The CES 2012 booth babe problem

Summary:CES 2012 booth babes sparked controversy and highlighted hypocrisy in the tech industry.

CES doesn't look much like a cutting-edge convention now that problems have emerged around the hired female models dressed in provocative outfits to be "booth babes" at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this past week.

CES 2012 booth babes told press that women prefer raising kids to being in technology, men publicly harassed the babes for dates, and female attendees probably wondered if they'd accidentally wandered onto the set of Mad Men.

Let me just say that I quite enjoy when sex is cleverly used to pique my interest in products. Mixing sex and tech can be playful, smart, hot and fantastic.

I also have no problem with the presence of booth babes or models at events, and don't think they challenge my ability to function as a woman in the tech arena. I am also outspokenly pro-porn.

I am however, deeply disturbed when sexy booth babes at a tech convention run around saying things like this:

I don't know any women [interested in technology]. I don't know any women that would choose the tech world over shopping or cooking or taking care of kids.

-CES 2012 booth babe, to the BBC

It's no wonder then, that in the BBC Booth Babes CES 2012 Controversy video, we see men aggressively harassing booth babes:

Male CES attendee to booth babe: "Be sure to to give me your number so we can discuss this later on tonight."

(She does not respond.) "There's a lot you'll have to tell me."

(She turns away.) "Okay?"

Booth babe: "No!"

The truth of the matter is, this is just embarrassing.

Present an inappropriate female stereotype and - no surprise - you'll create an environment of inappropriate and stereotypical behavior.

It's not the booth babes, it's the reductive booth babe mentality that's the real problem here.

And the hypocrisy. The irony is that at the same time all that went on for BBC's cameras, women who are actually in the business of pornography - having been disallowed to exhibit at CES 2012 - were right next door.

They were having conversations about de-stigmatizing sex, new technologies, and creating respectful and appropriate discussions about sex and technology.

After being turned down by CES, tech-forward adult company Pink Visual held their own event near CES with other tech-adult representatives. At the sideline event, Pink Visual's female CEO Alison Vivas stated:

There is no reason that adult entertainment can't be a mainstream event and be represented professionally to adult consumers.

What a grown-up way of looking at it.

Meanwhile on the CES 2012 show floor, scantily-clad booth babes brought enough titillation and discomfort to attendees to last until CES 2013.

ViewTronicx had girls in garters and stockings. Xtreme flanked their booth with busty girls in tight white t-shirts.

The Skunk Juice booth at CES had hot girls wearing low cut t-shirts that read “Wanna hook up?” on the back.

iShower featured - you guessed it - a lady in panties and a towel, fake-showering in a fake shower display.

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.

-Molly McHugh, Digital Trends tech writer, via BBC

I have to agree with Molly.

I mean, what if I could play Goddess for a minute and reverse the roles at CES 2012?

More women than men on the CES show floor. Every third booth would have men with exposed washboard abs, curvy biceps, muscly thighs - and it would all be on display - the racier babes would wear tight little half shirts and crotch-hugging short-shorts.

When guys came by to find out what the ViewTronicx was all about, a tan male model in tight smalls would jiggle his package over to the women in the crowd. He'd ignore the men to ask if the ladies know they can download apps from the app store.

The ladies would think he was awfully dumb, but attractive enough for a photo. Later, they would publish the photo and joke about how hot and stupid he is (like Business Insider just did).

The male attendees desperately would not want the male booth babes to notice them. And they would know they were constantly being compared to the booth babes, possibly by their own colleagues. For the men, getting work done would be a sexualized, personalized uphill battle to get information and be taken seriously.

In another scenario, I would swap out the brains of CES 2012 booth babes for brains of fierce lady hackers.

Instead of regarding female attendees at tech events as fellow women that got lost on the way to the shoe store, sperm bank and Baby GAP, the improved booth babes would target CES women as a population that has been underserved for way too long.

The booth babes are sexy, but their brains would be sexier. They'd seek out female CES attendees to give the women exclusives on new technology, demos that even included subversive opinions on rooting their own devices.

The booth babes would dress sexy, and it would make sense. They'd spend as much time making sure CES women had everything they needed to know about their company's products, from engineering to company vision.

Few attendees would be smarter than the booth babes. They would be hired for their brains - their tight t-shirts are only to make men feel more threatened.

The babes would talk circles around the knowledge bases of male mobile computing experts, tech reporters, engineers and coders, and they'd make tech salesmen feel so clueless about their areas of expertise that the men consider changing careers after one quick demo.

The booth babes would be hired because they are also hardware and software hackers; aside from modeling, the booth babes would have disruptive startups on the side, and some might have even gone to jail for hacking.

The booth babes may have, in fact, hacked the phones of every CES 2012 attendee by setting up a fake cell tower relay station in the ladies' rooms of the Venetian - because no one would look there, would they?

CES 2012 booth babes would pull off such a sophisticated smartphone hack on Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile that people only noticed when their phones are suddenly using up a lot of battery - and then it would be too late. Frighteningly, they only seem to target phones owned by men.

The booth babes would set scripts in motion that looked for photos of themselves - and deletes them.

Female attendees would know that the CES booth babes will always give them preferential treatment and scoops on the competition. The men simply wouldn't know how to compete for the booth babes' attention.

But no: we didn't have a role-reversal of any kind at CES 2012. And in reality, the booth babes combined cluelessness about technology with disdain for female tech culture to make the atmosphere toxic.

According to Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro there were less "booth babes" at CES 2012 than ever before. He told BBC that because booth babes are in decline and because booth babe mentality still works, that booth babes are a non-issue.

Your efforts to get a story on booth babes ... it's cute, but it's frankly irrelevant.

-Gary Shapiro, CEO Consumer Electronics Association, to the BBC

I don't agree entirely with the way the BBC video framed the booth babe questions and conversations. The truth about the way women feel about booth babes is way more grey than black and white.

But I think it's a discussion that is more relevant than ever.

Women in technology - as are men, and all genders for that matter - are past the idea that female sexuality on display is inherently a negative thing.

We're not threatened or intimidated by booth babes, and it doesn't keep us from showing up. We're just annoyed, and the idiocy it encourages just makes our jobs harder.

At the very least, many people see the so-called old boys' gender stereotypes as simply bad for business:

I see [a booth babe] and I look at the company and I think that's a sleazy company that I don't really want to associate myself with.

-Andrew Brockhaus, CES attendee, EagleEye IT, via BBC

Tech culture has changed, even if Mr. Shapiro doesn't think so, and BBC wants to make it seem like women are offended by booth babes because of the sex.

Yes, dinosaurs still roam the halls of CES, and the CES booth babe culture knowingly panders to insulting gender stereotypes, and it poisons our culture.

But mark my words: your dad's way of selling tech with clueless cheesecake is on life support.

Also recommended:

Topics: CES

About

Ms. Violet Blue (tinynibbles.com, @violetblue) is a freelance investigative reporter on hacking and cybercrime at Zero Day/ZDNet, CNET and CBS News, as well as a noted sex columnist. She has made regular appearances on CNN and The Oprah Winfrey Show and is regularly interviewed, quoted, and featured in a variety of publications that inclu... Full Bio

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