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Bloody politik

The promise and power of period tracking apps

Bloody politik

men·stru·a·tion

noun

the process in a woman or person with a vagina of discharging blood and other materials from the lining of the uterus at intervals of about one lunar month from puberty until menopause, except during pregnancy.

I started using the period tracker Clue about a year ago when my cycle became irregular and I had no idea what the hell was going on with my body.

For those of you who may be wondering what exactly a period tracker is and why anyone would want to use one, well, this one’s for you. And to those of you who are considering clicking away from this article because the word ‘menstruation’ makes you uncomfortable, well, surprise! We bleed.

Period tracking apps are exactly what they sound like: They are apps that use inputted information about your cycle such as pain levels, bleeding, emotions, sleep, sexual activity or lack thereof, energy, mental health, and more to keep track of upcoming periods, evaluate menstrual health, and basically let you know why you’re suddenly craving a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday.

Out of the abundance of apps that can be found in the app store, I chose Clue because of the simplicity of its layout, its high ratings, and the lack of stereotypical pink flowery designs that are found on most tracking apps.

After a few cycles passed, I found that Clue could predict my period almost to the day. This may not be the case for everyone some periods are more irregular than others but trackers are a great way of getting more in touch with your body and what’s going on inside of it.

 

First, period tracking apps are an excellent way to help identify how your menstrual cycle affects and is affected by changes to your body, from medical treatments like hormone replacement therapy to emotional states including dysphoria.

But that’s not all. Moving outside of our own bodies, Clue has a feature where you can share your cycle and symptoms with people in your contacts. At first, I wondered why anyone would want to share such personal information. However, I’ve found that it’s features like this and the apps that feature them that are changing how we see menstruation and how it affects our bodies.

Simply telling someone, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on in my body right now’ normalizes periods and sparks conversations about them.

Often, people assume that only women use period tracking apps. Specifically, cisgender women women who have always identified as such and were born with the genitalia to match. Of course, this makes sense considering the fact that we’ve been raised to think that only women have vaginas and only men have penises and those are the only two options available. But, realistically, the world isn’t so binary.

As a cis woman, I obviously can’t speak to the individual struggles that trans and/or non-binary people experience when it comes to periods, but I have learnt that just acknowledging the fact that it’s not just cis women who get periods changes the way we see menstruation. It helps to deconstruct the idea that menstruation is limited to one type of body.

However, in addition to the types of bodies that are affected by menstruation, it’s important to discuss the North Atlantic centrism of these kinds of technologies and apps such as Clue.

These apps are excellent resources for privileged individuals, but what about the millions of people across the globe who don’t even have access to basic menstrual products?

We can applaud these apps and the people making them for opening discourse, but we also need to start conversations surrounding the accessibility of menstrual hygiene products for everyone.

We need to demand more.

We also need to be critical of the apps we are downloading. What are the main reasons that developers are putting these apps on the market? Do these companies actually care who uses their services and why?

Developers of these applications are capitalizing off of menstruation while much of the world still sees it as a taboo topic. We may have gotten rid of the tampon tax here, but we are still paying for menstrual products, as if bleeding from our vaginas once a month is some kind of luxury.

We have to pay to keep our bodies clean and download apps to keep track of our bodies. Money is still being made off of bodies that have no say in their function. Looking into the goals and priorities of the companies making these applications is just as important as talking about the people benefitting from them.

Ultimately, period tracking apps and the people making them should be focusing on advancing reproductive and menstrual health care, not restricting it to a specific group of people. Everybody and every type of body needs to have equal access to these products and services.

This, of course, may seem like an unrealistic goal to have considering all the variables that come into play, including location and means, but I hope that articles like this can start dialogue that will take us one step further in the right direction.

 

Looking for questions

Recent changes to the exam review policy show that the university is receptive to student feedback

Looking for questions

In May, I saw a popular Reddit post about the university’s examination policies on the U of T subreddit. The post brought up many of the challenges that students face when trying to view and request rechecks and rereads for their exams.

While students expressed their concerns and proposed potential solutions, I noticed that they didn’t propose steps that they could take to change these policies. This bothered me because it reminded me of my experience as an undergraduate student at this university.

One of my most frustrating experiences at university occurred during my third undergraduate year, when I was not provided with the exam questions during an exam viewing for STA302. Due to the nature of the course, I could not infer the questions from my solutions. The exam was also marked by assigning grades to each question without indicating where marks were deducted or the total amount of marks available.

Due to these limitations, there was no way for me to comply with the exam reread policy and “demonstrate that examination answers [were] substantially correct by citing specific instances of disagreement.”

This was highly unexpected because I had previously submitted remark requests for both the term test and assignment, the course’s only other assessments, which resulted in an increase in both marks. I was also able to increase my final mark for another course in the same department, STA347, during the same semester, when I was provided with the exam questions during the exam viewing.

I consulted the individuals supervising the viewing and was told that there was nothing they could do. After the viewing, I contacted the instructor and we met in person, but I was told that I would not be provided with the questions. Since I believed that there was nothing I could do at the time, I stopped pursuing the issue.

I was recently reminded of the importance of this issue as a teaching assistant for an introductory Computer Science course last semester, CSC165. I was told multiple times to be very careful when grading, as entry into Computer Science programs of study is very competitive and that this course is used to select students.

After seeing the Reddit post and realizing the consequences that a mistake in grading a single final exam could have on a student’s whole degree, I decided to contact the Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS).

I was put in contact with Christine Babikian, Associate Director of Scheduling & Examinations, who informed me that for exams written after April 2018, students will always be able to see the exam questions during exam viewings. I also learned that the FAS is already in the process of addressing many of the concerns that were presented in the Reddit post, such as shortening the reread and recheck process.

The most important thing that I learned was that the FAS, and the university overall, is very receptive to student feedback and use it to improve their processes. While my own efforts were too late, I now believe that students have the power to change this university by voicing their concerns to the administration.

Daniel Hidru is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Computer Science.

Starvation drives risky behaviour in earthworms

Undergraduate researchers at UTM explore trade-offs between safety and hunger in Lumbricus terrestris

Starvation drives risky behaviour in earthworms

Oskar Shura and Pawandeep Sandhu, recent graduates from the Department of Biology at UTM, investigated animal risk-taking behaviour in the common earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris.

“Having the background information in a simple invertebrate such as an earthworm could really provide us with information on how, or why, other organisms take risks, and how external factors (such as starvation) could influence these choices,” explained Shura in an email.

Their study, published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, was carried out from September 2016 to April 2017 as part of BIO318, a year long research course at UTM that explores animal behaviour.

Shura and Sandhu worked under the mentorship of Cylita Guy, a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Rosalind L. Murray, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology. Cylita helped Shura and Sandhu shape the manuscript, while Murray provided her expertise for statistical analyses and supplementary data.

To explore the starvation-related trade-off with safety in Lumbricus terrestris, the authors manipulated the earthworm’s tendency to move away from light, a phenomenon known as negative phototaxis.

Earthworms prefer to live in predominantly moist and dark habitats, yet they are foragers that feed at the surface of the soil. This reaction to light is thought to be a defensive tactic against predators that may be active during dawn or daytime, or as a strategy to avoid dry soil, which may lead to desiccation and suffocation.

The association between starvation and risk was tested by defining movement toward light as risky behaviour.

The worms were divided into three groups: a non-starved group kept in high-nutrient compost and a starved group kept in low-nutrient potting soil for seven days prior to the experiment, as well as a group in a half-starved condition that was transferred from being in high-nutrient soil for four days to low-nutrient soil for three days prior to the experiment.

Worms from the groups at the three different stages of starvation were then individually placed in an arena where they could choose between a dark, low-nutrient environment or a bright, LED-lit, high-nutrient environment.

While there were no significant observed differences of choice and latency between the half-starved and starved worms, considering their general aversion to light, the starved and half-starved groups chose the nutrient-rich but lit environment at more than double the proportionality than the worms that were not starved.

Starved earthworms were more willing to ignore the bright environmental cue to danger when facing hunger as the alternative. They also made decisions more quickly; the starved groups took about half the time of non-starved worms when deciding between the two conditions.

The study highlighted “a cost-benefit trade-off between growth and survival,” when a hungry worm might choose to ignore the danger signs posed by a bright environment to benefit from the potential windfall gain of nutrition. There is a key balance between safety and hunger and its influence on the decision-making process in the worm.

The similarity to human behaviour is easy to see.

“You might be more likely to eat at a really sketchy food joint that you might get food poisoning from if it’s close rather than travel a really far distance to go to better food,” explained Guy.

Considering that species such as these earthworms are relatively understudied, the authors suggest that identifying behavioural similarity and differences between diverse evolutionary groups could benefit our understanding of biology and ecology.

According to Shura, studies that examine the behaviour or life history of the common earthworm  Lumbricus terrestris, an invasive species, could be used to manage their population numbers in the future.

Shura and Sandhu presented their findings at the Canadian Society for Ecology & Evolution Meeting 2018 at the University of Guelph in July.

“To have our research critically evaluated by such experienced individuals like Cylita, Ros [Murray], our professors, and the editors, was truly such an honour,” said Shura.

Health and fitness survival guide

Fitting it all in as we head back to a busy school schedule

Health and fitness survival guide

As the new school year approaches, the challenge of juggling fitness, personal life, and academics loom large.

This article will provide you with a guide in hopes of balancing all three. If you want to change up your own routine for other things, such as different fitness classes, there are plenty that are offered at the university.

For example, if you have always been itching to try that dance class or take up yoga, head on over to any of the three gyms on campus, where free fitness classes are offered daily.

From learning how to dance the salsa to high-intensity interval training, there’s something for everyone.

From the start, the most important piece of advice is to go at your own pace. Don’t fall into the trap of peer pressure or attempt to work out at levels that you’re not accustomed to. Consider your own action plan holistically. A strategy that I’d recommend is to journal the goals you want to accomplish.

The biggest problem is trying to compare yourself to others. You might feel like you are wired to do so, but it’s absolutely critical to disregard this mindset. One of the most effective ways to combat this feeling is by limiting the amount of social media usage. Your life is unique from everyone else’s.

Sometimes, you won’t feel like working out, but you should stick to it, because it’s the right thing to do. As the old adage goes, showing up is half the battle. Times like these, when you initially don’t feel like going to the gym, the resulting physical activity could end up helping you relax and rethink things.

Pushing through the negative mindsets that may occur is critical in terms of making progress, for whatever your own goals may be. Cultivate your discipline and motivation.

The motivations behind improving your own fitness and working out may change, but the discipline is the bedrock of successful fitness journey, from personal experience.

I learned through my own journey to let go of my ego. I used to think that I could do this all by myself, with no help at all. Why would anyone else know about my own situation?

This turned into a toxic mindset that impeded my own progress for a while. When I asked for help, by asking other gym goers what I believed to be the most basic questions for a beginner, I learned more from others, since I came from a place of humility, with a genuine desire to learn. This attitude we can all achieve, not just for our fitness journeys, but for our lives in general.

To complement the journey, there are plenty of affordable places around campus that can offer a healthy bite to eat.

I would recommend any place that lists the number of calories that each item or meal contains, so you know exactly how much you are putting into your body.  Essence for Life Organics can fill your needs if you would like to go down the organic route.

While it isn’t on campus, Kensington Market has lots of eateries and shops that can easily fit someone on a student’s budget. These include fruit markets, where healthy options are abundant.

Challenging your body challenges your mind. Unlike your career, you can assume absolute control over your domain. While it may seem daunting, just outlining a simple plan will go a long way in making it a successful year.