I wonder how the “booth babe” conversation gets started.
I imagine a group of marketing professionals sitting around a white board in a fancy conference room. There are probably women in the room too. After all, marketing is one of the few specializations in technology where women are somewhat well-represented (a blog post for another time!). And patriarchy just wouldn’t be patriarchy if women weren’t complicit in their own oppression, now would it.
I’m sure it doesn’t go down like this:
“Well, we tried giving an iPad away last time. But EVERYONE is giving away iPads now. Everyone already HAS an iPad.”
“Or maybe we should give away a car.”
Then some fine prodigal (seriously, go look up what prodigal really means, right now) specimen of the marketing breed says:
“You know what. We should hire some women from a modeling agency, put them in some scanty clothing and heels, and parade them around the exhibition floor.”
Someone else goes: “Yeah, you know what, we’ll do more than heels. We’ll put them in STILTS.”
Someone records this on the whiteboard:
Step 1. Objectify Women.
Step 2. ?????????
Step 3. PROFIT.
Everyone gets a gold star. A req form is created for the girls and the skimpy logoed tank tops. Someone prints out data sheets for the girls to memorize on why our cloud is more cloud than their cloud, and all systems are a go.
Oh. No. You. Didn’t.
Back up. Let’s look at a few reasons why this ISN’T OK and why NO ONE should get a gold star.
The booth babe practice is unacceptable because:
1. It situates women as an object for male bonding around objectification of females.
Booth babes are presented as adorned and removed objects of heterosexual male gaze and a congress point for male socialization. You will see more conversations ABOUT booth babes than WITH booth babes, because they serve in large part as a public conversation piece, inviting voyeuristic sexist bonding around women as objects. After all, the ultimate point of booth babes is to start conversations between men- the men selling, and the men buying. The center and origination of this transaction is the female body. She serves as a novelty for men that use her as both the shiny object and broker.
2. It normalizes patriarchal displays of female sexuality in an industry that is trying to break out of male dominance.
The booth babe “dress and behavior code” is ripped straight from oppressive stereotypes of female sexuality. Booth babes wear tight, thin or not enough clothing, lots of makeup, and are encouraged – no, paid – to flirt and provoke. This display of sexuality is kept strictly within the framework that they are there for male entertainment, to sell products, to “look good” for the cameras (male gaze). End game, the sexuality is expressed as a function of economy, material gain and male pleasure rather than a realization of actual female desire. This normalizes despicable representations of female sexuality in a male-dominated industry that many men and women fight everyday to make more equal.
3. It reinforces that notion that women’s bodies can be used to sell unrelated products.
Five bucks to the first person who can explain to me what women in tanktops and stilts have to do with cloud computing. Yet booth babes, by their very existence, perpetuate the idea that it is OK to use women’s bodies to sell…. well, anything at all. Belief that this is OK – or even a successful marketing technique – is a menace to women and to the industries they contribute to.
4. It suggests that women don’t have real buying power in the technology field.
By orienting persuasion entirely towards a heterosexual male audience, “booth babes” negate the presupposition of a female buying power as an audience. In marketing blatantly aimed at a single gender, the practice effectively silences the reality or potential of a impactful female viewer. Advertising CREATES its audience as much as it serves it, and “booth babes” create an image of an entirely heterosexual male customer base. It both reinforces, reflects and creates buying power in the industry. Booth babes not only market to the technology buying base, they create an image, and a stereotype, of what that buying base is – a buying base that women aren’t a part of.
The No Booth Babe Pledge
We can argue for hours about where the lack of women in the industry gets started. We can punt blame around the court like a bunch of college kids at a drunk game of football. We can console ourselves with Carol Bartz and Marissa Mayer, whose successes obviously indicate that the supposed Glass Ceiling of Technology for Women is top-notch propaganda campaign by the pervasive institution of radical feminism in America.
Fine. Let’s talk about something we all can do, right now, to make incremental improvement towards a tech community where women are treated as equals. It’s the No Booth Babe Pledge.