For better or worse, “booth babes” is an industry term to describe women paid, as former Eurogamer.net writer Rab Florence noted, “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.”
Little is more off-putting than being hit on by a married man, yet as I helped adjust for a potential customer the newly designed earphones—guaranteed not to fall out while providing a superior sound experience—he leaned in and whispered, “You smell nice.” My paid response was to smile sweetly and squeak “Thank you!” in an overly excited voice. It's simply part of the job as a brand representative (aka booth babe).
To me, the use of such women to run a stand smacks of desperation. If I walk up to a booth manned by models, I know I won’t be able to find out anything worthwhile about the product. I’ll have to dodge the bikini-clad, stomach-baring ladies, push past their ardent admirers, and then attempt to have an actual conversation with whoever is actually in charge of the stand, which is inevitably marketing a product so bad that it needs cleavage and naked legs to gain attention. This is a massive waste of my time.
Do I also find it uncomfortable? Of course. To me, it’s gross and it’s insulting. The constant reminder of the objectification of women isn’t ideal when I’m already hideously grumpy from trekking through the crowded, massive halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center, either. It’s also rather confusing: why would anyone choose to do this as work? Do men not find this insulting to their intelligence? And how the heck does she stand in those shoes all day?
As a woman who writes about technology, I find booth babes insulting, embarrassing and anachronistic. Glamorous assistants have been largely banished from TV game shows, much to Bruce Forsyth's chagrin, but they are pervasive at technology trade shows and in certain tech magazines. They imply that only men are interested in technology and that women are just the accessories that dangle redundantly from your mobile phone. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that some of the booth babes ignore female journalists who have waded their way through thepointy-panted men taking photos to actually find out more about the products.
It’s an unfortunate and uncomfortable reality that female attendees at shows like E3 are constantly mistaken for booth babes, who are women hired to wear revealing clothing and stand at company booths. Here are two of those stories.
A female journalist was waiting for a PR rep to take her to her next appointment. “I accidentally made eye contact [with some guy],” she told me over the phone.
“So, what booth do you belong to?” the guy asked.
She lifted her media badge in defiance, simultaneously moving away from him. In order to avoid comments and looks in the future, she told me, she plans to wear jeans. That time, she said she had been wearing a “nice, modest dress” that stopped just above her knees. She had a similar experience the next day, with trails of stares following her down the hallways. She learned that, as proud as she is of her fashion sense, it’d be more comfortable to cover up.
It shouldn’t take a fiscal argument to quell the practice of objectifying women to make sales. Anti-booth babe advocates have repeatedly pointed out that booth babe culture is an insult to both men’s and women’s intelligence, reducing women to objects while also assuming men aren’t capable of refusing an ample cup size. Booth babes themselves say the pay makes it worth it but have spoken out about “the creepers who like to take photos without asking,” or the companies who want them to be nothing more than “eye candy.”
With NAB right around the corner this explicit sexification of broadcast/film equipment will be in full effect. It's more than past time for this practice to stop. Both men and women in this field deserve better, as do the women subjected to this line of work. So when you're at a booth at NAB next month remember that the young woman acting as "eye candy" is much more than that! Try to show her some respect and dignity while speaking with her.