Invisible Women - Boobs, Birds, and Being on the Blob
GFPs! It's been a while since my last newsletter, I know. I'm sorry. I've been busy!
No, really, I have. I have, for example, been working on a proposal for a new book. Watch this space for more info on that...
And I've also been spending a fair bit of time researching the PPE issue, of which more in Default Male of the Week -- yes I know that's the same as every other week, leave me alone.
The bird-watching continues. We had an exciting moment last week where we discovered a NEST with THREE BABY BIRDS in it!
[caption align="alignnone" width="980"]
I know nothing about birds, but we thought they looked a bit like starlings -- until we saw a blackbird flying in and out of the bush with the nest in it. So we now think they are blackbirds. Anyway, this morning, the baby birds had gone...and LOOK!
[caption align="alignnone" width="980"]
We don't know if this is a new egg or just one of the previous brood that didn't hatch...fingers crossed for the latter and please don't email me to tell me it's the former as that would be too sad.
I've also been spending time getting obsessed with Public Rights of Way. As a dog owner I've been obsessed with them for a while, but the obsession has grown to epic proportions under lockdown. If we are still under lockdown, that is. Who the hell knows anymore 🤪
Anyway, public rights of way are my new jam -- can anyone recommend a good book on the history of public rights of way? Just so I can fully embrace my new middle-aged bird-watching persona.
Oh! I also, at the grand age of 35, finally got around to measuring my boobs! The information was...disconcerting. If you want to be similarly disconcerted, this is the calculator I used, which was recommended to me by several women. I've ordered some bras in my new ludicrous size and will let you know how I get on; I'm sure you all can't wait.
Anyway, to sum up, and in conclusion, I've been BUSY. Let's get on with the newsletter shall we?
Gender Data Gap of the Week
So I've been having a bloody nightmare with my period recently. I have not had a normal cycle since lockdown began. FOR SCIENCE, I am now going to share with you what a normal cycle looks like for me.
My cycle is about 26 days, period lasts 6/7 days. My boobs usually hurt a couple of days beforehand and the first day or so. Period pain is excruciating but only really for the first two days. It's not perfectly regular, but it's regular enough.
During lockdown, that regularity has gone out the window. My cycle lengths and period lengths have been all over the shop. Longer, shorter, you name it. I've had boob pain for about 3 weeks now. The period pain was also definitely worse than usual. I wondered if I was alone.
Yes, that's right, my autocorrect thought it was more likely I meant to type "men's trial," rather than "menstrual." The way I see it there are three possible explanations for this behaviour:
My autocorrect is sassing me
My autocorrect is making a wry comment on the prevalence of menstrual research versus the amount of research done only in men
My autocorrect is designed by a male dominated team that didn't adequately account for the predominance of male words in the linguistic corpus on which they trained their algorithm
It's impossible to determine which of these options is correct.
Anyway, to return to the periods, no I was not alone. My mentions were inundated with women who were going through the same issues with their cycles during lockdown. Shorter cycles, longer cycles, missed periods, more than one period a month, periods that went on and on and on. Boob pain, period pain, ovulation pain, IBS pain. Again, all out of whack.
It has been suggested to me that the boob pain thing at least may be a result of changes in bra wearing and/or exercise, but I don't buy this. First, because that doesn't account for all the other period related issues. And second, because I'm a wfh slob who rarely wears a bra anyway. And I've been exercising about the same as usual, although of course there has been a slight decrease in incidental walking. But certainly not enough to account for boobs that are making me reach for a pregnancy test.
And in any case, this shouldn't really surprise us. Naturally, research into the menstrual cycle is chronically underfunded (analysis of four years of National Institute of Health research funding grants found that applications featuring the words "ovary", "fertility" or "reproductive" received the lowest amount of funding), but what we do know is that stress impacts the menstrual cycle. Duh.
So is anyone doing much on this? Well, yes and no. I ran a PubMed search for "menstrual" and "coronavirus" and came up with one paper, entitled, "Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Female Sexual Behavior." Among other findings, this paper reported that women are, frankly, being a bit bloody weird at the moment. We are less likely to want to get pregnant, but also less likely to be using contraception. We are more frisky, but having worse sex (hmmm). And, yes, our periods are all over the place.
I was also sent this survey, which is being run by Dr Jessica Piasecki, a lecturer in Exercise Physiology at Nottingham Trent University -- do fill out the survey if you can. And when I contacted Clue, the menstrual tracker app, I was told that they were planning on looking into this, but that the research wouldn't be ready for a number of months (fair enough).
Several people pointed out to me that at long last the Zoe / King's College London Covid tracker app I mentioned several newsletters ago is asking people if they have periods and are taking hormonal contraception, for which, absolutely, hurrah, but that is not the same as tracking it.
And it feels like such an easy data gap to avoid. We are being asked to login daily to report symptoms. It wouldn't be difficult to add an additional question to those who have indicated that they menstruate along the lines of "has your period started today?" And if yes, "is this normal for you?"
Obviously no one app can be all things to all people, but given the menstrual cycle is arguably a 5th vital sign for women, and given the huge role it plays in women's health (and should play in diagnosis), it would certainly be helpful to be able to know if there are any menstrual cycle abnormalities that may in fact be Covid-19 symptoms, and vice versa if there are any menstrual cycle abnormalities that should not be confused with Covid-19 symptoms. Just a little sex-disaggregated data suggestion there.
Last word here to L Mitch, who made me laugh.
Default Male of the Week
[caption align="alignnone" width="980"]
Yes that's right, it's your favourite time again: PPE TIME!!!!
As I said, I've been spending a fair amount of time looking into why so many women are reporting difficulties with their PPE fit and in particular, mask fit. Most of the available research is based on self-reports, and there is nothing wrong with that per se; self-report can be crucial to identifying unforeseen data gaps and design flaws. But if you want to *fix* things, you need a bit more than that. You need to know why this is proving a problem. And to know that I needed data. Specifically, I needed to know what the standard specs are for face masks and what datasets were used to determine those size specs.
This is where I ran into difficulty. I contacted several manufacturers, only one of whom replied. That manufacturer pointed me towards specifications that had nothing to say about size, only filtration. When I replied, pointing this out, they again pointed me towards an EU body. While a manufacturer could be forgiven for not knowing the data on which the specs of their product are based on, it does seem odd for them to be unable to provide me with the size specs themselves. Still, I will carry on asking,
I also spoke to several international bodies on the track of any datasets used to determine sizing specs. I have struggled to get an answer. Some bodies have simply not responded. Others have responded but been vague. One dataset I have managed to get my hands on is male dominated, and when I asked how this data was used, I was informed that it was not sex-disaggregated. So, a hint. But more digging is required.
But the fact that getting the answer to a really very basic question has proven so tricky is in itself suggestive. Part of it is probably wariness from manufacturers and regulators who think I'm a mean campaigning journalist out to get them (not entirely unfair, but in this instance I really just want the data!).
But perhaps part of it is that there just isn't an easy and straightforward answer. Perhaps, again, products that we might like to think are the result of stringent and careful design are in fact based more on a questionable (but unquestioned) historical default. The way we've always done things. Certainly one researcher I spoke to pointed out a tendency for certain standards to be the product of one decades-old paper that has been cited ever since.
Which brings me to a project I would love to see brought into life. In the course of my research I've been lucky enough to come across a varied range of brilliant people doing brilliant and important data research. And so much of that research could be of so much use to so many different disciplines. But that research is often stuck in narrow disciplinary silos. Wouldn't it be brilliant if it weren't?
Wouldn't it be brilliant if we had a wikipedia of design standards? So for any product you care to think of, there was one place to go where you could find both the regulatory standards AND the datasets used to arrive at those standards? It would be so useful for determining where the data gaps are -- but also it could be a depository for all those currently siloed datasets. What I'm proposing here, is a democratisation of data, both so we can identify the gaps, but also so that we can fill the gaps where the data already exists, only it has been hidden, gathering dust in a university department where no one has thought to look. Perhaps, even, there aren't as many data gaps as we think there are.
This is by no means a full-formed thought, more a brain-fart. But it's a brain fart I'd love to see, um, come to fruition? Anyone who wants to turn this brain-fart into a...er...butterfly for/with (but preferably for 🤪) me, please do get in touch!
In the meantime, I can say that one rather exciting thing has come out of my great PPE research trawl, and that is that I've been able to connect some of the people I've been speaking to with each other. And I'm extremely excited to see what comes out of those connections.
And now for something completely different....Men: what are you like
So, the AB has a tendency to...over-complicate things. Why do a nice simple thing when you could add ten mad tangents plus some totally unnecessary tech??
"Yeah that's a good-looking tortilla you got there, ma'am" he drawls (I admit, the "ma'am" almost makes it worth it), "how about we add some mushrooms to it" (what? NO, you ridiculous American. Stay out of my heritage).
ANYWAY, when today he once again tried to add some batshit ingredient to a perfectly nice recipe, I channelled my inner Carrie Bradshaw and wondered....
Turns out...it may be a thing.
And yes, it's not just in the kitchen
(Poppy has similarly pissed all over the AB's over-engineered parade)
Anyway, turns out it's common. So common, in fact, it even has a name!
Mumsnet obviously has its own coinage
I also very much enjoyed this
And I *definitely* recognise this related issue...
it was quite a popular one...
Still, it's good to know some women have it worse than me...
Note to self: never let the AB buy a 3D printer
Campaign of the week
If Covid-19 has made one thing clear, it's that care work is skilled work. But neither pay, nor conditions (nor pay-linked immigration rules) reflect that. Marking 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed, the Fawcett Society is trying to change this. Read more about out and join their campaign here:
50 years of Equal Pay: It's time to value the care sector | Fawcett Society — www.fawcettsociety.org.uk The 29th May 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. But the work that women do is still consistently undervalued. This is particularly the case for those who work in the social care sector - with low pay and poor terms and conditions.
Poppy Pic of the Week
[caption align="alignnone" width="980"]
This is a picture of Poppy in a basket. Why is Poppy in a basket? Because Poppy is an extremely naughty dog, that's why.
A couple of weeks ago I accompanied my mum on a bike ride to the next village to investigate the rumours we had heard of a NEW VILLAGE SHOP. This is what passes for exciting times around here.
Anyway, we left the baby with the Beefcake and off we went. Through the village, onto the main road. At which point I felt a buzzing on my fitbit and saw that the AB was calling. I knew he wouldn't call if it wasn't urgent, so I pulled over. And as I looked to my right I saw a flash of black and white.
IT WAS POPPY. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. AND A CAR WAS APPROACHING.
I threw down my bike, screaming, obviously, ran into the road, waving at the driver to stop, and scooped up my EXTREMELY NAUGHTY DOG , brought her onto the verge for a safe bollocking, and called the AB back.
Apparently, she had jumped out of his arms as soon as we had left and pelted after us at top speed, the AB following and bellowing in bare feet. In retrospect I wish someone had filmed the whole thing.
Anyway I decided I would just take her with us, so here she is, in the basket, outside the village shop, which turned out to actually exist and from which we bought a basket-minus-a-tiny-dog-ful of goodies. Hurrrah!
Until next time GFPs, xoxoxo