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Fearless, Period.

What Viet Nguyen Can Teach Us About Being an Inclusive Menstrual Activist

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We sat down with Viet Nguyen, a recent Brown graduate who made an initiative for free menstrual products on campus. The project not only includes women but trans men as well. Here is what he said about being an activist on campus:

What made you want to take action in providing free menstrual products for women? Was there a specific event you observed that inspired you?

Viet: Coming from a low-income family, I saw the impact that having or not having menstrual products had on the health and well-being of my family members. Last summer, after reading about the work done by New York Public Schools to provide these products for their students, I was inspired to use my platform has head of the student government to implement a similar program at Brown.

What steps did you take to start changing the way your university thought about the issue? How did you gain support?

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Viet: We secured funding through the student activities fund for the pilot program. Because of the newness of the program, we had to distribute the tampons ourselves. We had a schedule that rotated every few weeks. Students would go around and fill up baskets in the public bathrooms. It was incredible seeing students volunteering and giving their time to this great cause.

What challenges did you face in trying to create this program? How did you overcome your challenges?

Viet: At Brown, we were very intentional and placed tampons in all bathrooms regardless of gender. We wanted to be as trans inclusive as possible. This initially caused much confusion among some people and news outlets. They attacked us for not "understanding biology." We knew we were doing good work and focused on the impact that we were making rather than focus on the negativity.

Your program has been very successful, do you believe this will carry on for years to come?

Viet: I believe this year, the student government is working with administrators to institutionalize the program. Hopefully it will be funded by the University and distributed in a way that doesn't rely on unpaid student labor.

Why is it important for other students to take initiative and try to free menstrual products at their own universities? Do you have any advice for students who want to free menstrual products on their campus?

Viet: Some times it's faster to do it yourself at first than to convince others, whether its the University or other student groups, to take on the project. You have so much autonomy and once people see the benefits and demand of the project, it makes it much easier to convince others to take it on.

The Rise of Femtech: An Interview with Ida Tin

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Ida Tin, Danish entrepreneur and author, is the co-founder and CEO of Clue, a menstrual cycle tracking app. Tin has been named Female Web Entrepreneur of the Year at the Slush Conference in 2015. Clue has become increasingly popular, not only among the medical community, but also with women around the world. The design is simple, the main colors being white and red, no pink and no flower. Ida Tin is also accredited with coining the term “femtech.”

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What is Clue, for those who don’t know?

Clue is a female health app that helps you understand your menstrual cycle so you can discover how to live a full and healthy life. Women and people with cycles use Clue to know when their period is coming, when they are more or less likely to get pregnant, to track birth control, moods, symptoms, pains and more. Clue is one of the most popular apps in the health category and has been rated the top free period tracker app by the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, a publication of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Clue partners with leading universities, including Stanford, Columbia, Oxford, and the University of Washington, to contribute to new advances in female health research.

Why do you think Clue has become so big?

I think the main reason Clue has become so popular is because it is something that was needed. When I dreamed up the idea of Clue, I felt that there had been very little innovation in family planning since the pill came out. I was wondering how it could be that we managed to walk on the moon but that most women still don't know which days they can or can’t get pregnant. I personally needed such a tool to manage that very important part of my life, and I was convinced that many other women would find an app like Clue not only very useful but also very empowering.

What makes Clue different, as a period tracker and as a company?

Clue is about more than simply knowing when your period is coming. It helps you track and discover the patterns in your cycle that impact your daily life, so you can gain a better understanding of your overall health. Additionally, all the content in Clue is backed up by the latest scientific research - so you know you are getting the most trustworthy, accurate information about your health.

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How is the app personalized and how is Clue planning to further personalize it?

Users can track their period, fertile window, PMS, moods, pains, symptoms, exercise, medication, birth control usage, and notes about their cycle, in order to gain a better understanding of their own patterns and personal trends. When you are able to identify patterns that are unique to you, you feel more in control of your own body, and better able to manage the changes that are taking place within it.

Clue’s ongoing goal is to continue advancing research into female health, and to make basic information about reproductive health more accessible. It would be safe to predict that tracking apps and gadgets will become increasingly intuitive in the future, and will eventually monitor everything from heart rate and blood pressure to stress levels to amount of and quality of movement, ultimately capturing data that will allow us to better understand both our emotional and physical wellbeing. This amount of data can only be a good thing, as it will offer doctors instant access to a far more detailed, personalized, and accurate medical history.


How is Clue combatting the stigma and misconceptions that so often surround menstruation?

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The biggest challenge since Clue's launch directly relates to the lack of resources women have when it comes to their health -- whether due to a lack of scientific research or due to societal taboos. Paving the way for an entirely new space, Femtech, and opening up the dialogue globally has been one of the biggest, and most exciting, challenges we've faced building Clue. These misconceptions and stigmas exist because of a lack of research into, and understanding of, menstruation. We are working to combat these through numerous studies and collaborative research, such as our international survey that looked into menstrual taboos.

Our ultimate goal is to completely move female health away from its status as ‘niche’ and get to a stage where society can openly discuss menstrual health without hesitation. You wouldn’t think twice to mention that you have a headache or sore throat, for example, and when people feel as comfortable talking about cramps or other period related symptoms, only then have we managed to fully break down the stigma surrounding them.

If you knew nothing about the industry you’re currently in, how would you describe it?

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I would certainly recognise it as a growing industry, as more and more femtech is emerging, but I probably wouldn’t realise just how underrepresented femtech was in the beginning, and still is to an extent. Reproductive health is an incredibly foundational and central part of our lives, but there’s a real lack of clarity for women over this generally.
 

An Open Letter to Period Shamers

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Dear Period Shamers,

    Saumya here. I just wanted to say… where do I start. Okay, how about with the fact that my period is none of your business. You are not my doctor, you don’t get to tell me what is healthy and what isn’t.

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Why do you feel so strongly about the fact that I am on my period, anyways? I don’t care if you consider me your friend, unless you’re telling me that I have blood on my favorite white pants, I don’t care. You can have an opinion, you just can’t have an opinion about MY period. Did you catch that?

MY period. Mine. Not yours.

    It irks me even more if you are someone who has never had a period. What do you know about how a period feels? Nothing. You know nothing. If you think my period is disgusting, why are you here? No one asked you to come and share your opinion on something you have no personal experiences with. My biology is not something that should be ridiculed.

Do I even have to tell you that people like you are the reason why society still exiles women during their periods or treats them as touchy and irrational? I guess I do, because obviously you are completely ignorant of those facts. Guess what? Women are still not treated as equals, and while you aren’t the whole reason why, you certainly are a part of it.

You might not even realize you are doing it, so here’s a checklist. If you seriously ask women if they are on their period when they’re mad, call women unfit to lead because they are “irrational”, explain things to them like you would a child when they’re mad, etc., you’re probably a period-shamer, and you should stop.

Now let’s move on to a list of things people like you have caused. I cried when I got my period because I thought it was a bad thing. Thanks, period-shamers. My mom didn’t even know what a period was until she got hers because her mom and sisters were ashamed to talk about it. Thanks, period-shamers. I am always self-conscious about whether or not I’m leaking, even when I’m not on my period. Thanks, period-shamers.

Sincerely,

Saumya

 

Period Myths VS. Period Facts

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By Saumya Bajaj

Periods have long been taboo, even to this day. Although there were (very) few studies in the 19th and 20th centuries concerning periods that were actually done well and were replicable, the ones that were done had some valuable information debunking common myths associated with women’s menstruation. Now, we have quite a few more female scientists (though not nearly enough), so there are more studies pertaining to periods. These studies more often than not completely disprove myths relating to periods. Let’s take a look at some of these myths that still continue to haunt women around the world.

  • Do periods affect cognitive function? No. Absolutely not. In fact, one of the first reputable studies into menstruation was about whether or not periods affect cognitive function. Leta Hollingworth actually conducted this study for her dissertation, concluding that it does not affect ability. Another more recent study done just this year headed by Brigitte Leeners concluded precisely the same thing. So when someone says women shouldn’t be leaders because they can’t think straight during their periods, you can tell them “Wrong”.

  • Do women’s cycles sync up if they spend enough time together? Again, no. This is called “menstrual synchrony” in the science community. Martha McClintock conducted the original study suggesting this, but several papers were published reporting flaws in this study. While McClintock suggested pheromones, doubt was cast upon this conclusion, along with many people’s inability to reproduce this study.

  • Does PMS necessarily cause mood changes? No. A team led by Sarah Romans reviewed 47 studies, concluding that there is very little correlation with mood changes and menstruation, let alone PMS. While this didn’t say that mood changes are never caused by PMS, it did say that most women don’t have mood swings caused by hormonal changes during PMS.

While there are quite a few more myths that continue to limp along, they are continuously being debunked, slowly being chipped away at until they completely fall. In the meanwhile, know that everything you read about periods isn’t necessarily true.