It’s 2013. Let’s end ‘booth babes’ for good

Woman of the future, when perhaps one can present technology and also simultaneously not be objectified.

Scene: It’s the year 2137. The world is doing pretty well. Hoverboards have gone out of style almost as quickly as they came in, surprising a lot of people. UGGs inexplicably live on in popular conceptions of fashion, as do ‘boots with the fur’. The President of what’s left of the United States (the previously large U.S. was reduced to a small island off the coast of Mexico after its population became predominantly, then overwhelmingly brown and insisted the mainland be renamed to “Brownlandia”) is a multi-racial pansexual queer-identifying trans womyn who was elected on campaign promises to bring traditional family values back into politics. It is against this backdrop that our protagonist, Beth, a 15-year old girl who has dreams of one day  becoming an engineer (a very blase dream in 2137, when the field of engineering has been flooded with brilliant ladyminds, but whatever, fuck the haters, Beth thinks) is writing a report on the history of the tech industry. In her research, she comes upon information on a quaint practice that used to be associated with the Consumer Electronics Association, an annual conference highlighting new and upcoming products, open to those affiliated with the technology industry, among many other conferences and expos.

Beth: Mommmmmmmmm

Beth’s mom: (Segways in from the greenhouse, where she was robo gardening) What is it honey?

B: Well I hate interrupting you from your eternal lady bliss sessions since they discovered the pill for having it all. But I need help with my report and my Google Glasses aren’t working right.

BM: Oh, dear, I knew we were overdue for a visit to Dr. Spaceman. Oh well, what is it? Maybe I can help the old-fashioned way and Bing it.

B: Great thanks. The thing is, I found out about this weird barbaric practice they were using up until the turn of the millennium and even a little bit after! It seems so unbelievable and I need to know more.

BM: Go on.

B: It’s a phenomenon called “booth babes”. A puzzling and archaic traditional practice from the pre-Smashed Binary era, it appears to involve objectifying entire swaths of the population for the great and noble purpose of…selling tech related products.

BM: (Gasps and begins to mutter angrily under her breath)

B: What is it Mom?

BM: (Sighs wearily) It’s just…it’s just that I’d hoped you wouldn’t uncover these horrid historical details. At least, not until you were more grown up.

B: It’s hard for me to miss. There’s so much detail in these old online archives I found. Like this piece from a now defunct pseudo journalistic outlet known as “Business Insider”. Apparently they endorsed and even celebrated the phenomenon as late as January 2013. In this post “Meet the Booth Babes of CES” they were actually brazen enough to document their adventures in sexism by describing the experience of ogling the so-called “booth babes” table by table. They also operated under this bizarre and thankfully dated assumption that “technology reporters” and “attractive ladies” are two mutually exclusive groups, and never the twain shall meet.

BM: I’m sorry honey. You must understand it was another world.

B: That hardly seems an excuse. I mean look at this. There are literally photos here of women being paid to stand naked and speechless “like sculptures” and imitate “fembots”. And even when the popular tech blog Mashable published a piece ostensibly “showing everything wrong with ‘booth babes’ at CES” they still managed to miss the point, using the very same image of the naked women in their post for pageviews, and posing the inane question “is this an appropriate way to sell a tech product, or anything for that matter?” rather than strongly denouncing the obvious sexism and double standards.

BM: I’m sorry you had to find out this way, but this was the reality not so long ago. Maybe you can do some more research and include information in your report on the social movements that brought about change.

B: You mean like feminism? I don’t know Mom. I mean, I like my peter pan collars like the next 22nd century gal, but the f-word? I’m not sure it’s my thing.

BM: (Smiles) I guess some things never change.

*End Scene*

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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