Culture / Security / Technology

#InfoSecBikini and #DevsPelades: A Movement to Bring Your Whole Self to Tech

2 Jul 2021 10:37am, by

Last week, Pittsburgh-based Brazilian database administrator Vanny received a DM from a stranger on Instagram that, translated from Portuguese, read:

Lady, you had everything to be a reference in the tech community, but you lower yourself and expose yourself too much. I started following you awhile ago and I could swear you were going to be big and have a lot of partnerships, but who wants a women with no class that exposes herself, has an OnlyFans account, keeps talking about weed, who will want you representing them? I am very disappointed.

In parallel, last Sunday, networking security professional and San Diego resident Coleen S. snapped a cute selfie before heading to the beach to read the newest CISSP study guide. She wakes up Monday to an unidentifiable Twitter account writing “what is it about twitter that causes otherwise respectable people to post fucking underwear shots???/ your bio says InfoSec, no warning for this crap./ #unfollow.”

But such misogyny thinly veiled as a call for professionalism is being combatted in two separate, but identically spirited organic social media campaigns. Twitter and Instagram are now filled with hundreds of pics of tech workers in bikinis and underwear to the hashtags #InfoSecBikini and #DevsPelades, which translates to a gender-neutral version of “naked devs” in Portuguese.

It’s contributing to a moving body positivity moment in support of the message that everyone should be safe to bring their whole selves to work — and to their personal social media accounts.

Yes, after 16 months of working from within our personal spaces, often with kids, some are still calling for those marginalized by tech — note white men aren’t getting this unsolicited feedback — to segregate their lives and keep it “professional.” So what does this say about the tech industry as a whole?

Naked Devs: It’s About Being Real

Vanny has been an influencer in the database, and women in tech communities since 2014, with contributed articles, a popular YouTube channel, and loads of public speaking engagements, living her whole self online while she often feels isolated as an immigrant. She says her experience online is mostly positive, but not all. And it just all came to a head last week when she snapped a screenshot and tweeted “just one of the many demeaning messages I get on the regular, daily basis,” arguing programmers should only talk about code.

After about three days of an animated debate over what Vanny calls “moralism, control, sexism and fear,” one of her followers posted a picture of herself in her underwear with the comment “e agora somos #DevsPelades” — “and now we are Naked Devs.” It quickly got over a thousand likes and started a movement, as all genders posted fun pics in their skivvies to encourage techies to bring their whole beautiful selves to work. By June 30, it was the most popular hashtag among the nearly 18 million Brazilian Twitter users.

“People tend to be super moralist and conservative in this field [tech] because they are afraid to be who they are, make friends that has the same interests as them, because they think they will lose their jobs. So their whole personalities are held because they are afraid the companies they work for are their owners, when they should only solely provide a service and not their souls together,” Vanny told The New Stack over email.

“It is still very important to address these issues, for our generation and for the next generation, to quit this sexism bullshit once and for all. I do not want this to just be about a bikini or semi nude pictures, but about people with interests. We are all humans, we pass the captcha challenge, we all are covered by our own skin. We should never be diminished by our color, gender, culture, sexuality, age, choices, roots. That has nothing to do with being professional. We can all be both professionals, deliver what we promise and also be happy and content with life. We don’t need to be miserable to fit somewhere just because it’s a Fortune-100 company, but that company despise you as a human being. If a place will judge me by what I do in my free time, then that place doesn’t deserves me contributing to their growth and success.” — Vanny @WonderWanny

For her, she’s fed up after spending years hiding because, as a woman in tech, people always underestimate her.

“After many years hiding my tattoos and piercings from recruiters, being doubted and claimed to have slept with people to get promotions, great grades or anything good that has happened in my life because I was dedicated enough to accomplish it, I started to not care anymore about what people think about me, my character, or my choices,” she said.

Vanny continued that she’s not just a job title and she’s willing to quit the industry before she has to censor or limit herself. She is trying to change the misconception that you’re either a professional or a multidimensional human being.

InfoSec Bikinis: It’s About Feeling Safe

For business information security officer Alyssa Miller, #InfoSecBikini is more than just about being yourself. It’s a pushback at a double standard and the lack of safety non-men feel in the tech industry — and the world — every day. When mostly men in InfoSec were touting their often shirtless workout routines in #RedTeamFit last week, no one said anything about that being NSFW.

Miller told The New Stack, in a Zoom interview that also included Coleen, she believes it’s definitely about different standards of sexuality. Miller posts a lot of barbecuing pics, but only got slammed with DMs telling her she was unprofessional when she posted a while ago a selfie in a stereotypical schoolgirl plaid skirt or a bikini earlier this week. And she feels like it happens even more in InfoSec, which she says expects you to only post about InfoSec.

For Coleen, besides being an unpleasant way to start her week, it was just shocking that something as innocuous as a bikini pic could be such a big deal.

“I think this whole #InfoSecBikini was about saying ‘No one will live our lives.’ And we will be the beautiful, diverse women that we are in public and you won’t silence us. We will take control of who we are. You don’t get to dictate us.” — Alyssa Miller @AlyssaM_InfoSec

“I’ve seen other women in tech catch flack for posting things in their lives. Not anything controversial. Just their lives — their children, pets, hobbies. Real people, not some InfoSec machines,” Coleen said.

Across industries, men are rewarded when they bring their whole selves to work, especially their family lives, while women are penalized for it. And according to the 2019 Cybersecurity Workplace Study, women in cybersecurity are paid 21% less than men, despite being both the most in-demand and hard-to-recruit vertical in the tech industry.

Coleen, who made the move years ago from refrigeration to IT,  had looked forward to a more professional working environment, “but then, in IT, every shop was just a well-educated boys club,” she said.

And she gets the feeling it’s worse in InfoSec, where hackers are fighting hackers — “We deal with the underworld already.”

It’s not just on social media. It’s in the office. And on the street.

Miller not only is well-established in InfoSec, but she is also a soccer referee, which she says features similarly “lopsided” representation. In large regional tournaments, there will be at most 30 women out of 300 referees, and she’s found similarly horrible behavior by men.

“Anytime you are in an environment that is heavily, heavily male-dominated,” she said. “The number of women hackers compared to men is so small. Anytime you get into that type of situation where they do see women in that space, it’s very much a novelty. For some, it’s absolutely just disdain because it’s different from what they’ve known. Or for others they act sexually aggressively, unwanted advancements to the level of being harassment, behaving in ways that they don’t comprehend how bad it can be.”

Miller mentioned the common experience all women have experienced — a man blocking you while walking, just making you feel unsafe.

After witnessing this behavior time and again, Coleen wasn’t going to stand for this tech bro comment of the week. She just thought it was just going to be about her versus one bully. What it’s become is so much more. She ended up kicking off the information security sector’s homage to last year’s #MedBikini, which came in response to the Journal of Vascular Surgery publishing a paper on the social media of — ahem, female — healthcare professionals.

Coleen said that it’s been great to raise awareness about sexism in her part of the tech industry and that she’s had an overwhelmingly positive response. At least publicly. She’s still had a lot of negative DMs, including a few that are anti-trans and sexist, but mostly it’s dudes hitting on her.

All three women interviewed agreed that their harassment-turned-hashtags has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. There’s a sense of solidarity and that a lot of the tech industry is ready to stand up to harassment and double standards together. And that there are male allies willing to put themselves out there — including in their own makeshift bikinis.

Plus, it felt awkward but empowering for a lot of us to put ourselves out there to amplify the message. Miller shared that it took her four days to pluck up the courage to post her contribution because of some scars she has, but that she was inspired by Coleen to support.

Movements Don’t Come Without Risk

Coleen calls these social media movements a double-edged sword. It’s empowering, but, since this is all happening online, there are of course some data privacy red flags.

She explained, “Everyone is so gorgeous and shows support. And the guys that other guys look up to that wear bikinis, I think that’s really great. But there’s also another side of me, when I’m seeing some of these posts, I was also saddened because someone is building a database of these posts because, like everything, it’s going to be weaponized in some way.”

And it already has. Illumin-Eye creative agency went ahead and made an #InfoSecBikini calendar for free download on their website. They later took it down after Twitter outrage and posted a mediocre apology, which claims they were trying to “endorse and support the movement,” despite not asking anyone featured for consent and benefitting from an unknown traffic boost.

What’s the moral of this fleshy movement? Well, besides the fact that advocates in tech are gorgeous both inside and out, it just feels like we have a really long way to go. And men of the information security space, you really have to step up your allyship.

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