FemTech Innovation: Care provision, knowledge production, and menstrual health in the UK and US
Dr Andrea Ford
University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
This ethnographic study examines the booming ‘FemTech’ industry as a window onto menstrual health in the UK and US, against the backdrop of increased public attention to periods, endometriosis, hormones, abortion, and inequities in women’s health provision. Attending to menstruation-adjacent issues challenges conventional framings of disease, illuminates whose pain is considered ‘normal,’ and de-centres fertility by foregrounding women's and gender minorities’ lived experience. However, using new and ‘data-driven’ technologies to mediate this transformative potential introduces issues of privacy, profit, and control. Private companies are leveraging mass aggregate data to shed light on under-researched menstrual issues; they are providing services and information to consumers, recruiting healthcare professionals’ expertise, and partnering with universities, while clinical research itself increasingly involves ‘big data’ technologies. This study investigates transformations in public and private institutions of knowledge production and care provision by engaging with menstruating people who might use FemTech, tech workers and entrepreneurs, scientists, clinicians, and period activists. By grappling with the tension in critical scholarship between the emancipatory possibilities of valorising periods, and dystopian aspects of surveillance, this project will reshape conversations in medical and cultural anthropology, STS, and gender studies, with implications for the development of responsible FemTech itself.