We can’t tell if this “VPN for women” is a joke, or just insulting

Update: Since this piece was published, KeepSafe has updated the blog post to make it gender neutral – yet the URL remains the same. While it’s admirable the post has been updated, addressing our concerns, KeepSafe hasn’t owned its error or responded to our request for an explanation. Below is a screenshot of what the original page looked like for posterity and a grab of the URL in case it is redirected. 

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Original story continues below

Just a week ago, the world celebrated International Women’s Day pushing for gender equality, and over the past seven days a number of major UK companies have started publishing gender pay gap details.

Some 100 years since women won the vote, you’d think the dial was finally shifting. However, not every firm is completely nailing this push for equality, even if the intentions are – or at least seem – good.

The latest misinformed campaign is from KeepSafe, a San Francisco-based VPN firm which doesn’t believe women can grasp the complex nature of virtual private networks (VPNs) on their own, so has written a patronising blog post entitled: “Women can use VPNs too.” The company even calls it a “life hack.” 

 After you get past the typo in the summary, the post begins: “Ladies, for far too long VPNs have been the domain of techie men. The definition of a virtual private network has been cloaked behind that three letter acronym and needless complexity. Today, we break it down for you and tell you all the reasons a VPN can make your life easier, safer, even magical.”

The use of the word “ladies” jars slightly, and so does the term “magical.” The rest of the post explains what a VPN is and the benefits of using one with further, somewhat dumbed down or fluffy language such as “unfortunately there are all sorts of creepy ways people can use your own device against you to control and cyberstalk you,” and “when you know about the tools that can help you; you can protect your personal space, be yourself and live your life to the fullest.”

Now, to some people such sentences may not seem that fluffy at all. Chances are KeepSafe didn’t write or read them as such. There will, undoubtedly, be people who accuse us of being snowflakes; taking life too seriously and being too sensitive, but therein lies the problem.

READ NEXT: What is a VPN?

If you’ve never felt patronised by a brand; if you’ve never been singled out because of your gender either in seemingly positive, or negative ways, consider yourself lucky. Women can use and understand VPNs as well as men, maybe even better in some cases, so why post a blog like this? It insinuates women aren’t capable of tackling such complex topics, and there may well be some who do struggle, so why not present the explainer in a way that doesn’t need to refer to “ladies” or “techie men?”  

We’ve put these questions to KeepSafe and will update this post when the company replies. 

It may well be an attempt at humour, of course. Or, if I’m being cynical, a publicity stunt. For last week’s International Women’s Day, BrewDog’s attempt at humorous marketing fell a little flat among those who took it on face value. The company launched a pink IPA, and did so to highlight the gender pay gap in the UK. 

A blog post explained it had been “satirically dubbed” Beer for Girls as part of BrewDog’s call to close the pay gap and to expose sexist marketing to women. “This is our overt parody on the failed, tone-deaf campaigns that some brands have attempted in order to attract women,” the company said.

However, many only saw the headline and didn’t read the post so misconstrued the campaign. This may well be the case with KeepSafe, but we’re not convinced. 

If you do want to learn more about VPNs, we have a “What is a VPN?” explainer and list the best VPNs to help get you started. We also used last week’s International Women’s Day to highlight some of the women making waves in the tech industry – we wonder if they can use a VPN? 

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