[CES 2013, NSFW] Booth Babes Controversy An Important Reminder That Sometimes Sexy Trumps Skills

Kim LaCapria

At CES 2013, The Inquisitr had our largest presence to date and thus spent much time on the ground reviewing and seeing instead of writing and connecting, our usual grind -- and thus, we all missed the to-do over the continuing use of "booth babes" at the tech-stravaganza.

Having now attended CES, 2013 being my first year, as well as possessing two x chromosomes, I feel uniquely qualified of the team to comment on the CES 2013 Booth Babes Redux.

(Fellow Inquisitr writer Melissa is also female and was present at this year's convention.)

While I wasn't entirely steeped in the controversy as I might be at my home-workstation, non-tech friends sent me links and posted articles to my Facebook wall about the criticism of the commoditization of females at this year's CES -- and mindful of that, I did take notice on Thursday and Friday of the phenomenon. (Friend and fellow web publisher The Dusty Rebel asked me if I was booth babing it up at CES in lieu if my standard writing gig -- sadly, aside from Inquisitr, the only brand I represented by way of attire at CES 2013 was Aeropostale.)

Apparently, the debate on booth babes at CES 2013 predated the convention itself -- Jezebel called out an ad that had mystified me in my inbox when I reviewed it in the weeks leading up to CES.

I kept it aside thinking it might be a lifestyle or adult product, but, in fact, the disembodied lips and legs in VOCO's CES ad were in fact selling technology unrelated to the bedroom, with the parts of a female included in the layout perplexing at the very best, and disturbingly depersonalizing regardless.

booth babes at CES 2013

It seems of all the booth babes at CES 2013, the most controversial were the ones seen in the top image -- adorned only in body paint and with somber expressions and zero interactivity, the women on display (referred to as "fembots") were an instant illustration of the depersonalization of a female that a booth babe represents. Your (in this case) verbal input is entirely unnecessary, your breasts and legs and silence are all that are required of your presence, it seems to indicate.

Although the debate has apparently been raging for years about booth babes at CES, I processed their presence only ambiently on Monday and Tuesday. Indeed, even when not actively considering it a "thing," the trend can be a bit off-putting.

Stowing aside the implications of CES booth babes in the context of a hostile environment (mainly, the expectation we all wear false eyelashes and daisy dukes and feather headdresses when going about our business, it being part of our job to provide visual stimulation for males), the presence of booth babes (without any sexualized male counterparts) is somewhat jarring. It seems to be a constant message that as present as women are at CES, this isn't necessarily marketed toward "us."

Having been pelted with the knowledge of CES 2013 booth babe controversy, my notice of the phenomenon was contrasted Thursday and Friday with my notice of women overall at the convention. Booth babes at CES indeed represent a small portion of all attendees, and the majority of women (like the majority of men) were in standard business attire or "geek streetwear," depending on demographic. (Quite a few were present at the Trojan booth, where the women were refreshingly attired to do business despite the gadgets' adult themes)

However, what booth babes bring in notoriety to a company and to CES as a whole is perhaps actually a positive thing rather than a negative, and I say this as someone who finds the practice fairly repugnant overall. (I am all for positive representation of sexuality and grown-up content, but at the end of the day, it's a cheap tactic only foregrounded by its message in the utter lack of parity -- if booth babes were about selling sex, there would at least be some males, but there were none to my knowledge.)

The positive is, of course, in the constant reminder of the fact that while we were well represented in the aggregate -- females in business suits, females in branded gear and females, like me, in hoodies and dress sneakers swarmed the floor in large numbers -- at CES, we still are to a large degree also persons that serve as capable of only contributing the way we look.

ces 2013

Once aware, I noticed that most of the time the presence of a large, floor blocking crowd signified a woman in very short shorts doing any number of things, as a for instance. And when I did read about and start to think on it, it was a constant reminder that for every fantastic CES 2013 write-up I could churn out, to tens of thousands of male eyes, a tanned, taut and toned physique and exotic dancer eye-makeup was just as valid a contribution.

Earlier BBC coverage from last year about the CES booth babes debate watched after the convention was a bit more saddening -- while one dude decried the practice as a sleazy appeal to baseless attention, another said that men loved to watch hot "girls" play Call Of Duty.

CES 2013 booth babes

And a woman -- herself a booth babe, scantily clad in a sexed up version of a business suit -- said that she couldn't really see women choosing to think about or work with tech when presented with more feminine options like cooking or shopping, or raising kids. (A pursuit many of us, like men, embrace alongside our busy careers.)

CES booth babes really are somewhat like a racist joke or other off-color reminder of the existence of these stereotypes -- the ugly ideas behind it will always be simmering underneath the surface. In the BBC video below, the CES CEO Gary Shapiro responds to the British news agency's initial question in 2012, responding:

" ... People naturally want to go towards what they consider pretty. So your effort to try to get a story based on booth babes, which is decreasing rather rapidly in the industry, and say that it's somehow sexism imbalancing, it's cute but it's frankly irrelevant in my view."

In short, the presence of booth babes at CES 2013 alongside many dressed-to-actually-work females served an important, if depressing, reminder of how far females still have to go in the fields represented at the convention.

Each glittered decolletage served as a stark illustration of our continued underrepresentation, each half-glute bared a testament to the fact that there are two paths for women where for men there are just one, and while those who choose the skin-baring route should not be judged, the culture that encourages it certainly can be debated.