What do wireless pet tracking collars, stereo headphones and fancy canned air have to do with scantily-clad women in skimpy tank tops, midriff-baring tops, short shorts and skin-tight body suits?
I don’t know. After going to computer trade shows for years, I’ve never known. Yet the booth babes were out in force again at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which drew more than 150,000 attendees and over 3,000 exhibitors.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary -- yes, there is an entry for ‘booth babe,’—a booth babe is "a woman who is paid to stand for hours in painful high heels and skimpy clothes by a corporate body operating under the dated notion that tech products can't be sold without appealing to the worst elements of a perceived demographic."
Now, I’ve covered technology for years, and I always thought consumer electronics were pretty gender-neutral. Not to belabor the obvious, but both men and women use smartphones (or wireless collars to track their pets, I guess). Given the violence against women that permeates many computer games, I thought gaming was another story.
But guess what? A major gaming conference in Europe -- Eurogamer Expo -- has actually banned booth babes, saying they want their conference to be welcoming to all attendees. And when I asked the folks at CES about booth babes, they defended them, in a say-nothing way.
When I asked the public relations team at CES what the “policy” is for booth babes, or even if there is one, here’s what I got back from CES spokeswoman Tara Dunion.
“… we pride ourselves on making CES as welcoming, comfortable and productive … as possible. For this reason, we include recommendations…that advise CES exhibitors to ensure that their booth presenters are as knowledgeable as possible about their products and will positively reflect their brand to the diverse group of CES attendees.
“We also recognize the right of our exhibitors to make individual decisions about marketing their products and their exhibits as they see fit, and that meet our legal guidelines as well as generally acceptable standards of decency.”
In essence, CES is saying that, since booth babes are minimally clothed, they meet the definition of “generally acceptable standards of decency.” I still don’t see how swarms of men gaping at lingerie-clad young women make CES a “welcoming, comfortable and productive” place. Plenty of women show up at CES, and they’re there to do business, not to check out the swimwear.
Now consider what Rupert Loman, managing director of the Eurogamer Network, had to say about the decision to ban booth babes from this year's show.
“We’ve always had an informal guideline regarding booth babes: We don’t think they are right for the Expo. When we talk to publishers and exhibitors, we discourage them from bringing booth babes – and encourage them to bring developers … Of course exhibitors need to bring staff to the show, but they should be interesting, cool and exciting and knowledgeable rather than pretty girls in revealing outfits just for the sake of it. We want the show to be friendly and all 50,000 attendees to feel comfortable.”
What a concept. Thank you, Eurogamer.
To be fair, Eurogamer had a bit of a nudge on the road toward enlightenment. Three exhibitors showed up to the 2012 event with women so inappropriately dressed that they were moved to the adults-only section of the show. In response, Eurogamer writer Rab Florence wrote a piece about why booth babes are bad for the gaming industry -- and if they’re bad for the gaming industry, I don’t see how they’re good for CES.
As Florence wrote, booth babes show that a “women's place at any tech-related event can only be as an attractive decoration to sweeten the event for the men. It says that women aren't truly welcome in that world, because the moment you objectify something it isn't part of anything. It's just there. It's just something else to be consumed. Fundamentally, it depicts a woman as a product….This has got to stop. It just has to stop.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. CES, it’s your move. -- Connie Guglielmo
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Image courtesy of Connie Guglielmo