Periodical: a journal of private parts

Periodical is a playful critique of femtech and data privacy. 

Femtech typically takes a quantitative look at data related to the menstrual cycle. Period trackers invite users to quantify experiences such as breast tenderness, cervical mucus consistency, mood and extent of menstrual bleeding  in an attempt to predict fertile windows and the date of the menstrual period. This quantification has its uses, but foregrounds periods and fertility despite the menstrual cycle being a constant presence, and arguably treats it as external to the everyday experiences of those of us who menstruate making it “other” to a day-to-day “normal”. This could be argued as being framed by the non-monthly cyclical male body. 

In addition to this reductive approach, period tracker apps often store users’ intimate data on cloud servers without great attention to who might be able to gain access to this data. The repeal of Roe vs Wade in the USA has drawn attention to the risks this opens up for women for example by opening up the potential of using a combination of period-tracking and location data (which some tracker apps also collect) to identify women who have crossed state lines to have an abortion. This is an extreme example, but does draw the issue into focus. What is the value of this intimate data, to whom and why? How, where and with whom should we share it? And how do we protect it from exploitation and abuse?

Periodical invites participants to journal their experiences over the course of February – a month with the same number of days as an “average” menstrual cycle. They will then be invited to share as much or as little as they wish of these journals with the public during the CtrlShift Weekender.

Since every digital transaction creates a footprint and carries some privacy risks, we will make the entire process as analogue as possible.

Each participant will receive a bespoke Periodical Journal. These will be delivered to participants in person as far as is practically possible. The journal will be loose-leaf and will contain 28 pages with provocation questions on them together with additional paper and materials that they can use to write on, draw on or to respond to the questions in other ways.

Participants will be asked to make entries daily throughout the month of February (2023) by responding to the daily provocations. At the end of February, we will collect all the journals together with instructions from each participant about what they would like to keep private and what they would be happy to make public. We will expect all participants to return the physical object of the journal, but we will offer different ways protect its contents – for example tying “private” pages together with a ribbon, locking the journal, or vacuum packing it.

The returned journals, with their user-determined “privacy” settings will be put on public display in the form of a mobile chained library which will be available for the public to browse during the CtrlShift weekender. We will act as the library attendants, discussing the project and inviting use of the library.

At the end of the project, Periodicals will be returned to their creators (in person as far as is reasonable).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s