each alert
  • Helpful suggestions to survive each phase
  • Links to local vendors for presents, groceries and goods (via Google Maps)
  • Advanced calendar toggle settings

The special alerts will be particularly helpful to men who apparently can not communicate verbally with their partners:

  • Smooth Sailing Alert — Let’s you know when she’s feeling like a team player.
  • Horny Alert — Let’s you know when you’re able to score.
  • PMS Alert — Let’s you know when to hit the (cold) showers.
  • Ovulation Alert — Let’s you know when to sit on the sidelines (unless you’re ready to start a junior league).
  • Code Red Alert — Let’s you know that it’s game time and you’re way out of bounds.

“Every month, women go through the same ups and downs, but the men in our lives never seem to catch on,” said Lisi Harrison, Co-Creator and Author of New York Times #1 Bestselling series’ The Clique and Alphas.

Are they really that stupid?

If this is a joke, it’s a lucrative one for the creators. While MEDL Mobile, the company that distributes “Code Red,” will not release sales figures, Hesse says that the application has climbed as high as 35 on the Lifestyle division of the Apple app store — a category that includes hundreds of applications.

The developers told Hesse:

“We were sitting around in a meeting where we go over submissions,” Swartz says, when he mentioned “Code Red.” “About half the people there were young guys, and one said, ‘I will pay $20 for that right now.’ Actually, he said $19.99.”

They decided to price the app at $1.99.

While at first I thought it was a bit funny–we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves and our ingrained stereotypes–it really is sad and also troubling at some deeper level.

I mean, let’s face it.  Women’s menstrual periods have been the subject of fascination, disgust, and control by men for centuries.  Orthodox and Hassidic Jews won’t touch a woman they do not know for fear she may be “unclean” (menstruating).  Women in parts of rural India are sent to sleep with the animals or out in the fields when they are menstruating.  In many societies, girls who reach menarche are married off right away, for fear that they might otherwise become sexual superwomen without the control of a man.  The menstrual cycles of girls and women throughout the world in various cultures–and even in the United States, as noted recently by Bianca Laureano on RH Reality Check–are monitored by their parents and their husbands as a means of figuring out what they might be doing with their bodies, whether they are on birth control, and whether they might be having sex and gotten pregnant.  Women still have to combat the notion that they are “emotional,” “nervous,” “incapable,” “unpredictable.”

So it’s not like there is anything new about the combination of horror, control, and confusion that comes with menstruating.  It’s the ultimate “in-your-face” reminder to men that despite any level of subjugation, we can still do something they can not.

But that it is so popular is a reminder of our cultural schizophrenia around sex, power, and gender. On one hand, despite record numbers of sexually transmitted infections and despite still-too-high levels of teenage pregnancy, we can’t get the federal government to stop spending money on failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Networks and cable stations will sell sex 24-7, but many still refuse to air responsible ads for contraceptive methods or such controversial things as condoms, or information about sexually transmitted infections.  We can’t quite accept socially that there is a spectrum of sexuality inherent in being human and that not everyone is embraced under the culturally constructed “one (heterosexual) man and one (heterosexual) woman” notion of marriage.  We still hide condoms in drugstores and some men still have problems buying tampons for their significant others because its….embarassing.

And it is worth noting the the current wave of laws at the state and federal level and the general level of hysteria around women’s rights to choose pregnancy and childbirth in the United States has a lot to do with control over their bodies. So the notion that an iPhone app marketed specifically to men is flying off the virtual shelves is a bit creepy in more ways than one. I’m thinking if in fact the tea-partiers are right, and the government is going to be implanting microchips in anyone, women will be first.

It is also worth watching how well this app does elsewhere in the world.  I am not kidding.  Yesterday, for example, a story on Apple’s first-quarter profits indicated that sales of the iPhone and iPad are booming in places like China, India, Pakistan and elsewhere.  These are cultures in which women’s periods are indeed more openly the source of control (here, we like to pretend we are protecting “life,” not controlling women’s lives.  In China, the one-child policy still leads to forced sterlization and forced abortion, and in ultra-conservative Islamic cultures women are not only blamed for being raped, they are killed for it).  I’d love to know whether and how such an app sells in these places.  Yeah, I know it is possible to track menstrual cycles otherwise and that technology here only reinforces misogyny, it does not create it.  But nonetheless, the “unintended” applications are worth monitoring. 

(BTW, can we get a misogyny meter app, please?)

So I kind of agree with the response given by Kevin Harrison, “co-conceptualizer” with his wife Lisi of the product, to a question by Hesse who asked: “Isn’t Code Red kind of….funny?”

And I think it probably is funny, to the Harrisons and MEDL, who must be laughing all the way to the bank.

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  • amanda-marcotte

    There’s a huge gap between what people believe about PMS and what the research shows.  The research I’ve seen shows that it’s incredibly rare, but the cultural belief is that most fertile women suffer it.  It really speaks to how much our society needs to dismiss the possibility that women are angry or sad because of things that actually happen to them—i.e. that women’s feelings are legitimate.  Instead, anger and sadness are blamed on menstruation. It’s troubling to me how many women absorb the idea that they suffer from PMS, when carefully controlled studies would show they don’t.  Even feminists absorb this idea that it’s safer to blame our emotions on our bodies and not on our environments.

  • jodi-jacobson

    Amanda,

    I agree that serious PMS is overblown as an excuse for everything women feel and do.  And I didn’t underscore this and probably should, but the fact that the app shows “horns” (as noted by Hess) during the so-called PMS precursor period underscores the combination of misogynistic-driven humor here.

    To suggest that everything women feel is tied to menstrual cycles is degrading and dismissive.  To suggest that an actual syndrome such as PMS is applicable to everyone is to dismiss the reality of those who do suffer from it.  And to misunderstand the role hormones play in sync with other completely separate phenomena like clinical depression and seasonal affective disorder is yet another form of dismissing the realities and complexities of women’s experiences.

    It’s all part of the ways in which socially we try to marginalize normal biological functions and/or slate them into culturally constructed silos into which women need to fit or be “misfits.”

     

     

  • pheasantweber

    That is just bizarre. Because of all the “ewww.. gross!!” when guys have to hear something about periods even though 1/2 the population deals with them, I am surprised that guys are downloading this app. What the frick.. don’t even get me started on the Devil Horns PMS.. I think it is creepy .. guys tracking for their partners? No..

  • amanda-marcotte

    I believe that women that feel they suffer from moodiness are telling the truth.  But it’s worth noting that Carol Tavris discussed this in The Mismeasure of Women, and I do believe a study where daily diaries were kept that compared women who were PMS sufferers to those who weren’t and to men showed that self-identified PMS sufferers were not actually any more or less moody than women who don’t have it or men.

     

    There’s a lot of conflicting research about PMS, but one thing is absolutely certain, which is the folk belief that all or most fertile women are moody because of their cycle is wrong.  PMS sufferers are a very small portion of women by any measurement. 

     

    What’s interesting to me as well is that the folk belief about PMS is that it’s extensive—people seem to think the symptoms last before, during, and sometimes after the period.  But the actual syndrome that’s been reported on is just right before.

  • amanda-marcotte

    I was limiting my comments to moodiness.  Bloating, cramping, etc. are an entirely different bag, symptoms-wise. 

  • leisurelyviking

    While some of the specific details of this app (i.e. the devil horns) seem sexist, I’m having a hard time seeing why tracking your partner’s menstrual cycle is inherently misogynistic.  Maybe I just have a great partner, but if he had one of these things, I’d expect him to use it for things like planning group backpacking trips around my period so I didn’t have to bleed in holes in the woods, being extra nice when he knows I’m likely to have cramps, etc.  It could certainly be used for abusive purposes, like trying to sabotage contraception, but it’s the use not the tracking itself that is wrong.  Is there something inherently gross or creepy about partners wanting to know about menstrual cycles that I’m just not getting?

  • redrosespiral

    This really disturbs me because of the seemingly new phenomenon of abusive men trying to trap their girlfriends or wives in the relationship by getting them pregnant. It would be easier than ever for these types of men to force sex or rape their partner during fertile times for a better chance of getting her pregnant.

  • crowepps

    Well, yeah, sometimes women are ‘moody’ right before and during their period (during might have something to do with the PAIN – certainly always made me cranky), sometimes they make someone uncomfortable by getting sad and emotional, and sometimes they take offense at some little thing and get angry.

     

    In other words, they act pretty much like men do all the time. Isn’t the problem here actually that it’s considered okay for men to be moody, or cranky, or get emotional, or be enraged by how they’re treated, and women are supposed to stuff all that because it’s ‘selfish’ of them to have emotions and ‘put the burden on men’ of having to actually pay attention?

  • ahunt

    Pretty much, crowepps…from a galpal’s email. (Dunno the source)

     

    Let’s call it our little 3 day vacation from having to stifle what we really think and how really feel the other 27 days of the month.  

  • tdreier

    I think too much is being made of this iPhone app. From someone who suffers pretty severe emotional swings the week leading up to her period, I for one am happy my husband is willing to keep track of when to “tip toe” around me during that week. It helps him understand my moodiness, which means he is more accepting of it, hence lessening the frequency of our arguments duriing that week. Nothing wrong with that, IMO.

  • prochoiceferret

    It helps him understand my moodiness, which means he is more accepting of it, hence lessening the frequency of our arguments duriing that week. Nothing wrong with that, IMO.

    Perhaps not. The fact that your husband needs an iPhone app to understand and accept you, on the other hand…

  • crowepps

    Sure – complaints about ‘how different’ the woman is when she’s not stifling herself can go in the same category as ‘well, MY wife/girlfriend doesn’t have any complaints about/doesn’t think that’, in which the man assumes she has actually felt secure, accepted and safe enough to take the huge risk of being HONEST with him about her complaints and what she thinks.

  • juliesunday

    none of the news coverage i’ve seen of this app (and i read about it on jezebel at least a week ago) has actually shown pictures of the different ‘codes’ so i’m frustrated that most of the judgment is based on hearsay. couldn’t someone at rh reality check invest $1.99 and actually try this damn thing out? and yeah, sure, abusers could secretly use it to try to trap their partner into pregnancy or something but abusers are pretty good at figuring out new ways to use all kinds of things for abuse, so that possibility isn’t enough to make me condemn it. i had a boyfriend who was tracking my cycle once and it was just because he was a huge dork and i was his first girlfriend. he was just fascinated by the process. and i think men being interested in the menstrual cycle (considering that most of them have probably never learned about it anywhere before) is a good thing, not a bad thing. the devil horns? maybe a little obnoxious. but i do want to punch a dude in the face right before my period, so as far as i’m concerned if the shoe fits…

    • arekushieru

      Except that all women are targeted not just a select few.  When I’m on my period, I don’t experience any of these symptoms.  I’m actually calmER.  Stereotypes are harmful, especially when they come in such a subtly paternalistic manner.

    • jodi-jacobson

      Hi Julie….

      i’ve linked to the app sales site and provided links to photos, which unfortunately i can’t import for some reasons.  I’ve also updated this piece because going over the details shows just how deeply sexist stereotypes are “embedded” in this thing.

      I believe in laughing at ourselves and the slivers of truth that often come with stereotypes as a way of exposing them.  But in this case, this blatantly perpetuates stupid and discredited stereotypes about women–and frankly, men–and given its focus on “when she’s sexually available,” is more than a little gross.

      Jodi

  • tdreier

    I repeat, “It helps him understand [and accept] my moodiness.”  I did not say it helps him to understand and accept me.  Big difference.  Regardless, how many men really understand women?  I mean, c’mon.  I say, if Apple can create an app for that, I’m all for it. =)

    • arekushieru

      Except, I really, REALLY don’t think that is what the app does.  It seems that this app was more designed to confuse rather than clarify the issue.  As Amanda and Jodi said, PMS is not a one size fits all syndrome nor is the typecasting appreciated.  Devils with horns?  C’mon….   

  • rebellious-grrl

    I seriously can’t believe they made an app for this. I’m wondering how this app would work with irregular periods? Anyway, I appreciate technology but this one is too much for me. A non-tech solution for this would be to use a menstrual cycle chart for free. However, I think a man who is clued in to what is going on with his partner wouldn’t need this silly app anyway.
    As far as my moontime – I feel empowered by menstruation. I feel more creative and have more intuition during my moontime. I just started using a moon cup to save my monthly blood for my garden and art projects. I’ve been saving my blood in a jar which is probably way up there on the “ick” factor for most people but I think it’s cool.

     

    Interesting links:
    Museum of menstruation & Women’s Health
    http://www.mum.org/

    A call to action for women who bleed (please pass on)
    http://www.susunweed.com/An_Article_peaceblood.htm

    Menstrual cycle record (chart)
    http://www.perubatan.org/v3/images/stories/artikel/mens02.gif

  • j-parker

    The sexist framing and icons around PMS, etc really ruin what could be a good app. Having worked with hundreds if not thousands of women facing unplanned pregnancy, I think this could be a great tool for partners and for women themselves to more easily track when they are most fertile, with reminders for when they need to be extra EXTRA careful if they want to prevent pregnancy. A little condom icon popping up on the most risky days, perhaps? But alas, instead of being a tool to help people understand their bodies, it simply perpetuates stereotypes about women and the ‘yuck’ factor around menstruation. Blech.

  • jodi-jacobson

    i agree completely and was thinking exactly the same thing.

    who knows whether in that list of 30,000 apps ideas submitted to the creator of this one whether in fact such an idea was submitted and just wasn’t of “great enough interest?”  (see the Post article for that…i don’t remember if i included it)

  • elyzabeth

    This app does have another, very valuable use.  It’s a red flag–if your boyfriend or husband gets it, then you know you two need to improve your communication skills.

     

    Also, does anyone else find it hilarious that the app assumes every woman, even when they aren’t on birth control, has a perfect 28 day cycle?  That’s the exception, not the rule.  Or maybe I’ve only compared notes with broken people…

  • sayna

    I thought about that, too. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s good for men who want to help their partner track their fertility to help prevent or conceive a pregnancy? That’s a little weird, but not creepy. It’s even a little sweet that he’s getting involved. The trip-planning thing and being nice are fine, too.

    But looking at the way these apps are built, that doesn’t seem to be the intended use. The things like devil horns and the fact that it’s fairly secretive make it seem like they just wanted a stealthy way to avoid their lady while she’s PMSing. If you wanted to know these things, why not just be honest and ask her?

    Maybe if it were “fertility tracker” or “rhythm method helper” or something it would be less creepy.

  • princess-rot

    What happened, y’know, ASKING your partner about it, if you really must know? I would imagine if the two of you are trying to concieve it would be a joint effort, easier to track using a regular ol’ calendar rather a piece of digital tat?

  • deb-r

    I wonder if they can come up with a device to track RMS–what I call random male syndrome. so women could track their man’s testostrone fluctuations and their angry and controlling moods. Just kidding though–no woman should ever stay with a controlling angry man.