Posted by Marianne Miller on Jan 11, 2013

E3 And CES: A Booth Babe Comparison

In case the picture down at the bottom of this article didn’t make it obvious, I am a woman.  I have been a consumer of electronics and videogames for more than a handful of years, and have been frequenting anime and video game conventions for the last 9.  I’ve attended E3 the last two years, and just came back from my first CES in Vegas Wednesday night.

I have seen a lot of women in various stages of undress at these conventions.  Some of them are fans, eager to dress up as their favorite character.  Some of them are fans eager to do a “female” version of a male character (which usually involves ripping off half of their clothes, for some mysterious reason).  And the rest of them are women who have been paid to represent a product.

I personally am not too offended by booth babes.  I actually kind of like them, sometimes.  Some companies dress them up as characters from their products or put them in cute outfits, and I find that most of the time, the worst offenders just put them in really tacky-looking Hooters-esque tank tops and booty shorts (I’m looking at you, Ubisoft).  Nintendo made an odd decision in 2012 to have booth babes in Mario and Luigi hats walk around with 3DS units chained to their belts, so when they had multiple people playing the demo at a time, it looked as though they were some sort of strange… dog-walker.

Really, the worst of them just got an eyeroll from me while I moved on to look at whatever I wanted to see.  At E3, it was easy to tell the difference between someone who was hired for the event, and someone who actually worked on the game, or was at least knowledgeable enough to talk to me about it.

However, at CES, I noticed a very different presentation of product using female models.  Like at E3, women were present at CES, though not as plentiful as men.  As a matter of fact, the first person I spoke to in a professional capacity on Tuesday morning was one.

A couple other GamerFront writers and myself asked a pretty woman dressed in flashy clothes at a company’s press desk if their company would have any time for an interview.  She blinked her heavily mascara’d eyes and turned to another similarly pretty-but-overly-put-together woman beside her and repeated the question.  After a few minutes, we were directed to an older man, who was happy to discuss the product line with us.

It didn’t hit me right away that I was encountering an unusually high amount of pretty women that all just so happened to work in the electronics industry.  But after passing through a booth that was manned solely by beautiful, thin, dark-haired women in black mini-dresses, I started to become suspicious.  After brushing past another that was operated by one man and a woman in a low-cut, leopard skin dress, I finally started to wonder just how many women were actually full-time employees of the companies that they were representing.

It was rather disturbing how fine the line was, in terms of attire, between the two.  Some examples of CES “booth babes” were more obvious than others, but it was rather unsettling to me how manipulative and blatantly sexist it was to members of both genders.

Companies want to attract a male audience, so they hire attractive women; this assumes that all men on the convention floor are so limited in thought and action that they will approach any booth with more than one attractive woman at it simply because an attractive woman is there.  Of course, any exchange about a product will reveal whether or not the woman is actually knowledgeable about it, but having more women at a booth just for the sake of it dilutes the importance of the women who actually do work at the company in question, and probably limits their abilities to promote and explain what they worked on, as many men who approach them will be doing so to flirt rather than to discuss their interest in whatever is there.  Even I caught myself falling into the trap of assuming that any woman who looked a little too good was probably uninformed about what I was looking at.

A while back, I talked about the #1reasonwhy hashtag that had popped up on Twitter, where women and men were discussing their issues with the gaming industry.  One that came up repeatedly was the fact that many women felt devalued by the consumer and the company because they were either assumed to be a booth babe, or put on the show floor for the explicit purpose of attracting more men to the booth.   It’s disheartening as an employee to be reduced to your looks or gender, and it’s even worse when you’re put beside other women who know nothing about your work and are there to represent it simply because they are attractive.

It really puzzles me that these shows behave as though most of the attendees are males 18-25, because these sorts of events are supposed to be filled with a dynamic professionals and feature a much wider age group — with that wider age gap comes married men, men with families, or even (*gasp*) women and homosexuals who could really care less as to who is presenting your product as long as they are clothed professionally and able to speak English.

But the thing that got me the most about CES, as opposed to E3, was the fact that it was so difficult to tell that they were booth babes — E3’s booths put their girls in costumes, but there were more of a handful of girls at CES that were obviously not involved with the company, but rather models hired to stand in a booth and look like they knew what they were doing.

I had a lot of fun at CES, but I left feeling a bit skeeved out.  And considering the amount of times I’d been offered free porn and trips to strip clubs, that’s a bit of a statement.  It was kind of an eye opener, because I’ve always known and still believe that the gaming industry has a long way to go when it comes to writing women and female involvement, but I now realize that things can always be worse.  And I think it’s safe to say that in the electronics industry, they are.

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