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Accessibility and gendered language at Clue

by Mike LaVigne, and Lisa Kennelly
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At Clue, we recognize and respect that people's bodies, identities and identifications are unique and diverse. That's why accessibility is a fundamental value for our founders and our team in our work to create the best possible product.

What do we mean by accessibility? We want Clue to be as useful as possible to as many people as possible.

As a result, we strive to create an app that is accessible to the wide-ranging diversity of our community of users, taking into account gender, age, race, ethnicity, accessibility, education, country of origin, socioeconomic status and all the other aspects of an individual's background. We will continue striving for this, until this goal is reached.

Clue is designed to address the needs shared by an extremely diverse set of people for a specific domain of health.

As a consequence, we face distinct challenges when it comes to making Clue useful and easy to understand for as many people as possible. This affects our features, our language and how we position ourselves in the market.

In the case of gender accessibility in particular, we acknowledge that human sexuality and identity are complex. The terms "woman" and "man," "male" and "female" are not necessarily the defaults for self-identification.†

We also acknowledge that we need to further develop terms, practices and ways of talking. We recognize that some of the gendered language that we currently use, such as "female health," is not always completely compatible with the bodies, identities and ways of being of all our users.

This piece attempts to openly communicate the words we choose to use, and why.

Here are some of the questions we ask ourselves on a regular basis.

  • How do we accurately describe the domain that Clue serves ("female health") without using gendered language?
  • How do we make sure our communication can be understood by a global user community that ranges from 13–60 years old?
  • How do we translate our position from English into the 14 other languages we support, many of which have inherently gendered grammar?
  • Is there a way for Clue to communicate with people who don't identify as "woman" or "female" without causing confusion about our position to Clue users who do identify that way?

Who is the Clue app for?

We've always tried to be relatable and easy to understand without referring to gender.

Instead of designing for specific user personas or an abstract idea of a "woman," Clue is designed to be happy, quick to use and to help in the discovery of accurate insights. We believe these apply to all our millions of users, regardless of gender.

In the 100+ pages of scientifically supported text in the English version of Clue — that covers topics of menstrual health, fertility, common medical conditions, PMS/PME, sex, breasts, ovaries, vaginas and so many other topics — we never once refer to "women" or "female." (Other languages present unique challenges when it comes to gendered language, but we are working on improving this, too.)

We did that as an effort to be accurate toward our users, not as an effort to be "politically correct." When making decisions about the language we use, we feel confident that accuracy is a good foundation upon which to build.

Marketing and communication challenges

So that covers the app itself. What about all the other places we communicate? We have a website, a blog, a newsletter and various social media channels. We can easily tie ourselves into linguistic knots trying to avoid gendered language.

Using the word "female" or "female-bodied" is offensive to some. It's seen as dehumanizing or still too gendered.

Calling our users "people who menstruate" is also often inaccurate, because Clue's users don't necessarily always have a period (menarche, pregnancy, menopause, birth control). We've sometimes said "uterus-havers" or "people with uteruses," but we've received feedback that this offends people who believe it reduces their life experience to one body part or bodily function.

"Reproductive health" could work sometimes, but tends to connote too much about fertility and babies which is not relevant for many people, and also could apply to people with either ovaries or testicles.

"Cycle health" or "menstrual cycle health" gets closer, but it's also not relevant if you don't currently have a cycle for whatever reason (menarche, pregnancy, menopause, birth control), and in our experience people still primarily interpret "cycle" as something related to 🚴 bicycling.

"Women's health" may be more humanizing than "female health," as "female health" can also feel too clinical or abstracted. On the other hand, not everyone who has a cycle is a woman (transgender men, for example).

While we like the idea of including multiple terms in our messaging — such as a mix of "women's health" "uterus health" "menstrual health" "reproductive health" and "cycle health" — as it removes some focus off any specific one, that's not always realistic in marketing and copywriting, where we have limited space or need to convey our message succinctly.

We have explored creating new vocabulary, such as "fem@le health," but found that so far it's more confusing than clarifying.

Our first priority is to provide access to reliable, easily accessible resources on menstrual and reproductive health. As a result, we do sometimes use terms in our marketing materials that may be more gendered, but that we feel do the most efficient job of conveying our message and area of focus to the broadest possible audience. That includes people who don't speak English as a native language and who have varying levels of education.

Accessible language

After considering all the various options, we have chosen to call the area that Clue serves "female health." We feel it best captures the area of health that Clue is currently designed to support, while being the least exclusive of all the ways to describe that biology. We also feel it is the best option in terms of communication and accessibility — in other words, we hope our community will understand the rationale behind this choice when this term is used in our communications.

You will also see us using the phrase "women and people with cycles" as a way to address our largest user segment (over 95% of our users identify as "women") without being exclusive of those who don't use that term.

All of this is, of course, open to change — and we expect it to! As the discourse surrounding "female health" changes, the way we define this area of health also changes. It is a priority for Clue to follow developments in discourse so we use language in the most fair, accurate and appropriate ways possible.

We'd like to have partners to help us figure this out and come together to find an accurate way for us to use helpful, accessible terminology across a global set of languages and cultures.

If you have an idea, or want to share your thoughts, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us on Twitter @clue or by email at

Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than simply two sexes. Many of us learned that if you have a Y chromosome you are male and without one you are female, but some people's sex chromosomes say one thing, while their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of difference or disorder of sex development (DSD) (1).

Similarly, gender identity has never been limited to only "woman" or "man". Transgender, agender and non-binary identities are now more visible in the media, but throughout history there has been a variety of gender expressions, from the hijras of South Asia to the two-spirit people of North America.

Special thanks to Mijke van der Drift for feedback and editing on this piece.

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