Sunday, September 04, 2011

It's that time of year again

Breast Cancer Awareness Month officially takes place in October, but the power of pink is already starting to emerge in the media and online. Sort of like how there's already Halloween candy for sale even though the holiday is almost two months away.  So far, I've see some Yoplait lid commercials, a letter to the editor in our local newspaper, and the newest Facebook Breast Cancer Awareness Month meme. This time, instead of being asked to slyly post your bra color or where you like to put your purse (I like it wherever), women are supposed to post about their "fake" pregnancies. The basic gist is that you take the number of the month in which you were born (7 in my case) and match the day of your birth to a list of candies. I haven't seen the list, but whatever candy is given to the number 31 would be mine. So let's  just say 31=Valrhona 71% dark chocolate. In my status I would write, "I'm 7 weeks and craving Valrhona 71% dark chocolate." And then your readers are supposed to be all surprised and like " I didn't know you were pregnant!" And then I'd say, "I'm not! It's a joke. LOL."

Um, go Breast Cancer Awareness go? Sigh. I don't know. Maybe I'd find find the game more funny if my first miscarriage didn't take place when I was 7+ weeks pregnant.  Or if sugar consumption wasn't linked to breast cancer. Or if October wasn't also Pregnancy Loss and Infertility Awareness Month. Or if many young breast cancer survivors weren't also infertile due to their treatment. Or if the game mentioned  its breast cancer awareness purpose in the actual status posts and not just in the emails that friends sent to one another telling them to play the game.

There's been lots of good critiques written about the various FB breast cancer memes.I have nothing to add to them. I will link to some of them as I continue to edit this post.

But I do want to think a bit more about this whole "awareness" concept.  What constitutes awareness? What are we supposed to become aware of? Who is supposed to become aware? And is awareness the end-all-be-all?  What comes next after we are all aware?  More awareness? Or action? So much of the BCAM rhetoric blurs the line between awareness and activism that it's probably hard for many folks to recognize that there is more they can do than collect yogurt lids, wear a pink ribbon, or post their bra color or fake pregnancy status on FB.  Awareness is supposed to expand one's field of vision--not shrink it.  And maybe BCAM did expand the collective field of vision at one point in time, but almost twenty years later,  it's just repeating the same old stuff and not focusing on some of the newer and more radical forms of breast cancer action that seek to prevent breast cancer rather than just detect it, expose the link between environmental toxins and breast cancer, and challenge the industry, corporate, and policy practices that contribute to environmental exposures. How much many messages about prevention, toxins, and corporate accountability do you come across when you turn on your TV or read your magazines and see cause marketing ads asking you to collect Yoplait lids or test drive a BMW?  How often does BCAM raise awareness about the fact that many of its corporate partners produce products that may increase the risk of breast cancer or at the very least have a financial stake in the disease's continued existence? Now THAT would be good fodder for a national breast cancer awareness campaign.

And I'm sure you could develop some FB memes based on it, too. Let's see what I can come up with on the top of my head: "Hey there! It's National Breast Cancer Month! Look over this list of household products, foods, and personal care products that include ingredients linked to breast cancer. Then search your house to see if you have any of these products. Post those products in your FB status with the statement "I use X, Y, and Z--all of which I just found out contain chemicals linked to breast cancer. This is an outrage. Breast cancer causing chemicals should not be found in our everyday products. Go to to see how you can help to change this. And go to to find safer alternatives."

See? That was pretty easy. With just a little bit of group brainstorming, I bet that we could come up with some really cool FB games.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

smartphone app project

I've received over a dozen informal responses to my various online queries about the use of health apps. So far, the women who have responded  use apps for tracking their period, their ovulation/fertility,  pregnancy developments, and their contractions. One also uses an app to keep her parenting life organized. When it comes to other types of health apps, several women said that they use diet, fitness, and weight-loss related apps. I'm not surprised about that given our culture's focus on those particular issues.

Anyway, these are very preliminary findings. It was interesting to put some informal questions out there and see how many people responded and what they use apps for.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Online Pregnancy and Mothering Forums: A Feminist Perspective

I've been researching and writing about online pregnancy and mothering cultures for the past four years. I've had other research projects going on during that time so the online pregnancy and mothering culture project has been a side project of sorts. Now, as my other research projects are coming to a close, I am able to devote more time to it, which I am excited about.

One facet of my research deals with online pregnancy and mothering discussion forums. I've published one article about them, and I have a book chapter on the topic coming out soon.  Whereas the 2007 article focused on the social and cultural aspects of a particular online forum, the book chapter examines how members of this same forum increasingly connect with one another and the group more generally via mobile phones, social networking sites, and blogs. This "transmediated support" culture, as I call it, is becoming increasingly common among many online pregnancy and mothering groups.

A few weeks ago, I presented the book chapter at a women's studies colloquium. About a dozen people showed up, mostly professors and grad students affiliated with the women's studies program. The talk went very well, and it generated a lot of interesting discussion that is helping me refine my understanding of these sorts of online groups. Two sets of comments from the audience especially stood out to me.

 The first set of comments related to the very existence of such groups.  Online pregnancy and mothering forums have been the focus of a growing body of research during the past decade.  Plus,  I not only research these groups but  also participate in a few of them, including the group that is the topic of both publications.  For both of these reasons, I take the existence of online pregnancy and mothering forums for granted, as if "everybody" knows about them and "gets" them.  For me, the interesting part (as well as the focus) of my talk was not the groups or the forums themselves but the ways in which they are becoming increasingly transmediated.  For many of the audience members, however, the very fact that such groups exist was the interesting part of talk. Many of the women in the room didn't know much about these groups, and some seemed very surprised that such groups existed.

The second set of commented related to what some audience members thought about these groups and the women who participated in them. I received various questions expressing sentiments such as "Why would women participate in these sorts of groups?" "Why would these women share such personal information with strangers?" and  "Who ARE these women?"

On the one hand, it was good for me to hear these comments, as it made me realize that I should not take the existence of these groups for granted and that the forums themselves are still a compelling topic in their own right. When I present this chapter in the future, I now know to spend more time setting up the context of the forums and some of the research regarding online pregnancy and mothering groups more generally.

On the other hand, I found the comments a bit surprising given that I was presenting at a women's studies colloquium. Since the 1970s, feminism and the women's movement more generally have emphasized celebrating women's bodies and sexuality, encouraging women to be proactive about their health and well-being, and "ending the silence" around taboo topics such as women's sexuality, reproductive health, and women's health more generally.  During this time, women formed and joined consciousness raising groups, women health activism emerged, and women began to speak publicly about their breast cancer, among other things. In more recent years, feminist scholars have critiqued the cultural silence and social stigma surrounding infertility (female and male) and pregnancy loss.

Certainly, there are facets of online pregnancy and mothering culture that are problematic from a feminist perspective. For example, online forums can perpetuate problematic biomedical discourses regarding pregnancy and women's bodies, as well as hegemonic norms regarding gender, race, class, and heterosexuality. Thy can also be sites of social conflict among women who join them.  At the same time, though, online forums bring women together to share their experiences, to learn about their bodies, to take charge of their reproductive health and health more generally, and to trust their intuition and their right to challenge their doctors. Online forums also provide women with a space to talk about taboo subjects such as sexuality, infertility, and miscarriage.

To be sure, not all forums are necessarily explicitly feminist in their outlook (although some are). Nor do all women who participate in online pregnancy and mothering forums personally identify as feminists (although some do). That said, many women who participate in these groups find them personally, medically, and socially empowering.  In that regard, online forums may, in certain respects, function as contemporary versions of the consciousness raising groups of the 1970s.  A few examples from my research: Although forum participants aren't sitting around in circle examining their cervixes together,  they do share tips for how and when to check one's cervix position to determine whether one is about to ovulate  or  may be pregnant.  They also discuss the politics of public breast feeding and encourage their fellow members who want a VBAC (a vaginal birth after a cesarean) but whose doctor is wary of performing one (usually for liability/convenience reasons and not for bona-fide medical reasons) to stand up to the doctor or find a new one who will perform it.

A final point: Please note that I said that online forums are similar to consciousness raising groups "in certain respects." For numerous reasons, it would be far too simplistic to equate the two types of groups. The social, historical, political, and technological contexts of both groups differ, and as I've already mentioned the relationship between feminism and the online support groups is complicated. Even though there are facets of these groups that embody feminism, other facets don't. And although I need to think more about this, my guess is that post-feminism would be a relevant framework for understanding the complex relationship between feminism, on the one hand, and online pregnancy and mothering groups, on the other.

And aside from the feminist politics of the groups themselves, I also want to think more about why the women studies professors and grad student seemed surprised that women would want to participate in such groups.  Does their surprise reflect a type of generational digital divide? Is the contemporary feminist context for thinking about the politics of women's socialities, biosocialities, and reproductive health different than it was in the 1970s?  Are social stigmas surrounding women's bodies and sexuality still pervasive, even among feminists?  Are sexuality, pregnancy, and mothering still topics that feminists grapple with personally and politically? I'm sure their surprise reflects a number of factors, and perhaps their responses provide insights to broader social, cultural, and political  issues regarding intersections as well as  tensions between feminism, digital technology, mothering, and women's health. It's all very fascinating, and there is much to think about.

I'll write more about this topic soon.

Friday, April 15, 2011

New research project: fertility/pregnancy/adoption/parenting smartphone apps

 I am starting a new research project examining smartphone apps related to fertility, pregnancy, adoption, and mothering/parenting (including apps for dads and prospective dads). If you have personal experience with such apps, please send me an email. I'm trying to get a general sense of who's using what types of apps and what they think about them. 

Also, if you use other types of health (physical, emotional, spiritual) apps, I would be interested hearing about them. I'm especially interested in apps related to mindfulness, buddhism, meditation, breathwork, and yoga. 


Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Well Being is Back!

I may not post very regularly, but I am reviving the blog. But first, I will upgrade it. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, check out the link to my book, From Pink to Green: Disease Prevention and the Environmental Breast Cancer Movement (Rutgers University Press, 2009. It came out last summer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A case of really bad science

I don't use the term " bad science," lightly, as it implies that "good science" is always pure and politics-free, which I don't think it the case. All science is political, whether it is "good" or "bad." But in the case I discuss below, the scientific evidence was clearly overlooked because of politics.

What is the case I'm talking about? The FDA decision to not make the morning-after pill available over-the-counter. It turns out FDA administrators made their decision to ban it before they had read all of the scientific evidence about the efficacy and safety about the drug.

Here's a CNN story about the case.

Given the current administration's track record when it comes to matters of women's health, I can't say I am surprised by this report.