What I Learned About Feminism Through Coding

What I Learned About Feminism Through Coding

For as long as I can remember (or at least, as long as I have known the dictionary definition of the word), I have considered myself to be a feminist.

In my co-ed boarding high school, where issues of social justice were regularly talked about and the level of your liberalism was fiercely judged (the more the merrier), I ended my nights under the sheets of my best girl friends, chatting about our days, our homes, our beliefs. How could I not believe that we deserved equality? How could I ever underestimate the power of these intelligent, incredible women, whose beauty was the least interesting thing about them?

It wasn’t until many years later, when I decided to take a leap of faith and major in computer science, that I began to have a deeper, much more personal connection to feminism. In my courses, I unknowingly gravitated towards other women, because with them, I felt safer sharing my thoughts and expressing my struggles. I wrote my first line of code the summer before my sophomore year of college, essentially eons after some of the kids in my classes, majority of which were men. It wasn’t until many months into my computer science studies that I started noticing my affinity towards other women in tech. I didn’t realize that my relative comfort around women was the result of a systemic reality that is exclusive towards women. A reality that has always extended far beyond the world of tech, which through code, I began to see more clearly.

My curiosity for code and technology has brought me to various tech events where I’ve encountered some of the most absurd forms of sexism. (Once, a man legitimately tried to hire me to work at his startup after telling me that he only came up to me because of my “great ass and legs.”) And while these moments certainly make me think very critically about the trials and tribulations of systemic bias against women today, the moments where I am uplifted by other women are so much more profound. Some of my coding projects have allowed me to learn so much more about feminism than I might have learned otherwise.

Through software projects at hackathons, product ideas, and general conversations all with women who share my love of code, I’ve learned a ton: about women’s bodies, the power of choice, the understanding that feminism sometimes means respecting that women will make choices I may not always agree with, even the tampon tax, and so much more! Code has allowed me to spend late nights at hotels, tired from days of conferences and programming, playing Never Have I Ever (what else), and swapping stories with some of the brightest women technologists today. It is in these moments that I am most empowered and most excited about women in technology and women in general, and that I understand the significance of feminism in my own life and in those around me.

I realized the importance of intersectional feminism when I began attending women in tech events and realized I was the only non-white or Asian woman there. In those times, I felt just as relieved to be around women as I did isolated in my blackness. I learned that feminism is not true unless it is colorful feminism, inclusive to women who represent backgrounds far beyond my reach. I started looking towards products, people, and coding projects that were for and by black women. I found solitude and grace in the friendships I formed with people who understood the biases against me on multiple levels. With this understanding, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of celebrating all different types of women: with varying abilities, sexualities, beliefs, interests, coding preferences—the list is endless.

Code has allowed me to enter a world where I have the power to build and learn an incredible amount about any topic I choose. There is freedom and creativity in this: the building blocks for great relationships. It has also allowed me to enter a world where discrimination is blindingly obvious for marginalized groups, making me much more aware of discrimination in our world in general. Through code, I have grown as a feminist. I have grown as a believer and fighter for social justice. I have grown as a person.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I did a program at Google for non-technical majors. During the program, Megan Smith, now CTO of the United States, did a talk on the power of technology to change people’s perceptions of the world. Through technology, all different kinds of people have been given opportunities that otherwise never existed! And the beauty of code itself is that it discriminates against nothing. This talk is what made me decide to learn to code. Sometimes I wonder if Smith’s impact would have been the same if a man had given the same exact talk. I think not; representation matters.

No code can impress me as much as a woman’s. Because more often than not, that code was written in spite of systemic realities that could have held her back. This particular burden is one that men do not have to face, and a lesson that taught me what it means to be a woman when the world is always just a little bit against you. Whether I’m coding, or cuddling in bed with my best friends, that is a lesson I will always take with me. Fortunately with code, you have the ability to literally create worlds. Perhaps one day, I will create one where equality is true and just.


Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.