Tech + Health

12.16.13

C’mon Silicon Valley, Ditch the Lazy Lady-Tech

Women want time-saving wearable tech just as much as men. It’s time for technology companies to move on from the stereotypical and sexist digital bras.

It’s been an exciting year for wearable tech, with door-unlocking rings, basketball shot-tracking wristbands and rechargeable gloves all making it to market. Sadly, though, when it comes to the idea of making wearable gadgetry for women, inventors seem to be repeatedly getting stuck at the drawing board. A drawing board covered with boobs and question marks, if recent inventions are anything to go by.

 In the past six months, a steady stream of "smart bras" have made their way into the wearable tech world, promising to level the male-dominated playing field of creative contraptions. But on closer inspection, these digitized over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders are just reinforcing staid stereotypes about the kind of tech women 'should' have, instead of making products we'd actually want to use. 

Let's take exhibit one: the Microsoft-designed bra aimed at regulating emotional overeating. Loaded up with heart-rate monitors and removable stress sensors, it takes electrocardiograms to check whether the wearer is guilty of excessive face-stuffing, at which point a phone app called EmoTree (seriously) tells her off. Needless to say, the male equivalent product was canned early on in development, meaning that us lucky ladies get all of the digi-chest-chastizing to ourselves. Neat! 

One of the biggest frustrations with this kind of lazy lady-tech is how the majority of it literally takes the sole clothing item men don't wear, stitches a bunch of batteries and sensors into it and then passes it off as being a key player in the women's market. But why should my lingerie pay the price for inventors who are unable to create anything more sophisticated for women than depressing underwear?

This leads us to number two: the tweeting bra. Nestlé Fitness have trialled a device hidden in the clasp which sends out a tweet each time you take it off, reminding you (and the rest of the Twittersphere) of the importance of regular breast checks. Just like its cake-hating counterpart, this bra has a decent health message at its core, but is enveloped in so much painful girl-gimmickiness that you barely notice. The hot pink and diamanté prototype feels too tech-Barbie-lite to take seriously, and notifying the social media world every time you set your boobs free really does feel like an overshare too far.

A mammary-obsessed minefield that is solely capable of filling every female's underwear drawer with self-loathing.

Incidentally, there's no trace of a male equivalent for the tweeting bra: no Instagramming underpants letting everyone know that your #nofilter prostate is looking ship-shape. Don't people realise that if men don't want their undergarments getting pissy with them each time they reach for the breakfast pizza, then women probably don't either? There's clearly some kind of (incorrect) assumption at play that for women to want to wear technology, it has to be a health-oriented digital invasion of the underwear drawer, but this can only ever serve a limited purpose. And at what point does the fun, creative and quirky stuff come in? Sure, focussing on wellbeing over whimsy is okay sometimes, but it can't be our only option in a market with so much scope.  

And this brings us onto number three: the SHE bra, designed to deliver electric shocks to potential attackers. Formulated after last year's horrifying gang rape in India, students at a Chennai university have devised jolt-administering lingerie that burns anyone holding them by force. It also sends an emergency text to the wearer's family with its GPS location.

 Again, the idea behind this creation is a hugely important one—as are breast checks and stress monitoring—but there must be some way of tackling the problem without women resorting to high voltage underwear. If anything, it's men who need to be wearing something that stops them from, y'know, attacking women at random, so shouldn't they be the ones loading battery packs into their boxer briefs?

This just adds to the sorry picture of women's wearable gadgets for women: a mammary-obsessed minefield that is solely capable of filling every female's underwear drawer with self-loathing. To my mind, a bra that was really smart would do a little more than publicly shaming me for the fat content of my lunch.  It's an insult to both inventors and women everywhere that the industry, and in particular the smart bra strain, looks this way - especially when the male market is jam-packed full of diversity.

So let me give you a tip, start-up nerds of Silicon Valley: next time you're begging me for pennies on Kickstarter, why not create something I can actually get behind? How about a purse that tells me when the next subway will get here, or a watch that locates the nearest parking spot: hell, even a wallet that beeps violently when my rent is due would be preferable to the vast array of nip-shockers being passed off as women's wearable tech right now. There's no end to the possibilities that could be cooked up with a bit of imagination and a soldering iron, but another pair of passive aggressive underpants really is not the answer.