This editorial article is a part of Racial Equity in Tech Month 2022 of Technical.ly's editorial calendar. This month’s theme is underwritten by Spotify. This story was independently reported and not reviewed by Spotify before publication.
Arion Long went through multiple doctors ignoring her concerns about an extremely heavy period before she found one that believed her. With that doctor, she learned she had a tumor caused by chemicals in tampons that were unknown to her.
That was the birth of Femly, a social enterprise that improves access to healthier feminine and reproductive care with eco-friendly hygiene products. The company’s focus dovetails with Long’s desire to educate and end period poverty. But the story goes even deeper.
In 2018, medical negligence resulted in Long almost dying in labor. She found herself on life support and lost a child to stillbirth. Her story, while horrific, isn’t exactly unique.
Millions of Black women are similarly ignored by doctors. Overlapping systemic racism and sexism result in figures like those from a 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, which says that Black women have almost three times the pregnancy mortality rate of their white peers. Studies show that Black women don’t receive as much pain management following a C-section, and myths about Black bodies generally point to a false belief that Black people have a higher pain tolerance than white ones.
Long’s personal views on reproductive health are based on her lived experience as a Black woman. As a company, Femly supports all women, regardless of what they believe about the Supreme Court recently overturning Roe v. Wade.
“I know that we exist in a time where your words, no matter what side of the aisle you stand on, can and will be used against you. So we shy from alienating any part of our demographic, but my lived experience is that of a Black woman,” Long told Technical.ly. “For me, it’s important to also speak about the nuance and the social, cultural experiences that shape how we approach things — and the fact that [Black women] aren’t always represented, especially in this current discussion.”
For Long, advocacy isn’t always about agreement on the same issues.
“We’ve tried to generally stay agonistic because we believe true advocacy for all women, and all menstruators, includes content and information that meet the need for all without alienating anybody for their personal decision,” Long said.
That agnostic approach could mean using the company’s social media to help people stay aware of the changing laws in their state, as well as how they can find the educational content to help them make whatever reproductive choice they want to make.
Still, despite the company’s stance, Long is a Black woman with a perspective informed by first-hand experience of how reproductive health can go wrong. This experience colors her beliefs on what that decision means going forward.
“As a founder, it’s been extremely interesting to watch the outcry from the white female demographic because no one cared when women of other races, ethnicities and socioeconomic [statuses] were affected by disparities and access to reproductive health care,” she said. “It seemed like no one really cared until it smacked them right in the face.”
Long deleted her period tracking app over concern about where her data is going. There were once talks about an app for Femly to help people find the company’s products, but she now feels there’s no longer any need. Going forward, Long plans to be very particular about how the company uses data. Femly currently only keeps data on addresses for shipping products.
“I think we exist at a time where we don’t necessarily have access to the privacy that we would all want,” Long said. “For me, deleting my period tracking app was the first step of me being more in tune with my body. Journaling about it and learning about it, instead of relying on tech to do that for me. Also, taking ownership of the data and 100% being able to see what my cycles were, and not having an outsider be informed of that personal information.”
Femly’s main goal is to end period poverty and make sure healthy, eco-friendly options are available for anyone that needs mensuration products. To that end, the company provides free tampon dispensers in places like M&T Bank Stadium, Brown Advisory and wherever else they can secure partnerships. Long hopes that Roe v. Wade’s overturn helps people see that it’s time for them to come together in support of reproductive health for all women, and she’s very particular about that.
“Advocacy doesn’t always look like supporting people that look like you, think like you and empathize with you,” Long said. “Sometimes it looks like this, and that’s something that the vast majority of feminist and white women that aspire to be intersectional with their advocacy and activism — I think that’s something that they’ll need to come to terms with.”Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
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