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TechFeminism: Using tech to build power

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

I grew up watching my mother fight for everything. 

She was young and raising two girls on her own while going to community college in the border town of El Paso. As a kid, I ate maraschino cherries at the bar while she waited tables. She paid for tickets to Disneyland with pennies in the ’90s. My feminism sparked from her fierce independence. She let nothing hold her back. She taught me to be an ambitious, by-any-means-necessary type of lady — who speaks up for what’s right and makes sure people hear me.

I wanted to fight for reproductive justice in DC. Where politics and power are the daily grind. Where people changed shit, sometimes…and super slowly — but they fight hard. In my desperation to get paid for feminist work, I took the first fellowship offered to me with only $600 to my name (which was that month’s rent). I interned for over a year and worked with databases, content management systems, and broadcast email programs. I learned them. And I learned to love them.

But my love for tech really started with apps. I was obsessed. I loved finding new ones and telling my friends about them. I use an app to track my period, how fast I ride my bike, and to journal my creepiest thoughts. So my passion for technology should’ve been clear to me — but I didn’t break into tech until a fucking amazing woman took a huge chance and invested in me.

A good friend and former boss, Carmen Berkley, let me design my role at the nonprofit coalition we worked at. I knew we needed to exist online — especially since we worked with young people — so I told her I wanted to run our communications. Lucky for me, she is alumni of the New Organizing Institute’s New Media Bootcamp and had tons of experience running advocacy campaigns.

She patiently showed me the ropes and made me hard code my emails, despite my groans. She drew things out of me that I would have never been able to find myself. She encouraged me to take risks and take ownership of what I had built. She seriously changed my life and helped me see myself as the chingona I am. She helped me get into the same New Media Bootcamp which completely changed my digital game.

That foundation allowed me to pull apart things, rebuild them and see how they worked. I started compiling a new media resources excel sheet and watched YouTube videos to learn new skills. I loved being able to make decisions based on data. To test new things and see the response. My mind was expanding and I started to understand the strategy behind it all.

But I kept getting stuck. I didn’t have community and CSS was proving to be a harder skill for me to pick up. I kept telling myself that I’d just have to invest time in one of the hundreds of free online tools. I kept trying and trying to make time for it, and finally decided to stop fighting myself and enroll in a class that could teach me the skills. Paying money for something motivates the hell out of me. The course covered front end web development — mostly HTML, CSS, and JavaScript — and has helped me finally get my work online and think like a programmer.

As for community, finding important spaces like Lesbians Who Tech and Tech Lady Mafia have been life-altering in their ability to curate and assemble badass ladies who are really running shit online. We’re inundated with messages about the whiteness of tech, women being underrepresented and often our skills are underestimated. I was interviewing for an online director position and the current director grilled me on the coding languages I knew. I asked him how many of them he used on a daily basis, and he replied, “none, they’re just good to know.” So it’s not exactly a cakewalk. But the gender pay disparity is at least smaller in technology, and there is a lower barrier to entry with online classes, tutorials, and resources.

One of the teachers for the front end web development course is a woman, and I can’t explain the relief I felt when I saw her and the rest of the women in my class. (It’s worth mentioning that coding/programming was initially seen as “women’s work,” but once it became big business, men “professionalized” — another word for de-feminized — the field, which is part of the reason it’s in its current state.) But this is critical: Our mentors, teachers, role models, and peers have to be women and represent ALL women. We have to see ourselves in this field — and we must use tech to build power for and include women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, disabled folks, and working people.

I tell friends who are contemplating school because they’re stuck in jobs they hate to learn to code instead. Say fuck it, learn the internet and build a portfolio. Then sell your self. Or build an online presence for another passion you have. Or build an amazing product. Solve a problem. The opportunities are endless so why fork over the tens of thousands on a college degree when it doesn’t make sense for you?

I want to move into the more technical side, usually reserved and only comfortable for men. I have to because harnessing the power of technology can help raise money, build awareness, build community, solve a problem, or change a law. It’s helped us raised thousands of dollars for abortion access along the Texas border with the West Fund. It’s helped me take responsibility for my community and fill a need. Most importantly, I’m teaching people along the way and taking them with me. So that maybe one day soon, it will be a space very comfortable for all women.

Header image via.

Washington, DC

Ryane is a queer freedom fighter with a passion for digital media, youth organizing, and comedy. She cut her teeth handing out condoms on the University of Texas at El Paso’s campus and educating her peers on safe sex. Ryane chased her dreams and moved to Washington, DC from El Paso where she developed a love for tacos, off-roading, and border desert sunsets. She currently serves as a Digital Strategist at New Blue Interactive, and as Deputy Director at the West Fund -- a west Texas abortion access fund. Ryane previously served as the Digital Media and Communications Manager at the Generational Alliance. She feeds all her friends, watches Chopped like it's her job, and hopes to one day have a cooking show for the raggedy lady.

Digital in DC. Heart in EP. Catch me on the internet.

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