How Cryptography Can Improve Young Women’s Mental Health

Cryptography has recently exploded in popularity due to it’s potential as a means to decentralize the Internet. Most applications have focused on cryptocurrencies, health records, and precise tracking. However, I argue that perhaps one of the most impactful applications of blockchain could be its role in reducing the negative impact of social media on young women’s mental health.

Lips combines art and information to create an intelligent, entertaining, creative and honest discourse about sex from the perspective of groups typically underrepresented in the media, such as women, transgender persons and people of color.

In it’s print form, this zine provided an alternative to the limited definitions of womanhood and sexuality expressed in popular women’s magazines such as Cosmo or Seventeen.

However, today’s young women are bombarded with more images and media than I ever encountered in high school or college. When I entered college in 2006 Facebook was just launching – only those with a college email address could make an account. Since then, social media has proliferated into the primary way we communicate with friends and strangers online.

Lips was popular during my four years at The College of William and Mary, because young women like me were beginning to explore our sexuality and encountering feminist philosophy for the first time. Not many know this, but Lips began as a therapeutic exercise for myself. In high school, I was obsessed with my weight and appearance. I compulsively ran long distances everyday and ate the minimum amount of calories to avoid stomach pains.

In my first women’s studies seminar, we were asked to write what our favorite part of our bodies were. I wrote my stomach, because it was the one part of my body men were most attracted to. Most of the women in the class had similar reasoning for the parts they chose. The instructor chose her legs – her reasoning? “My legs hold me up, and help me get from place to place.”  We then began to discuss the concept of the “male gaze.”

It was in this moment I realized that the positive impact that feminist philosophy can have on the lives of women, including myself. However, I was often frustrated by the difficulty in translating theory into practice – how can we prevent eating disorders and depression among women without forcing them to take and enjoy a women’s studies class?

As a young woman, magazines like Cosmo fueled my eating disorder and body-centric anxiety. They did not cause them by any means, as there were several contributing factors including abuse, but they did not help. In fact, they encouraged my coping behaviors.

Lips was created as an artistic outlet for myself and transformed into a therapeutic community art project. It’s popularity stemmed from the idea that it is a fun alternative to popular magazines that objectify bodies and fail to speak honestly about sex. Lips focuses on “female* sexuality” because  most of the media provided to young people focus on the male experience and we would like to counter this with discussions from the female perspective.

The pages of Lips are filled with artwork, doodles, poems, stories and essays about gender identity and sex submitted by women and sexual minorities from the community. I was consistently amazed by the brave, funny and moving contributions of the women around me. Women would often come up to me and let me know how much creating entries for the magazine had helped them.

So what does this have to do with cryptography? 

Up until now, Lips has only been able to accept semi-anonymous submissions. We publish anonymously if asked and never disclose author information. This being said, the anonymity of the author is somewhat compromised by the submission process. Users would anonymously submit via a P.O. Box on campus, which they could drop into – this solution only works on a local basis. For a global solution, we decided to turn to cryptography.

Anonymity is important because  it allows for women to express themselves freely regarding sensitive topics. In my experience, contributors are more likely to speak truthfully about uncomfortable experiences if given the opportunity to submit anonymously. Once the submission is well-received and celebrated by readers, contributors typically feel more comfortable submitting again with names attached to their work.

The cryptography presents us with the opportunity to have honest discussions on the Internet, rather than carefully crafted/photoshopped distortions of reality. Also, it allows women to claim authorship of their work, as well as be compensated without having to name themselves.

For young women, this could mean online expressive outlets that are not only healthier than current social media options, but also more participatory, fun and perhaps most importantly – cool.

I’ll discuss for the artistic, therapeutic and communal applications of hashing and cryptography more in future blog posts. For now, enjoy Lips – which officially launches today! We are currently working on phase two which will incorporate encrypted posting into the platform.

Lips is always accepting art, poetry, magazine clippings, essays (anything!) for the site and we publish (almost!) all submissions.

Click here to submit to Lips! 

*We understand that there are people who do not identify as female who could contribute to our mission of empowerment through expression. For that reason, we accept/encourage submissions from the gay and transgender communities, people who do not wish to identify with a specific gender, as well as men who understand the importance of female expression and wish to contribute ideas that diverge from mainstream (white, heterosexual, male dominated, middle-class) representations of sexuality.

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