Time for some real talk about being a public figure as a woman.
I receive media requests now. I’ve found myself in the fortunate place of being a best selling author and well known infosec human.
As someone who understands the hiring process, I know that most of the time, people don’t even know they were being considered for something that they ultimately were rejected for. Having a problematic personality trait or not being professional or being too much of a suit or having blonde hair or having visible ink or being a smoker or being too fat are all reasons I have heard for people being rejected for positions without the person in question even being aware they were up for something cool. In general, only 1–5% of that feedback ever actually reaches the person.
I’ve been asked this twice this year: “…and how long do you feel it would take for you to feel media-ready? Six weeks? Eight?”
Permit me to translate that for you. It means “How long is it going to take you to lose 20 pounds?”
Here’s the problem. Like many people in tech, I could stand to be a bit healthier. It’s not a question of how I look. I’m smoking hot and have sufficient attention from my gender of preferred attraction. I’m good on self confidence, too. But if you go look at my Instagram, you’ll see a disproportionate love of chocolate croissants and British pub steak and kidney pies. And my cats, but that’s tangential to this discussion.
So here’s the issue: I am also bulimic. I say that much in the way that an alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in 20 years will still say they’re an alcoholic: because they won’t ever let themselves forget that demon hiding in the closet. I got counseling as a teen and I have a reasonably healthy relationship with food.
But. Being told I’m too fat to deserve media coverage for my work in technology is absolutely horrifying. Not necessarily for me, because I have a functioning middle finger and the will and freedom to enthusiastically extend it in the direction of people telling me that I need to be more svelte to discuss the implications of security policy on TV. This is horrifying for its implications about the skilled and expert voices in all STEM fields being silenced based on their appearance instead of credentials. How many times did media editors reject me for coverage based on my inability to fit into a sample size — without me ever knowing I was *deselected*?
Worse, at what point am I going to surrender my very hard-won sense of self confidence to succeed in my career and lose weight not because I’m trying to be healthy, but because my media requests increase when I asymptotically approach looking like a Fox News anchor? I certainly hope it wouldn’t trigger my bulimia, and I think at this point I’m capable enough now to recognize when I need self care…but what about other women who also experience this pressure? What does it do to them? Tack on the issues women of color face regarding hair, dress, and a host of other issues, and you have one hell of a dilemma.
I don’t have good answers. I literally wrote the book on Women In Tech, and I swear to God I am still being judged by the size of my skirt instead of the length of my CV. Yeah, I’m frustrated.
So here are my asks:
1) if you’re a man in infosec and you’re getting media requests, ask yourself if women are being asked to comment at the same frequency as you. There’s a great deal of sexism you’re not seeing, and much of it has to do with differing expectations of our appearances. Not all of us can or want to pull off Lisbeth Salander heroin chic. Try being good at tech *and* looking like a supermodel. It’s not possible and yet it’s a hurdle in the way of your women colleagues. Help level the playing field by specifically recommending skilled women when reporters ask you for further sources.
2) if you’re a young woman in infosec or tech, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This does happen to everyone, and the extra expectations on you are not imaginary. They are real, and it’s ok to be angry at them. I don’t have a solution for you yet but by God I’m trying.
3) if you’re a senior woman in tech and infosec, SEE I SAID ALL THE STUFF WE SAY IN SIGNAL BUT CANT SAY ON TWITTER. 💖💪💥💃🏼👅
Thanks for listening.
PS: I’m a size 8.