Hey Apple, cycle tracking isn’t just for women

One of the announcements at WWDC on Monday was new cycle tracking features in Apple’s Health app. The watchOS preview page describes it as so:

Cycle Tracking. Stay in sync and in the know.

Knowledge is healthy. Gaining insight into your menstrual cycle can help provide a clearer picture of your overall health. In addition to simply ensuring that you’re prepared, you’ll have more information to help you track irregularities and symptoms and enrich discussions with your doctor.

This is a great feature! I’m pleased to see Apple adding it – periods are still a subject of intense shame and stigmatisation. Apple is a big company, and what they say affects the global conversation. Anything that can make people more comfortable talking about periods is a good thing.

So knowing I sound grouchy: I wish it had been pitched differently in the keynote.

This is how they described the feature on stage (20 minutes in, emphasis mine) 1:

All the women out there, pay close attention, because this one’s for you!

Cycle tracking.

Knowing more about your menstrual cycle gives you a window into your health. From simply ensuring that you’re prepared, to understanding your personal patterns and regularities. As a physician, I know that understanding what’s normal for you is critical for making informed decisions and can really enrich your conversations with your doctor.

So in watchOS 6, the cycle tracking app gives you a simple, discrete way to analyse your cycle, right on your wrist. And it’s really easy to use. You can log key aspects of your period, including fertility and symptoms, and you can be notified when it’s about to begin. You can also choose to receive fertile window predictions so you are better informed.

This feature is available on Apple Watch, and because we wanted to make this available to hundreds of millions of women around the world, cycle tracking is also available without a Watch, in the Health app in iOS. You can use it on your iPhone to do all the same functions as we’ve done on Watch.

We are so excited to bring more focus to this incredibly important aspect of women’s health.

I really do like this feature, but I wish they hadn’t made such a focus on women.

Because here’s the thing: menstruation is neither universal nor exclusive to women. There are women who don’t get periods (whether for age, health, because they’re trans, or perhaps for other reasons). There are trans men and non-binary people who have periods, but it would be wrong to describe them as women.

A more inclusive phrasing is “people who menstruate” or “people who get periods”, and I wish they’d used that instead. A small tweak, not many more words, and nobody would be confused – and nobody would be uncomfortable. (To be fair, the website marketing is much more gender-neutral.)

Here’s why I’m annoyed: Every part of an Apple keynote is carefully considered. They’re rehearsed, tweaked and fine-tuned to give an incredibly polished result. It’s obvious why they put in this work – their presentations get a huge audience, and they want to present a consistent marketing tone. Everything they say will be repeated in dozens of blog posts, news articles and podcasts in the days after the event. So this wasn’t an ad lib – they probably practiced this wording dozens of times, and didn’t think to change it.

Because Apple said “women”, all the news articles that talk about this feature pitch use the same wording. Apple had an opportunity to be trans-inclusive on a massive stage, and they blew it. If they’d said “people who menstruate”, that’d be the phrase in every article, but they didn’t.

Given the current hostility towards trans people across the world, and especially in the US, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.

  1. While I’m being grouchy, I can’t find any transcripts for the keynote. There’s a caption button on the video, but clicking it doesn’t seem to do anything. Given their focus on accessibility and the rise of live captioning/transcripts at other, smaller conferences, I hope this is something Apple fixes – either providing transcripts, or making the existing ones easier to find. ↩︎