International Women’s Day is an important moment to recognize and spotlight the innate power of women and their enduring fight for gender equity in this world. There are many landmark historical events to reflect on for this day, such as the right to vote or own property. However, one recent development to highlight on this International Women’s Day is a new wave of feminism, and that is: the female technological revolution.
Despite many advancements in gender equity, progress across science, technology, and engineering remains heavily biased towards men. While women have been seen as increasingly “equal”, the innate differences between men and women have been continuously overlooked. Men have driven forward innovation with male bodies and men’s experiences in mind. This guiding assumption that women are just “small” men has marginalized and excluded individuals with female bodies or who identify as women, both consciously and unconsciously. Examples range from the lack of medical research on women’s heart health - despite it being the leading cause of death for females - to a precedent of cars being tested for safety on exclusively male crash-test dummies, to the fact that the design of the N95 mask is often too large to adequately protect a female face.
The scientific literature demonstrates significant differences in female and male bodies down to a cellular level, yet even the most basic of research is still predominantly conducted on male participants, male rats and male cells. We have the internet and the iPhone and self-driving cars and robots are not far on the horizon. Yet, major needs in women’s health and lives are still being met by archaic, outdated solutions (e.g. the current options in oral contraception or menopause solutions). This gap in research and innovation continues to grow, with AI and machine learning already beginning to reflect these principles.
FemTech aims to change that. FemTech is the term coined for Female and/or Feminine Technology. I define FemTech as the use of science to solve technological problems (tech) that specifically impact the female body or woman’s experience (fem).
The FemTech industry has unveiled that there is a massive span of issues that specifically impact this demographic. And these issues desperately require new technological solutions. Females alone experience menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Females have staggeringly higher rates of issues such as autoimmune disorders, migraines, or certain cancers. They require different solutions when it comes to sexual health and pleasure.
By finally taking on these problems and building foundational solutions that are long overdue, the FemTech industry is booming. A frequently quoted metric has the market potential exceeding 50 billion by 2025, with revenues of at least 1.1 billion by 2024 (1). The Guardian even named FemTech as one of the top 10 terms of 2019 (2).
Despite the overwhelming, rapid advancements within this field, it is often characterized by period apps and sex tech. It is almost exclusively portrayed in the color pink. It is discussed as a “niche”, despite impacting 50% of the population. This type of sexism is unsurprising. But as there has been increasing media coverage pushing FemTech into this inaccurate depiction, many individuals have spoken out that FemTech should drop the word “Fem”, opting to be considered “healthtech”, albeit, a more inclusive version.
Yet, to believe the problem is in the name is an oversight. The issue stems from the biased interpretation of what “Fem” represents, not with the label itself. Nothing about calling something “female” inherently puts it in a box and considers it to be lesser than, it is the individual who makes that judgement. To say that males are the norm and females are the “other”, is to individually choose one to be normative and one not to be, rather than recognizing the ample scientific evidence that distinct biological differences exist without needing to be ranked by importance.
By forgoing the “Fem”, FemTech founders and investors further perpetuate this idea of femaleness as weakness. In doing so, they contradict the very mission they are trying to achieve in their critically important work - namely, the importance of females/women claiming their rightful space in a given setting in order to drive change.
I dream of a world where asserting the needs of half the population outright is no longer necessary and healthtech inherently encompasses both female and male-focused solutions. But in society today, to say “just call it healthtech” is synonymous with stating, “all health matters'' instead of “female health matters''. To not claim the space is to potentially subjugate females and women to being forgotten and ignored, and the industry to marginalization or “male/men”-washing.
If we can claim our space in the work itself, we can--and should--do the same with the term that describes this work, and do so with pride. The onus should not be on the industry to deflect from owning the word female; to make themselves smaller, as women have historically been encouraged to do. The responsibility should be on the investors, the media, etc. to hear the term “female technology” and take it seriously.
By putting the word female before the word technology, FemTech also asserts the need for female bodies and women’s perspectives to be in the decision-making room. You would not build a healthtech company without including individuals with experience in health, nor sportstech ventures without those with a background in sports. Thus, by utilizing the label “FemTech” rather than “healthtech” for solutions that impact females or women, suddenly it is impossible to overlook an all-male founding team. By qualifying the field, there is then an innate need for those involved to be (at a minimum, partially) representative.
Lastly, by dilenating companies as FemTech, we can then measure the overwhelming success that comes with finally making solutions that females and women desperately want or need. To get lost in the booming, broad field of healthtech would gloss over the most important takeaway: serving an underserved population increases impact and profits alike. This example can translate to other issues aside from sex and gender, thus serving as a case study for expanding innovation - and with it, investing patterns - past the white, male experience to the overshadowed experiences of other groups. There is so much for us to do in how we approach technology. FemTech is the Milky Way in a much larger galaxy. We have just barely scratched the surface of what is possible. But as we continue to build and grow this field, the world inherently becomes a better and more just place.
At inne, we strive to move the needle forward through innovating in the field of fertility tracking, and soon, contraception - two industries where women have had to settle for outdated technology for far too long. Despite fertility being a booming industry, it is often quite predatory, with countless companies presenting the same repackaged solution (urinary ovulation devices). Meanwhile, non-hormonal contraception still single-handedly consists of the basal body temperature method, as it has for a century. The inne team spent 3+ years finally developing a modern-day alternative that we felt women long deserved. We intentionally created a design and brand that consciously sidesteps the pinkification, babyphone-design type cliches often associated with these sorts of products. We hope to set an example for female founders building female-focused products that set a new bar for filling needs in the way’s females want them to be met. This is the future of FemTech. We embrace being a part of it.
As International Women’s Day approaches, we want to recognize the recent breakthroughs in closing the gender gap through technological innovation for female bodies and women’s lives. The fight for empowerment through the increasing force of FemTech has only just begun.
Sullivan, About Frost &, and Frost & SullivanFor over five decades. Femtech: Time for a Digital Revolution in the Women's Health Market. 3 Sept. 2020, ww2.frost.com/frost-perspectives/femtechtime-digital-revolution-womens-health-market/.
Shariatmadari, David. Cancelled for Sadfishing: The Top 10 Words of 2019. 14 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/science/2019/oct/14/cancelled-for-sadfishing-the-top-10-words-of-2019.