CSS Considered Feminine

In Eric’s formative posts list, a particular post caught my eye: Tailwind and the Femininity of CSS. Tailwind I know, but the femininity of CSS? I am intrigued.

Read on, it turns out that—well, the first thing I learned—CSS is not so appreciated in the web development community. As Jeremy Keith said, CSS is simple but not easy: simple to get go with, but hard to do well at scale. Many are frustrated by it, despise it, and therefore champion for frameworks (such as Tailwind) that excuse them of writing it.

While many in web development may have nuanced thoughts on React or Ruby or Javascript, the general consensus around CSS is overwhelmingly that it’s not a valuable language to learn because it doesn’t adhere to their preconceived notions of how a programming language should operate. Many would argue that it is not, in fact, a programming language at all.

The reason why CSS is undervalued, the author quotes Heydon Pickering in explaining, is that it’s associated with making things look pretty and therefore considered feminine.

The peril of this discourse is that it stops people from learning deeply about CSS and business from investing in hiring people that are good at it. This is partially reflected in the title “full-stack developer”, which often means “good at a variety of languages but rudimentary in CSS”. The bias is then reinforced by the promotion evaluation practice that gives more credits to “serious” programming languages like JavaScript or Python and less to CSS—after all, design is just flourish, right? (I hope the sarcasm is obvious).

I’ve never thought about the topic in this way. I, for one, used to think that CSS is easy. But the more I learn about it, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I only learned about CSS counters a few weeks ago trying to style list markers on my blog, not to mention a slew of jaw-dropping stuff you can do with CSS nowadays (Note: Watching What’s new in web UI might give you some idea). Lots and lots of things I thought would require JS can be done in CSS alone pretty elegantly.

Yeah, so maybe it’s time “to examine our sexist ideas of what is worthy in web development”, and these ideas really “need to eat a poisoned ass”. From Heydon Pickering:

We need to address the undervaluing of HTML and CSS for what it is: gender bias. Even though we wouldn’t have computer science without pioneering women, interloping men have claimed it for themselves. Anything less than ‘real programming’ is now considered trivial, silly, artsy, female. That attitude needs to eat a poisoned ass.