“CSS gives it a makeover,” the model in a sexy schoolgirl outfit awkwardly mumbles, in a heavy eastern european accent, “So it is sexy like me.”
This might be the point where I vomit my brain through my mouth. Or maybe a blood vessel in my eye bursts from blind rage. After sitting through some dry CSS basics, delivered in between awkward poses and pouts, the lesson finishes, the model assures me that once I pass the recap quiz, she’ll return to “teach me where to stick my CSS, with a little less clothing on.”
This is Codebabes.com, a website that started popping up across my various news feeds this morning, often accompanied by the words “EW” and “GROSS.” Because I am a brave soul, and it was my day off, and sometimes I like to bait my misandry to see its limits, I sat down and watched their video offerings.
The first thing I notice, and am surprised by: the Codebabes lessons are actually pretty dull. They explain basic coding principles without any real flourish of language (except to occasionally insert an awkward or nonsensical joke, like one where they show a photo of Colin Powell instead of an actual grammatical colon…topical?). The quizzes attempt more humor, but the jokes actually make it harder to understand the questions. As you can see, I did not do very well:
The reason that the straightforwardness of the coding lessons shocked me was twofold: first, because the site’s incredibly grating intro video, where a pretty brunette talks about how their nudity-as-motivation concept is like “Pavlov’s dog on crack” lead me to believe that there would be more blatant innuendo and maybe a little less coding awaiting me in the “CSS Virgin” lesson. Second, because in my heart of hearts, part of me truly wanted to believe that this was a joke. That when I started up the lesson, it would be a bait-and-switch: I wouldn’t be taught code, I would be chastised and called a horrific misogynist. The lack of social media support (the website has a twitter, @codebabes, with a meager 50-something followers) coupled with the absolute, unapologetic sexism of it all, made it seem almost impossible that this could be real.
Sadly, that’s not the case. For all my research, Codebabes.com does not seem to be an elaborate practical joke. The tech world continually fails its female participants, and Codebabes.com is like a crystalline distillation of that fact. It projects its message loud and clear: you are not welcome here. You are simply a body, a dress up doll, for us to add or remove clothes from to motivate ourselves. The “babes” themselves do not even get much of an introduction: there is an “all babes” page that offers no information on any of them besides their name and what lesson they are featured in. In response to a question on their Facebook page as to whether the models were “p*rn stars”, Codebabes responded that all of them held “a computer science degree or equivalent ;)” (they use what I consider to be a frankly insane amount of winky faces on their social media platforms). Now, an elaboration on whether that meant the “babes” were writing the coding courses themselves would be helpful in easing my increasing hatred of the world and everyone in it, but sadly, we can probably assume that they are not.
What is important to remember here is that there are other websites, the anti-Codebabes if you will, out there teaching coding and making great strides to close the gender gap in the tech world. Girls Who Code might not offer a male stripper at the end of a lesson, but they do teach you to code effectively. Skillcrush focuses on teaching you the digital skills you need for advancement in your career. Black Girls Code seeks to reach an even further alienated group, women of color, who may find that it is nearly impossible for them to break into an industry of white men who would rather see them kept out entirely (the babes themselves are not even a particularly ethnically diverse group).
I am sure that the response from the dudebros utilizing Codebabes will be something along the lines of “if you don’t like it, don’t look at it,” which is the typical shutdown applied to any situation where a female community raises their voices in protest over obvious mistreatment. So while it may hurt you, while you may wince, delve deep into the places like Codebabes, assess them, learn their weaknesses, and then systematically critique and dismantle them. Because in the end, you are smarter than they are. You are right. Do not be swayed by those who only see you as a pair of fake glasses and a sexy nerd costume from Halloween Adventure.