Digital Micro-Aggressions and Discrimination: FemTech and the 'Othering' of Women

28 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2020

Date Written: 2020

Abstract

The boundary between the digital world and the human body has disintegrated. With the rise of artificial intelligence and the internet of medical things, patients’ bodies can resemble a sci-fi cyborg that operates both independently and electronically through sensors. As the physical and cyber worlds blur, scholars and practitioners have debated medical device regulation, liability for device malfunctions, device privacy, and cybersecurity. One area of the discussion that has been left relatively untouched, however, is femtech. Described broadly as female technology, femtech encompasses wearables, artificial intelligence, apps, and other hardware and software that not only seek to heighten awareness of female health, but also aim to enhance women’s agency over their bodies. Reporters have called femtech a win for women’s health, as startups and venture capitalists finally invest in female products that can benefit half of the population. Today, the most common femtech products on the market focus on menstruation, maternity, and fertility, and are advertised as giving women control over their bodies and wellbeing.

But what if they don’t? By using femtech devices without understanding how these products are regulated and how their data is collected, manipulated, or sold, women may unintentionally be losing control and autonomy over their bodies. These devices collect intimate health data that may be used to maintain stereotypes and societal norms about the female body. For instance, some femtech menstruation products do not permit a user to input abortions or irregular cycles. This failure to account for all female body types and decisions perpetuates the flawed assumption that abortions and irregular cycles are deviations from the standard female body and can marginalize women who do not conform to these “norms.” Similarly, femtech can reinforce outdated perceptions about women and their bodies by consistently trying to quantify, analyze, and create a version of “normal” that all women should strive to achieve.

The fundamental assumptions of femtech, therefore, do not necessarily align with female consumers and patients, and may inadvertently diminish women’s agency and control over their own bodies. This misalignment stems, in part, from the lack of female and provider input into device creation, the rush to market new devices without adequate testing and vetting, and the male-dominated startup industry creating these products. This article analyzes the societal implications associated with femtech in its current form and offers recommendations for modifying the femtech model to avoid undesirable consequences as the industry – and devices – grow in size and complexity.

Keywords: Women's Health, Healthcare, FemTech, Wearables, Menstruation, Digital Health, Discrimination, fertility

Suggested Citation

Corbin, Bethany, Digital Micro-Aggressions and Discrimination: FemTech and the 'Othering' of Women (2020). Nova Law Review, Vol. 44, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3630435

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