For years, technologies like the home pregnancy test, breast pumps and tampons have been “helping” women through life’s everyday experiences. Some view these technologies as “feminist” in nature, yet, recent research on feminist technologies has questioned whether or not technologies are entirely liberating or empowering for women.
Linda L. Layne (2010) defines a feminist technology as “those tools plus knowledge that enhance women’s ability to develop, expand, and express their capacities” (p. 3). Layne notes that before we can define a technology as feminist, we must consider the benefits and consequences of using it. In essence, just because a product is marketed as being liberating to women, doesn’t mean it is. And just because it is liberating to some women, doesn’t make it liberating for all women.
Layne (2009) first develops her ideas of feminist technologies in her article “The Home Pregnancy Test: A Feminist Technology?”. Here she argues that although the home pregnancy test grants women the freedom to discover pregnancy, in the privacy of the home, as well as helps to ensure early prenatal care, these advantages are quickly overridden by the medical industry. After taking a test, women are advised, from their peers and the pamphlet of the pregnancy test, to call their doctor (the initial transfer of care begins here) and they must then take a blood test to confirm their initial discovery.
Layne also makes us aware of the fact that taking a home pregnancy test is not really a private experience. The person at the checkout, a partner or garbage collector can be easily made aware of a woman’s private reproductive state. For these reasons, and the fact that the home pregnancy test benefits the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture them above anyone else, Layne concludes that the home pregnancy test is not a feminist technology.
Before reading Layne’s article, I didn’t really view the home pregnancy test as anything but one test in the mix of many a woman must go through to confirm pregnancy. However, page after page of this insightful article reveals a very different, and medically controlled process of pregnancy confirmation.
My recent discovery of Valley Electronics’, Lady-Comp – a German-engineered fertility awareness technology, got me thinking of Layne’s feminist technology criteria.
Made in 1986, with a ten-year life expectancy and a Pearl Index of 0.7 Lady Comp is the most effective natural family planning technology on the market (The Pearl Index is a common technique used for testing the effectiveness of a birth control method).
Each morning you wake up and take your temperature, orally, Lady-Comp does the rest. After building up a history of your menstrual cycles, whether from the onset of use or by you entering past data you may have collected on your own, Lady-Comp can tell you when you are fertile. For about $500.oo (excluding software updates, power supply and a travel adaptor) you can take charge of your reproductive health – well take charge through a machine.
The device’s brochures details how Lady-Comp “contains a data-base of more than 900 000 cycles and uses bio-mathematical forecasting calculations as well as the very latest computer techniques”. And after a while if you do want to get pregnant you can upgrade to a pregnancy planning software and Lady-Comp Baby which will tell you when you are pregnant, calculate your expected due date and even “guess” the sex of your baby.
Accurate, yes, but can it be classified as a feminist technology?
My main reason for not classifying Lady-Comp as feminist centres on the transfer of autonomy from women to a machine. This creates a dependency that often leads to women being distant from their natural reproductive processes. We see this often with the use of oral contraceptives. However, I will not ignore the fact that some women may feel they are more knowledgeable about their menstrual health because of Lady-Comp.
For myself, and as a woman who has never used Lady-Comp, I think it is fair to say that like the home pregnancy test, Lady-Comp still requires the follow-up steps after initial discovery, transfer of care to the medical profession and reliance on something technological – a technology that begins to be the “expert” when it comes to natural family planning, rather than women themselves.
I see this dependency and expertise in my own life, in my use of menstrual tracking mobile applications. I now look to the device to tell me when my next period will be, rather than my physical symptoms. Yes, I can override the information and yes, I am able to still identify symptoms, but the fact that I check an App to determine trends and feelings, is a bit scary
Many technologies make a woman’s reproductive life easier, but we must ensure we are aware of the dependence many of them create and that we are doing our part to ensure we are still educated, informed and active participants in our reproductive health.