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Underwear ads do nothing to empower tech women

Ana Veciana-Suarez

By Ana Veciana-Suarez

Published Sept. 10, 2014

The advertising photos are meant to be empowering, feminist even, a thumb-in-the-eye response to the well-documented sexism of the tech world. Yet, I glance at these beautiful and beautifully talented women posing in their skivvies and think, This ain't the way to get respect, sisters.

In case you missed the latest controversial ad featuring "real" women, let me fill you in: Dear Kate, an underwear company that likes to use nontraditional models in its lookbooks, has been getting a lot of attention -- brilliant marketing move, by the way -- for its newest campaign. In its Ada Collection, named after the mathematician Ada Lovelace who wrote the first algorithm back in the 1800s, prominent tech women wearing very cute Dear Kate underwear pose in bras and panties .

This isn't the first time CEO Julie Sygiel has used nontraditional models for her products. The Ada Collection, however, has touched off a firestorm among those who wonder how a public photo of a nearly naked CEO can earn her the esteem of her colleagues.

Mind you, the Dear Kate lookbook is tastefully done. Plenty of bare skin, yes, but no come-hither looks, no over-the-top cleavage, no strutting in stilettos. Dear Kate models come in all sizes and shapes, too. They're like the women I know, but with enough bucks in the bank to afford the pricy lingerie.

So kudos to Sygiel for promoting a healthy body image. I'm up-to-here with airbrushed photos of stick-thin models with pouty smiles and flat tummies.

But -- and this is an important distinction -- you can't convince me that posing in underwear will make someone worthier of professional admiration. Or that it will dispel sexist myths. Or that it will galvanize or inspire the next generation to break into a male-dominated industry. This is as true for underwear models David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo of soccer fame as it is for the founders of Skillcrush, Style IT, Geek Girl Web or Ladybits.

Sygiel, who has publicly said that she spoke to the tech women about how they would pose, seems to have gone to great lengths to portray them as young, ambitious leaders. Just read the inspirational quotes that accompany the photos.

"We believe women should be taken seriously regardless of what they are wearing," Sygiel told The Huffington Post. "This goes for women in any profession, as what someone is wearing has no bearing on their capability or intelligence."

True -- in a world that is blind. Harsh reality is quite different, however. Right or wrong, we are wired to make snap judgments, and clothing is one of our handy-dandy markers. Regardless of profession, we're assessed by what we wear, and every corporation has its own sartorial culture. Why else do men, and women, wear suits in court and scrubs in a doctor's office? A woman in a tight, short skirt will draw the wrong kind of attention in a boardroom -- but so will a man in a muscle shirt.

I doubt that men in tech would be modeling briefs and boxers for an underwear company, unless, maybe, it was for charity. Then again, they might not feel the need to.

And that may be the point of it all, this sad fact that, in the 21st century, in the most promising industry of this brave, new world, women still feel compelled to draw attention to their bodies.

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Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald.

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