The viscid glandular secretions of the patriarchy began to evaporate from my subconscious the moment I typed my first few lines of code. The smug, white-male-privilege oppressor monkey on my shoulder, the one who had slurred into my ear a lifetime of “Hey, girl, you know you can’t handle complex shit,” slowly loosened his grip. My tongue tingled with the taste of freedom fries.
Unlike anything else I possessed, coding was a practical, coin-yielding skill. My liberal-arts education had prepared me for the career trajectory of a concubine or an office temp well versed in the critical discourse of the male gaze. But day job after day job, Excel doc after Excel doc, I saw little end to the decades-long, low-grade office flu that sustained my creative pursuits. And though I’d memorized every line in How to Be a Bad Bitch by transformational icon Amber Rose, I wasn’t living up to my feminist potential. I wasn’t dismantling enough androcentric paradigms, and that made me sad.
Learning to code in an online web-design course changed all that. If at least 80 percent of all coders and programmers are men, I was basically next-level Lilith Fair. I wasn’t just leaning in, I was sitting on. There is more radical feminist realness in a single line of code than there is in an entire Curvy Barbie, and you don’t have to grow out your pubes or memorize The Female Eunuch to get it. Learning to design and build a website from scratch gave me an exhilarating new confidence; now I had the ability to manipulate the evil that lurks behind the screen, and that’s a truly powerful feeling. For me, HTML and CSS are like a wicked, juicy game of chess, and when Babylon falls again, I will have the expertise to immediately throw up an emergency website with sick buttons and fierce links. Because saving lives is the ultimate point of all this, isn’t it? For the first time in years, my brain felt like it was doing things.
The more I learned, the more bedazzled I became, and I wanted everyone else to feel the sparkles too. Why are you sitting around on your ass trying to find the cure for Zika? Build a website, fool! Why are you wasting your time pursuing your dreams? Throw up a sweet sidebar instead! And here is when I began to emerge from the frigid bunker of bitterness and misery otherwise known as Generation X.
Before my pixelated awakening, I, like my Gen X peers, would become blisteringly, spit-sputteringly enraged at the mere mention of “those fucking techies”—the thoughtless, selfish, know-nothing Millennial trust-fund gentrifiers who cavalierly right-click their mouses about “building” apps that serve no purpose other than to support their dickish 1% lifestyle, exploit the poor and rob decent people of their dignity. Have they ever stopped to consider how hard we fought, once in 1994 on some excellent E, to eradicate the racist, sexist, heteronormative ideologies that they so shamelessly promote? Do they have any idea how psychically ruinous it was to have to rely on EarthLink dial-up? Sure, fine, they have “jobs,” but we doubt they’ve ever worked a day in their lives.
On a scale of one to Numi Digital Toilet with Advanced Flushing Technology, most Gen Xers are a solid discontinued Blackberry. We may not know how to make a Snapchat, but at least when we were young, bleeding from our Pong hearts and Walkman souls, we had to actually lift our asses out of bed and leave the house to find cool things. All you guys had to do was buy shit on iTunes with your mom’s Disney Visa. This fact alone completely legitimizes our rage.
Yet vitriol and resentment were not to be my fate. Before I’d completed my web-design course, I was already recklessly plotting to take it further with a professional-level front-end web-development course at a flashy tech school in downtown SF, complete with doormen; sleek instructors; hot, overly packed rooms; and complimentary sober party favors. I was drunk on headers and high on footers, and I wasn’t going to stop until I made shit blink. I was ready to interface live with those fucking techies and mark my angry Gen X spot.
Bright-lit, fresh-scrubbed and nearly as white as the 40 or so students squished together behind rows of desks, the classroom was populated with clean-cut web designers with sleek leather boots; antsy, distracted biz-dev bros; a few smartly dressed brand evangelists; and one button-nosed Social Register ingénue. They were nothing like the dorks of yesteryear—the old-school tech guys I’d encountered in every office before 2009: the prog-rock-loving, soft-bellied Tolkien fans in non-ironic wolf shirts and sporting floppy-disk-era ponytails. I’d always felt a certain lysergic-acid-diethylamide kinship with these gentle freaks. They were real, immune to giving a fuck about corporate “pain points” and office culture.
On the first night of school, as I judged my classmates harder than a dead Scalia at a circuit party, I noticed something else: I was the oldest broad in the room. Self-consciousness briefly cloaked me in its burning, red-cheeked fire—but my inner Bad Bitch quickly recovered, because the advantages to being the oldest tramp in the room are myriad and ripe with the promise of exacting shade. Having been around the block so many times, my knees are whittled to the bone: it takes a labyrinth of bullshit to fool me.
Well, usually. When the 30-something instructor sauntered in, with his shiny hair and charismatic smile, I, like everyone else, was enraptured by his Male Genius spiel—the same one I can, and have, transcribed while in a coma.
But I lacked the motivation to succeed. And it was not to my advantage to not take advantage of the weekend tutoring sessions, which were an impossible feat for a lazy ass like me. Male Genius sent me aggressive notes with motivational emojis on Slack, wanting to know why I wasn’t putting in the effort. Didn’t I want to get my “money’s worth”? At this I scoffed—only losers paid to learn.
Colleagues who code, all of whom were men, regarded me with a side-eyed suspicion, demanding to know why I was studying the secrets of the screen. Was I trying to vagina-block their oh-so-complex profession? And wasn’t it straight-up bizarre that I wanted to learn how to code at my advanced age? “We’ve been doing this since we were kids,” a former coworker snapped. “And you’re just learning this now.” It was as if the rights to the exclusive riddle of coding did not belong to me.
The coworker’s remark forced me to acknowledge the smallness of my goals: I just liked the basic stuff, the creation of simple things on-screen. I didn’t need to take coding further in order to own it as a legitimate skill. So just as Male Genius, with his beautiful eyes and business-savvy use of verbs as nouns—the ask, the solve, the learnings—was bounced from high school, I dropped out of front-end web dev. And I’ve kept learning since then—for free.