Coding for feminism
These two young feminists created an awesome app to solve a problem they were passionate about. And so can you, says year 10 student Stella Wailes.
What if girls could promote feminism by coding games that shoot flying tampons at sexist enemies? What if girls could use coding as a way to change society’s perceptions surrounding women’s issues? Twenty years ago these ideas would have remained what if’s, but with developments in computer science (CS) and increased opportunities for women to learn to code, they’re now a reality.
Today, more than half of the world’s population uses smartphones and has access to the internet. Everyday people rely on iPhones and apps to talk to their friends, find their way around town and check whether it’s likely to rain on their way to school. But instead of using apps to look up the weather or snapchat friends, two high school students from New York decided to use CS to create an app that breaks down social barriers.
A game to challenge the menstrual taboo
Sophie Houser and Andrea Gonzales met at a summer immersion program run by Girls Who Code. The program is offered to girls aged 16–17 and teaches them how to code from scratch. Sophie and Andrea quickly bonded over their passion for feminism and decided to create an app together for their final coding project.
Neither of the girls had much experience in coding but they managed to create a video game for apple iPhones called Tampon Run. The game features a female character who shoots her enemies with – wait for it – tampons instead of bullets!
As young women Sophie and Andrea had felt uncomfortable talking about their periods. They felt that talking openly about menstruation was taboo, and wanted to use humour to change the way society views the menstruation conversation. Tampon Run was the perfect solution.
“We set out to use comedy and satire, plus a fun, retro video game platform, to provide an entertaining, non-threatening way to confront the serious issue of the menstrual taboo,” the girls told Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.
When Sophie and Andrea first posted their game on the internet, they expected only a few views from family and friends. Within days Tampon Run went viral and became an internet sensation.
Tampon Run’s global impact
As Tampon Run spread across the world, it sparked new conversations that centred on the idea of eradicating the menstrual taboo. Sophie and Andrea told Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls a story about a boy in eighth grade who overheard some girls in fifth grade talking about how menstruation was gross. The boy had recently come across Tampon Run and it gave him the confidence to tell the fifth graders that periods are a completely natural part of life.
Tampon Run spread the simple message that periods are natural and more than half of the population experiences them – so people should be able to talk about them without fear of being judged. Sophie and Andrea had both experienced embarrassing situations with their period, which convinced them that menstrual taboo was a serious issue and made them determined to change the situation.
“The first time I got my period I was too embarrassed to go the store and buy tampons myself because I didn’t want to even look the cashier in the eye,” Sophie told PRI radio host Isis Madrid.
How to follow in their footsteps
Since breaking down the menstrual taboo, Sophie and Andrea have endeavoured to teach girls around the world that apps can be a powerful tool for creating social change. Their story proves that girls don’t need much coding experience to have a huge impact, and they recently wrote a book about their experience called Girl Code.
Luckily, there are a growing number of programs available to help young women learn basic coding skills and solve issues they are passionate about. Code Like a Girl and the Tech Girls Movement are great places to start, and you can find many more groups and resources online.
The world needs more young women to create apps to address issues that men just don’t experience. There are several cool apps created by women for women, such as ‘Women and Girls’ and ‘Gender Timer’, but there aren’t enough. How many guys do you think would have coded an app with flying tampons?
– Stella Wailes, Year 10
To find out more about Girls Who Code click here.