Here is the deal.
In a field like the entertainment industry, where women are raking in as much money, and are just as big stars, if not bigger than men, they can afford to roll around half naked on stage and it can be legitimately be called feminism. They can, with a straight face, say that wearing sexy clothes on stage is empowering and an example of taking back sexuality. Few would object.
Okay, let’s be real. Of course plenty people who would disagree that it is an example of women empowerment but there would be many more self-proclaimed feminists around to legitimately call those out who slut shame scantily clad female entertainers as practicing respectability politics – you know, the concept that being a good girl who dresses demurely and is lady like are upstanding and can avoid being mistaken for a whore. The idea being that women can avoid unwanted sexual attention, sexual harassment or sexual assaults if she doesn’t lead men on with her looks. But we know that how a woman dresses doesn’t necessarily deter rape which is a crime of violence anyway; and that men can wear what they want without suffering stigma and negative labels.
In a nutshell, in industry’s where the power differential is slightly closer, feminist campaigns and messages can go over easier without too much fuss.
Not so in Tech.
Consider that women make up between 10 to 20% in workforce in the tech field although they are 57% of the US workforce. Sexism allegations and scandals are plentiful, the most recent and notably former Sengrid evangelist Adria Richards at PyCon controversy last year. And a recent study by global think tank, the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), found that women in science, tech and engineering fields in the U.S., Brazil, China and India are “languishing in the middle-rungs of their organizations and, as a result, are much more likely than men to report that they plan to leave the industry within the year.”
Clearly, nationally and even globally, we have a challenge to achieving parity and equlity in a field plagued with accusations of rampant sexism; and dogged by the perception and reality that hostile environments within various companies are plentiful and women are challenged with stereotypes, bias and gender-based stigma.
So when one thinks of how to meet this tremendous task of elevating women’s value in the tech space, pairing this important workplace justice matter with an underwear campaign would not ordinarily come to mind.
There is a time to promote women being able to embrace her body and her choice to be photographed in her underwear without shaming; and to promote the idea of all shapes and sizes of women being celebrated , and there is a time to promote high achieving women in tech.
But those times don’t always have to exist in the same campaign.
Apparently, the creators of Dear Kate underwear didn’t get that memo when it decided to name its latest line of undies, the Ada collection, after female tech pioneer Ada Lovelace. In what was meant to be a provocative expose about women who code can also be sexy and free to pose in their underwear if they want turned sour when many readers didn’t greet the article or photo lookbook as intended.
Many in social media have complained that the spread really just reduced women to be objects to be gawked at once again.
Maria Joyner over at Medium.com did a piece including several anonymous comments from men disappointed with the underwear campaign, and who, among other things, admit how hard it is for women in tech to advance and overcome sexist environments; and accuses the Dear Kate campaign as being a cheap publicity stunt. It is not a purposeful attempt to spark conversation about different body types featured in magazines, as many of dear Kate’s supporters are touting it to be, Joyner argues.
It is pretty safe to say any intended empowering message has gotten lost and buried in the controversy.
And Dear Kate’s attempted to reclaim the issue with the hashtag #noncontroversial but again, as with this campaign, just because you say something is [fill in the blank] doesn’t necessarily make it so.
No one is commenting on articles about the women are even discussing their poignant and insightful commentary on their industry.
It also seems silly considering the controversy is a big win for the dear Kate brand’s exposure. BizJournals did a piece about how sales have soured, the company’s websites pageviews have spiked and founder Julie Sygiel and some of the women featured are getting more media appearances than before. She’s seen beaming with pride in the piece.
To be fair, it is hard to promote women in tech without pissing someone off.
Ask Refinery 29 about its lukewarm response to a post last year on 8 cool women changing tech that featured a fashion blogger, tech journalists and women with businesses that are online moreso than women inventors, coders, developers or engineers.
Although, I did think Entertainment Weekly’s feature on female actors who portray kick ass characters in sci-fi and super hero movies did a good job of showcasing women as soft and stylish displaying the multi-dimensional aspect to women who are rough and tumble on screen.
To borrow an oft used cliché conclusion, at the end of the day it all boils down to the fact that those who want to promote women in any professional field have a tough time doing so without evoking the primal and most basic element that separates them from women and that is their sex; and all that stereotypically defines women.
As Angelia Levy poignantly pointed out in her blog, we are not talking about the accomplishments of these trailblazing women, but rather the fact they were in their underwear
I did a quick search and managed to quickly find 10 features with very eye catching featured images at the top in stories about women in Tech. All the women looked fashionable and mostly attractive.
I learned a lot about their contribution despite the fact they were not in their underwear. Imagine that!
Inc’s 15 Women Tech Start Ups to Watch
Women in Tech in Singapore
Female Start Up Founders Share Lessons Learned
A Celebration of women in Tech - UK
Women in their 20′s share successs
Digital Undivided Women in Tech feature
Hackbright’s Coding Academy
25 Latinas in Tech
Kansas City Women in Technology
Women in Tech in NYC