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Meet the amazing young women who created a tampon video game

Maria Mora is a freelance writer and single mom fueled by coffee, questionable time management skills, toaster oven waffles and the color orange. She lives in Florida with her two young sons. If you see her on Twitter, tell her to stop p...

These brilliant teens created a viral video game that smashes menstrual taboos

16-year-old Andy Gonzales and 17-year-old Sophie Houser met at an immersive summer program called Girls Who Code. Their joint project, a hilarious taboo-bashing side-scroller called Tampon Run, went viral. We talked to Sophie and Andy about how they met, being feminists and why they picked tampons for their very first game subject.

SheKnows: What inspired your interest in computer science?

Andy Gonzales: When I was younger, I read a lot of books. I was a big fan of the books that featured "teen gangs saving the world!" In all of those groups, there was always a person (think Violet from A Series of Unfortunate Events, Nudge from Maximum Ride, basically everyone in Ender's Game) who could hack into mainframes, or build stuff — more or less facilitating the plans of the protagonist. I loved those characters the most; I wanted to be that kind of kid! Another influence was my dad — he worked with computers when I was younger and I wanted to do that too.

Sophie Houser: I had never coded (and didn't even really know was coding was) before this summer when I participated in the Girls Who Code summer immersion program. I was 16. My mom thought I would enjoy coding because I like math and I also like being creative. She saw coding as the intersection of the two, so she encouraged me to apply.

SK: Who do you consider to be a role model and inspiration?

AG: My family — they're so hardworking! I look up to my sisters most of all; they really motivate me to do the best that I can.

SH: My mom is one of my role models because she's always taught me to speak up and have confidence, and she practices what she preaches. I'm also incredibly inspired by Shakespeare. I haven't read many of his plays, but I'm always struck by how profound they are. It's incredible that what he wrote has affected people for centuries. I also want to create something that makes a large impact on my and future generations. I also like that he didn't follow all the rules by making up his own words.

SK: Are you a feminist?

AG: Yes! Although I never questioned the fact that I want gender equality, there was a point when I wasn't sure I wanted to identify as a feminist. Some people think "feminist" has a "man-hating" connotation. Even though I didn't think so, it still made me hesitant to identify as one. However, I came to realize over time that by identifying as a feminist I got to shape how others saw the word.

SH: I am a proud feminist! Like Andy, I was hesitant about calling myself a feminist at first. I thought people would see me as man-hating if I called myself one. Over the summer at Girls Who Code, we spent seven weeks in a room with 18 other girls learning to code. It was the first time I had ever been a part of something with only girls. We got frustrated together, we succeeded together and most of all, we supported each other. Working with all of them made me appreciate my womanhood, and it made me realize that I wanted to identify as a feminist. That I was a feminist, and by calling myself one I got to define what the word meant.

These brilliant teens created a viral video game that smashes menstrual taboos

SK: Why did you choose tampons and menstruation as the subject of your game?

AG: Sophie suggested it! During Girls Who Code, I wanted to make a video game about the hypersexualization of women in video games. Sophie liked the idea of combining social change and gaming, and joined my project. While we were brainstorming, Sophie joked about having a game where someone throws tampons. We laughed for a while, but once we got to talking we realized that the menstrual taboo was something we had both experienced firsthand. We did more research and realized that the taboo is a serious global issue that needed to be addressed.

SH: The menstrual taboo teaches women that something so normal, something that should be celebrated as an integral part of womanhood — one's period — is gross and dirty. We wanted to combat the taboo, and tell both men and women to embrace menstruation. After doing some research, Andy and I also learned that in some places women are marginalized because of their periods. Menstruation is seen as unclean in these cultures, so menstruating women are forced to isolate themselves in unclean and unsafe shacks while they menstruate. Additionally, when girls in these countries get their periods many of them don't know how to or don't have the resources to take care of themselves. Consequently they don't go to school while menstruating. The taboo is a serious problem and we hope Tampon Run provokes thought and discussion about it that will help combat the stigma.

SK: Are there other women's issues you hope to tackle in the future?

AG: Yes. The hypersexualization of women in video games (as I mentioned before) is something that I feel strongly about. Also closing the gender gap in the tech industry, and the issue of unequal pay between men and women.

SH: Andy and I were flown out to a gaming hackathon in the fall by a gaming company, Weeby.co. There we developed a new game called Catcall Run. We haven't had time to work on it for more than the 36 hours at the hackathon, but I would love to do something about street harassment in the future. I also would like to continue working to encourage more girls to learn to code because coding has been such a rewarding experience for me.

Andy Gonzales lives in New York City. She works on her school's robotics team, plays piano and volleyball — and is just trying to survive her junior year of high school. Sophie Houser will be attending Brown University in the fall. She's the co-captain of her school's tennis team. She enjoys photography, writing and reading.

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