Author Archives: Lisa Wade, PhD

Apple’s Health App: Where’s the Power?

In truth, I didn’t pay a tremendous amount of attention to iOS8 until a post scrolled by on my Tumblr feed, which disturbed me a good deal: The new iteration of Apple’s OS included “Health”, an app that – among many other things – contains a weight tracker and a calorie counter.

And can’t be deleted.

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Okay, so why is this a big deal? Pretty much all “health” apps include those features. I have one (third-party). A lot of people have one. They can be very useful. Apple sticking non-removable apps into its OS is annoying, but why would it be something worth getting up in arms over? This is where it becomes a bit difficult to explain, and where you’re likely to encounter two kinds of people (somewhat oversimplified, but go with me here). One group will react with mild bafflement. The other will immediately understand what’s at stake.

The Health app is literally dangerous, specifically to people dealing with/in recovery from eating disorders and related obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Obsessive weight tracking and calorie counting are classic symptoms. These disorders literally kill people. A lot of people. Apple’s Health app is an enabler of this behavior, a temptation to fall back into self-destructive habits. The fact that it can’t be deleted makes it worse by orders of magnitude.

So why can’t people just not use it? Why not just hide it? That’s not how obsessive-compulsive behavior works. One of the nastiest things about OCD symptoms – and one of the most difficult to understand for people who haven’t experienced them – is the fact that a brain with this kind of chemical imbalance can and will make you do things you don’t want to do. That’s what “compulsive” means. Things you know you shouldn’t do, that will hurt you. When it’s at its worst it’s almost impossible to fight, and it’s painful and frightening. I don’t deal with disordered eating, but my messed-up neurochemistry has forced me to do things I desperately didn’t want to do, things that damaged me. The very presence of this app on a device is a very real threat (from post linked above):

Whilst of course the app cannot force you to use it, it cannot be deleted, so will be present within your apps and can be a source of feelings of temptation to record numbers and of guilt and judgement for not using the app.

Apple doesn’t hate people with eating disorders. They probably weren’t thinking about people with eating disorders at all. That’s the problem.

Then this weekend another post caught my attention: The Health app doesn’t include the ability to track menstrual cycles, something that’s actually kind of important for the health of people who menstruate. Again: so? Apple thinks a number of other forms of incredibly specific tracking were important enough to include:

In case you’re wondering whether Health is only concerned with a few basics: Apple has predicted the need to input data about blood oxygen saturation, your daily molybdenum or pathogenic acid intake, cycling distance, number of times fallen and your electrodermal activity, but nothing to do with recording information about your menstrual cycle.

Again: Apple almost certainly doesn’t actively hate cisgender women, or anyone else who menstruates. They didn’t consider including a cycle tracker and then went “PFFT SCREW WOMEN.” They probably weren’t thinking about women at all.

During the design phase of this OS, half the world’s population was probably invisible. The specific needs of this half of the population were folded into an unspecified default. Which doesn’t – generally – menstruate.

I should note that – of course – third-party menstrual cycle tracking apps exist. But people have problems with these (problems I share), and it would have been nice if Apple had provided an escape from them:

There are already many apps designed for tracking periods, although many of my survey respondents mentioned that they’re too gendered (there were many complaints about colour schemes, needless ornamentation and twee language), difficult to use, too focused on conceiving, or not taking into account things that the respondents wanted to track.

Both of these problems are part of a larger design issue, and it’s one we’ve talked about before, more than once. The design of things – pretty much all things – reflects assumptions about what kind of people are going to be using the things, and how those people are going to use them. That means that design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power and domination both subtle and not. Apple didn’t consider what people with eating disorders might be dealing with; that’s ableism. Apple didn’t consider what menstruating women might need to do with a health app; that’s sexism.

The fact that the app cannot be removed is a further problem. For all intents and purposes, updating to a new OS is almost mandatory for users of Apple devices, at least eventually. Apple already has a kind of control over a device that’s a bit worrying, blurring the line between owner and user and threatening to replace one with the other. The Health app is a glimpse of a kind of well-meaning but ultimately harmful paternalist approach to design: We know what you need, what you want; we know what’s best. We don’t need to give you control over this. We know what we’re doing.

This isn’t just about failure of the imagination. This is about social power. And it’s troubling.

Sarah Wanenchak is a PhD student at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her current research focuses on contentious politics and communications technology in a global context, particularly the role of emotion mediated by technology as a mobilizing force. She blogs at Cyborgology, where this post originally appearedand you can follow her at @dynamicsymmetry.

Just for Fun: The Folly of Small Sample Sizes

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weiner.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Chart of the Week: Politicians Following, Not Leading on Same-Sex Marriage

For those of us in favor of same-sex marriage rights, it’s been an exciting few years. Politicians and legislatures have been increasingly tipping toward marriage equality. Lots of us are commending the powerful and high-profile individuals who have decided to support the cause.

But, let’s not be too grateful.

A figure at xkcd puts this in perspective. It traces four pieces of data over time: popular approval and legalization of both interracial marriage and same-sex marriage. It shows that the state-by-state legalization of same-sex marriage is following public opinion, whereas the legalization of interracial marriage led public opinion.

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There’s a reason that we look back at Civil Rights legislation and see leadership. Politicians, litigators, and activists were pushing for rights that the public wasn’t necessarily ready to extend. In comparison, today’s power brokers appear to be following public opinion, changing their mind because the wind is suddenly blowing a new way.

I’m sure there are politicians out there taking risks at the local level. On the whole, though, this doesn’t look like leadership, it looks like political expedience.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Is This #HeForShe Video Helping Feminism?

The United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign had a fantastic launch, with Emma Watson’s impassioned speech deservedly going viral. She stood up and described how everyday sexism continues to discourage girls and women from being strong, physical, and outspoken. And she defended the “feminist” label as a simple demand for sexual equality. But most importantly, she called for solidarity between men and women in achieving it.

And then this video came out:

On the surface, it looks like a group of men from all walks of life answering Ms. Watson’s call. But delve deeper, and it becomes problematic. For me, anyway.

I’m a man, and I consider myself a feminist. But when I think about working towards an end to sexism, the last thing I would do is get a group of men to discuss the issue isolated from women. And yet that’s what this video seems to be trying to do.

It feels like a male encounter group, but obviously highly scripted. The different men describe their commitment to #HeForShe in terms of protective paternalistic stereotypes (“I can’t let my daughters, or my wife, suffer because I didn’t do MY job”) and entitlement (“If we don’t change it, it’s never gonna change.”)

I realize that men have to be part of the solution, but this video feels like it is saying that men ARE the solution. As if a bunch of bros getting together to share their feelings are going to solve sexism, with no reference to how sisters have been doing it for themselves for over 200 years. They don’t need a heroic male takeover of the women’s movement that helps us all feel proud of ourselves because we are “#NotAllMen.” They need real understanding and support.

Am I being too harsh? Maybe. But when the one man says, “Understand that it’s not only speaking out FOR women, but WITH women” to a sausage fest, the irony speaks volumes to me.

I think #HeForShe is a great idea, “a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other of humanity, for the entirety of humanity.”

So why can’t we do it together? Are men considered to be so sexist already that we need to find a “manly” way to be feminist?

Here’s an idea: Talk to women about the issue. But more importantly, listen to them about what they experience. There is far more work for us to do together.

Tom Megginson is a Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. He is a specialist in social marketing, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility. You can follow Tom at Osocio, where this post originally appeared, and The Ethical Adman Work That Matters.

Happy Birthday, Louis Althusser!


Image borrowed from BHL.

Have a scholar we should commemorate?  Send us a wacky pic and we will!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy Birthday, Michel Foucault!

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From 100 Books that Should Be Written; submitted by Morten B.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

10 Honest Thoughts on Being Loved by a Skinny Boy

Today is Love Your Body Day and is this is our favorite body positive post of the year, re-posted in celebration. 

Rachel Wiley delivers a provocative poem about her experience as a “fat girl” loved by a skinny boy.  My favorite part:

My college theater professor once told me
that despite my talent,
I would never be cast as a romantic lead.
We put on shows that involve flying children and singing animals
but apparently no one
has enough willing suspension of disbelief
to buy anyone loving a fat girl.

Watch the whole thing (transcript here):

If you liked, we also recommend Kara Kamos’ confession that she’s ugly, but can’t think of a good reason to care.  Hat tip to Polly’s Pocket.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Love Your Body Day: Hall of Fame and Shame

It’s Love Your Body day!  Below is a Hall of Fame and a Hall of Shame.  The second set of posts reveal just what we’re up against, but the first set is a salve, a celebration of all of our beautifully diverse and interesting bodies.

You choose what will amp you up today,  but don’t miss this year’s SocImages Pick: Rachel Wiley offers 10 Honest Thoughts About Being Loved by a Skinny Boy.

The Hall of Fame

Disability
Body Types
Gender
Race/Ethnicity/Color

The Hall of Shame

Body Types
Hair
Transsexuality
Heightism
Disability

 

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.