UPDATED: iPhone, iPad Apps Allow Men to Track Women’s Menstrual Periods. Seriously.

Jodi Jacobson

UPDATED: At first I thought it was a joke. Then I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, scream or call Margaret Atwood.  But this morning I opened the paper to read that new iPhone apps allowing men to track the menstrual periods of their girlfriends or wives are flying off the virtual "shelves."

This article was updated at 10:26 am Saturday, April 24th, 2010 to include details on the features of the iPhone/iPad application, Code Red and to basically change my mind on whether or not this is funny.

At first I thought it was a joke.  Had to be, right?

And then I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, scream or call Margaret Atwood.

But this morning I opened the paper to read in the Washington Post Style Section (of course) about new iPhone applications that allow men to track the menstrual periods of their girlfriends or wives (or to allow any man to track the menstrual periods of his girlfriends or wives depending on the level of fidelity and cultural milieu applicable).

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And on one hand it could be seen as funny–especially as Monica Hesse relates the story in the Post.  She writes:

Men: We are sorry.

Here we have been assuming that our lady-business skeeved you out, that you heard “menstruation” and you went “lalalalalalala.”

We were wrong.

How else to explain “Code Red,” the new iPhone period app that — and this is really linguistically unfortunate — also works on the iPad?

“Code Red,” writes Hesse, “keeps track of periods.”

It keeps track of them for men. It is, in fact, strong enough for a woman but made for the men who love them, or at least want to monitor their bodies the way that creep-o just might on “Law & Order: SVU” before Detective Benson punched him in the head. Just sayin.’

How it works: Type in the first day of your partner’s cycle for a few months. Then sit back and wait for the helpful reminders to pop up on your Apple device. During PMS time, for example, a female symbol appears sporting devil horns. A frisky ovulation alert tells you when your chances for getting down are looking up.

Menstrual apps for men are a booming market, says Hesse.

“PMSBuddy,” for example, is proudly “saving relationships, one month at a time.” “PMS Meter” features “hilarious sound effects.” And the infamous “IAmAMan,” which is nothing if not unapologetic, allows users to track the menstrual cycles of several women at once, for those special times when you are a big cheater.

At a deep cultural level, she writes, “one might speculate that the proliferation of these apps all ties into some deep fear of womanhood — an attempt by men to make sense of what they do not understand.”

And yet, she notes:

One might offer the possibility that men would chart the life cycle of a fruit fly if they could do it on an iPad, that this is really all about gadgetry. One might also say this is gross.

And the more I looked into it, the less funny and the more gross it became.

Just take a look at the MEDL website at which features of the Code Red app can be found.

First of all, the app is described as “Men’s best defense against the monthly Her-ricane.”  (You know: Women are moody, unpredictable, controlled by their hormones.)

The e-brochure helpfully offers that:

Men no longer need to fear the wrath of menstrual madness. MEDL Mobile is pleased—and very relieved—to introduce Code Red: a simple but powerful menstrual calendar for men to keep track of—and survive—their girlfriend’s/fiancé’s/wife’s monthly cycle.

Menstural madness?  Let’s just reinforce that age-old and completely discredited notion that women are determined by biology and beset by “nervous disorders,” and that any and every response to life or thought a woman has can be traced back to this unfortunate reality.

And the creators of this app make clear they are determined to make the world safer–and more sexually promising–for men.

“Code Red will be a life saver for thousands of guys out there,” said Kevin Harrison, Co-Creator, “Its each guys personal color coded Terror Alert System…”

What makes Code Red so much more valuable than other period tracking apps, they suggest “is the profound simplicity and ease of use.”  Use for what?

When the tracking starts, Code Red will provide special alert messages for every phase in her cycle. There are five different alerts, and each calendar day comes equipped with a wealth of tips and advice to brave even the most violent of storms.

It has the following features:

  • Fully automated menstrual calendar
  • 5 special alerts for each phase of her cycle
  • Dynamic animations for each alert
  • Helpful suggestions to survive each phase
  • Links to local vendors for presents, groceries and goods (via Google Maps)
  • Advanced calendar toggle settings

The special alerts will be particularly helpful to men who apparently can not communicate verbally with their partners:

  • Smooth Sailing Alert — Let’s you know when she’s feeling like a team player.
  • Horny Alert — Let’s you know when you’re able to score.
  • PMS Alert — Let’s you know when to hit the (cold) showers.
  • Ovulation Alert — Let’s you know when to sit on the sidelines (unless you’re ready to start a junior league).
  • Code Red Alert — Let’s you know that it’s game time and you’re way out of bounds.

“Every month, women go through the same ups and downs, but the men in our lives never seem to catch on,” said Lisi Harrison, Co-Creator and Author of New York Times #1 Bestselling series’ The Clique and Alphas.

Are they really that stupid?

If this is a joke, it’s a lucrative one for the creators. While MEDL Mobile, the company that distributes “Code Red,” will not release sales figures, Hesse says that the application has climbed as high as 35 on the Lifestyle division of the Apple app store — a category that includes hundreds of applications.

The developers told Hesse:

“We were sitting around in a meeting where we go over submissions,” Swartz says, when he mentioned “Code Red.” “About half the people there were young guys, and one said, ‘I will pay $20 for that right now.’ Actually, he said $19.99.”

They decided to price the app at $1.99.

While at first I thought it was a bit funny–we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves and our ingrained stereotypes–it really is sad and also troubling at some deeper level.

I mean, let’s face it.  Women’s menstrual periods have been the subject of fascination, disgust, and control by men for centuries.  Orthodox and Hassidic Jews won’t touch a woman they do not know for fear she may be “unclean” (menstruating).  Women in parts of rural India are sent to sleep with the animals or out in the fields when they are menstruating.  In many societies, girls who reach menarche are married off right away, for fear that they might otherwise become sexual superwomen without the control of a man.  The menstrual cycles of girls and women throughout the world in various cultures–and even in the United States, as noted recently by Bianca Laureano on Rewire–are monitored by their parents and their husbands as a means of figuring out what they might be doing with their bodies, whether they are on birth control, and whether they might be having sex and gotten pregnant.  Women still have to combat the notion that they are “emotional,” “nervous,” “incapable,” “unpredictable.”

So it’s not like there is anything new about the combination of horror, control, and confusion that comes with menstruating.  It’s the ultimate “in-your-face” reminder to men that despite any level of subjugation, we can still do something they can not.

But that it is so popular is a reminder of our cultural schizophrenia around sex, power, and gender. On one hand, despite record numbers of sexually transmitted infections and despite still-too-high levels of teenage pregnancy, we can’t get the federal government to stop spending money on failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Networks and cable stations will sell sex 24-7, but many still refuse to air responsible ads for contraceptive methods or such controversial things as condoms, or information about sexually transmitted infections.  We can’t quite accept socially that there is a spectrum of sexuality inherent in being human and that not everyone is embraced under the culturally constructed “one (heterosexual) man and one (heterosexual) woman” notion of marriage.  We still hide condoms in drugstores and some men still have problems buying tampons for their significant others because its….embarassing.

And it is worth noting the the current wave of laws at the state and federal level and the general level of hysteria around women’s rights to choose pregnancy and childbirth in the United States has a lot to do with control over their bodies. So the notion that an iPhone app marketed specifically to men is flying off the virtual shelves is a bit creepy in more ways than one. I’m thinking if in fact the tea-partiers are right, and the government is going to be implanting microchips in anyone, women will be first.

It is also worth watching how well this app does elsewhere in the world.  I am not kidding.  Yesterday, for example, a story on Apple’s first-quarter profits indicated that sales of the iPhone and iPad are booming in places like China, India, Pakistan and elsewhere.  These are cultures in which women’s periods are indeed more openly the source of control (here, we like to pretend we are protecting “life,” not controlling women’s lives.  In China, the one-child policy still leads to forced sterlization and forced abortion, and in ultra-conservative Islamic cultures women are not only blamed for being raped, they are killed for it).  I’d love to know whether and how such an app sells in these places.  Yeah, I know it is possible to track menstrual cycles otherwise and that technology here only reinforces misogyny, it does not create it.  But nonetheless, the “unintended” applications are worth monitoring. 

(BTW, can we get a misogyny meter app, please?)

So I kind of agree with the response given by Kevin Harrison, “co-conceptualizer” with his wife Lisi of the product, to a question by Hesse who asked: “Isn’t Code Red kind of….funny?”

And I think it probably is funny, to the Harrisons and MEDL, who must be laughing all the way to the bank.

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