The Problem with Booth Babes: How ‘Casual Sexism’ Hurts the AV Industry

The Problem with Booth Babes: How ‘Casual Sexism’ Hurts the AV Industry

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen a hashtag I use frequently: #AVHallOfShame. It's one I use for the cringe-worthy AV moments: sloppy wiring; soundbars in places from which sound can't possibly carry to viewers; badly-sized or badly-placed displays; etc. This week I tagged Purelink's booth at Infocomm with the #AVHallOfShame hashtag. What was my issue this time? Take a look at the image to the right, from their marketing email.

From Purelink's marketing material.

  • Yes, someone at Purelink thought the “booth babe,” that is, young women in the tightest, skimpiest outfits they can find, was an appropriate and reasonable way to drive traffic to their booth. (I'm not being entirely fair in singling out Purelink. Crestron continues to hire scantily clad models to get the masses from one part of their party to the next, and there were a number of models in short, tight dresses representing literally scores of manufacturers at the show.)
  • For all of the women in the industry—an industry in which women still need to fight for acceptance — it sends a message: that they remain outsiders; that no matter how hard women work and how many women find themselves in increasingly important roles, they will always be uninvited guests at someone else's party. It tells women that the AV industry is a space run by men, for men.
  • It sends a message to men too. That boys will be boys and any complaints can be shrugged off with a frat-boy smirk. It says that we're welcome to make bawdy jokes and use "sexy" exploitive video as test media. It says that it's OK to ignore the sensibilities of those who are different.
  • It says that this is a boys club and that we're free to treat it that way.

“Booth babes” are also, at the end of the day, a waste of my time and yours. I don't want to get my badge scanned by a hired-for-the-day model who probably didn't know that the manufacturer they’re representing existed a week ago. If a person greets me at a booth, I want it to be someone like Penny Silter of Draper, Kristen Recker of ListenTech, or anyone else who has learned the product, lived it, and believes in it. Someone who can tell me something I don't know. Someone who is there for the same reason as I am — because we care about the AV industry and want to share our knowledge. Not because we look good in a dress (and take my word for it, I look marvelous in one).

And here’s the horrible effect of the trend: towards the end of a day, as I grew increasingly annoyed by this issue, I came to the Earthworks booth, and was greeted by a woman in a skirt and uncomfortable-looking heels. Not wanting to do the "scan your badge-then let me find someone who even knows what this booth is about" dance again, I gave her the low-temperature scapula as I stalked into the booth looking for an actual Earthworks employee. The punchline, of course, was that the "model" I had disregarded was, in fact, Megan Clifford, Earthworks' Director of Brand Marketing. Oops.

We did get to chat about their new install mics and I, of course, offered an apology for being an AV oaf (should that be a new hashtag?). So much as I blame myself for jumping to conclusions, I also blame an industry which spent the previous day and a half delivering a message to me: the women in high heels are there for decoration. They aren't product experts, but guns for hire, there to catch the eye of the straight males who make up the only part of the potential market about whom we seem to care.

When I tweeted this, Draper's Twitter account responded with the question, when will this end? I believe it will end when we decide enough’s enough. When those of us who are offended by it speak up and share why we’re mad. When we reveal that casual sexism should be just as shocking as casual racism is.

This Infocomm, I was too caught up in the show to speak up at the time. I regret not bringing this to attention sooner.

I'll close with a call to action, for all of you and for myself: if you see something, say something. Tweet it. (Others have used the hashtag #NotBuyingIt for similar issues. We can do the same.) Blog it. Transmit it via compression waves generated from your larynx. Talk to your colleagues. Talk to the offenders. Be respectful, of course, but be strident. Be passionate. If you're a woman in the industry, stand up for yourself and the other women in our industry. If you're a man, stand up for our sisters, let them know that they aren't alone, and let the rest of us know that we won't stand for this behavior.

When will this end? When we decide to end it.

Let's get to work.

Leonard Suskin is an AV consultant for Shen Milsom & Wilke. This post was originally posted on Leonard Suskin's blog.