Chapter 5 “Did you have sex today?”: Discourses of Pregnancy and Big Data in Fertility Tracking Apps
Amanda Friz and Stacey Overholt
What is the most important takeaway from your chapter?
Period-tracking apps are proliferating under the assumption that more knowledge about the body leads to empowerment for users, but it really hinges on the process of reinscribing women in discourses of women’s sexuality that are connected to and predicated upon reproduction; this continues to figure pregnancy and the belief that it can and must be controlled by women by constant self-surveillance.
If you were making discussion questions for students (advanced undergraduates or early graduate students) to go along with your chapter, what would they be?
- How do these apps further distance users from a holistic sense of one’s body?
- Who ultimately benefits from tracking health data? Who is excluded from reaping those benefits, and in what ways?
- Why are individuals positioned as being morally responsible for establishing data patterns to help predict the health phenomena of others?
- How do the logics of neoliberalism and biopolitical governance intersect and reinforce or weaken each other?
What questions do you feel your chapter leaves un-examined or where would you go with it next?
This chapter was first conceptualized in 2015, and period tracking apps have definitely changed and proliferated since then! We would love to update our analysis with more recent apps and ways they are being used. For example, now such apps are established and are among the most notorious for privacy invasion (one of the biggest offenders of selling and using user data). Unpacking that more and touching on the ways that this data is being mined, packaged, commodified, and sold would be one direction to go next. Additionally, we would want to examine more the intensification and proliferation of the neoliberal imperative to generate data and knowledge about the self, and how that imperative has dovetailed with big data economics and the selling of large data sets about users. These kinds of apps further break any understanding that users would have about the body as a whole, interdependent unit. These apps further isolate different body systems and parts – one app for sleep tracking, one for calories, one for exercise, one for reproductive health, etc. The body has to be parsed out in this way in order to be quantified and commodified. More and more, there’s a pressure to track yourself in order to be a good citizen deserving of health: You must break yourself up and allow yourself to be commodified piece-by-piece; if you don’t, you are being reckless.
Is there anything that you want those new to the field to know about RHM?
RHM as a field is inclusive and respectful of a range of different methodological approaches, so there’s space to study ways of being and understanding matters of health through methods other than surveys that might be more prevalent in fields like health education and promotion or public health. RHM provides new tools in the toolbox for understanding the material effects of broader systems on bodies and health practices. Additionally: RHM is probably the best subfield within rhetorical scholarship to theorize the body but also that task is tricky because we can’t lose the materiality of the body and the material effects of health even as we discuss their rhetoricity.
These images correspond to the chapter and help to contextualize the Eve application (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/period-tracker-eve/id1002275138)
Figure 1: Login screen for Eve underscores the app’s attention to the physical and emotional spheres of a woman’s life by interpellating users as not only body positive, but members of similarly-minded community.
Figure 2: Users are prompted to provide continuous streams of current data to Eve under the guise of having their true selves illuminated by the app.