At this year’s CES, several attendees expressed their frustration with the continued presence of scantily-clad “booth babes” hired by companies to promote their wares. (And, many more chimed in via Twitter and blog posts to express their disgust.) It was mostly smaller companies. “You know, the ones that peddle crap like jeweled iPhone cases and weight loss devices”, according to Steven Kovach of Business Insider, who was clearly unimpressed.
Major brands like Nikon and Sharp were not above it either. ViewTronicx even had girls in garters and stockings, and not much else… Obvious, much?
The BBC’s Matt Danzico investigated whether this practice is an effective marketing strategy or a reflection on gender relations in the tech world in his “revealing” video: Booth Babes CES 2012 Controversy.
CES 2012 booth babes telling the press that women prefer raising kids and shopping to being involved with technology. Men openly harassing women on the show floor as their friends chuckle. CES CEO, Gary Shapiro, shrugging his shoulders and brushing the issue aside as “irrelevant”. Female attendees being put upon to fight the stereotypes and be taken seriously in the workplace as if this were 1962 instead of 2012.
Frankly, the whole thing is embarrassing and I was there to witness it, first-hand.
I am a female tech writer. I’ve worked in some form of the male-dominated tech industry and appearance-driven advertising world for all of my professional life. I am as accustomed to seeing “booth babes” running around conferences and trade shows as I am to seeing models– styled, primped, and Photoshopped– on the covers of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Marie Claire at the grocery store.
To me, there is no difference in either of these two things. After all, sex sells (everything from cars to magazines to gym equipment). It appeals to our most basic human nature and marketers are not above exploiting it. The question is: Are we still buying it?
To be perfectly clear, in no way do the “booth babes” at CES challenge my ability to talk tech with the “boys”. They did not prevent me nor any of my colleagues from dressing, behaving, and speaking intelligently. They are not even that noticeable after days of being on the noisy, frenetic show floors of CES, especially in a setting such as Las Vegas where we like to play a hotel lobby game called “Hooker or Hoochie”.
I was neither mistreated nor harassed while at CES. The only time a group of men did a double take and looked me up and down, was when they were eyeing the new Sony S Tablet that I was carrying home following an event. I’m still having mixed emotions about that incident.
I am however deeply frustrated when a booth babe at a tech trade show, well attended by women, run around saying things like:
There are women that are into [technology]. I don’t just know any women that would choose the tech world over shopping or cooking or taking care of kids.
When you encourage an ignorant female stereotype, it’s no surprise that you create an environment of ignorant stereotypical behavior. So of course, you will have grown men aggressively propositioning women while their knuckleheaded friends behave like frat boys.
Male attendee to booth babe: “Be sure to to give me your number so we can discuss this later on tonight.”
(She rolles her eyes.) “There’s a lot you’ll have to tell me.”
(She turns away.) “Okay?”
Booth babe: “No!”
My favorite quote in the video comes from Molly McHugh, a tech writer for Digital Trends:
I’m not so sure if it’s degrading as much as it’s just uncomfortable or confusing as it’s sending a message of what my sex is here to do.
I cannot agree with her more.