rethinking Code Red

iPod’s App Store describes MEDL’s Mobile menstrual tracking application, Code Red, with the following text: “Code Red: A Survival Guide to Her Monthly Cycle. Period!”. Reviewers cite the App as “helpful” and a tool that allows men to “stay one step ahead of women”. Some even think Code Red “is better than the ones made for women”.

The application was co-created by surfer/humanitarian, Jon Rose and husband and wife team, Kevin and Lisi Harrison (Harrison is best known for her young adult fiction series, The Clique). Rose developed the software so he could better understand what phase of cycle his wife was in when he returned home from tour. While Harrison’s participation in developing a menstrual mobile App for men may seem like a good thing for women, the fact that the App reinforces dangerous menstrual stereotypes, while at the same time features ideas and themes that encourage men to stay clear of menstruation, disappoints me. How can we ask men to think critically about menstrual taboos and the menstrual status quo when women like Harrison promote the opposite?

Although Code Red was “developed by men and women for the benefit of each other”, I find it to be more beneficial to men. MEDL’s homepage for the App clearly favours men: “Men’s best defence against the monthly Her-ricane”. Clever, but insulting.

In addition to this general description of the App, I also find the alerts to be in favour of men’s attitude of ignorance towards menstruation.

The application’s description reads as follows: “Code Red will provide you special alert messages for every phase in her cycle. There are five different types of alerts, and each calendar day comes equipped with a wealth of tips and advice to brave even the most violent of storms.”

After two months of use, this is my take on the five alerts Code Red features.

Smooth Sailing Alert – Lets you know that conditions are stable
This alert tells men that it is a good time for them to “stay home and work on their score”, “leave the toilet seat up” because they deserve it and to “grab a drink with [their] ex-turned buddy”. I don’t see how this has anything to do with helping men better understand “that time of the month”, but it sure seems to be helpful in encouraging them to act like they are 15 again.

Horny Alert – Lets you know when the goings are good
During this alert, men are encouraged to “get some” because a woman’s hormones are doing most of the work. The alert does give some helpful tips for romance, like practicing good hygiene and giving your partner some nice lingerie, but it also tells guys that if they are unsure of what size lingerie to get, go bigger, because “it will make her feel skinny when she tries it on”. How romantic!

PMS Alert – Lets you know when to take cover in the trenches
I’m not really sure that war discourse is necessary here, but given the bad reputation PMS has gotten in the past, it doesn’t surprise me. PMS is something that men don’t deal with well, but it is also something women and the medical profession also mishandle. This alert does encourage men to extend simple gestures like buying flowers or complimenting your partner to help ease the storm of emotions. However, nowhere in this alert (or really anywhere in the App) are there any tips about talking to a woman about what she is going through. Buying a woman flowers while she is experiencing PMS is sweet, but it won’t help her work through the thoughts or feelings she struggles with each month.

Ovulation Alert – Lets you know when she’s prime to procreate
This alert plays off of similar “tips” to the horny alert, with one main difference, a caution that she is fertile!

Code Red Alert – Warns you that the Her-ricane is coming
The alert reads (or rather screams): “INCOMING! It is time to prepare for the storm ahead”. The alert’s tips tell men to put up with women, do whatever they want, even if “castration sounds more appealing”. While popular culture describes a menstruating female as a grouchy, unfriendly beast, many women (including myself) are actually quite happy during menses. Yes, menstruation can be an unpleasant experience, but a big part of women’s frustration (often confused as grouchiness) is in part due to male perceptions, comments and treatment of women during this time. If my husband thought about menstruation, and treated me the way Code Red encourages men to treat women, I wouldn’t be a very happy woman while menstruating.

Since its release in May 2010, Code Red has gained much popularity. However, I would think twice before referring it to a male friend, or partner. I would caution against doing so if you are a woman (or man) who is frustrated with the way our society loosely (and often crudely, rudely and naively) talks about menstruation and the menstruating female.

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