Booth Babes Are Still A Thing, Apparently

facepalm

facepalm

UPDATE: Response from Joel Comm at the bottom of the post, as it won’t make any sense until you read this.

Earlier this year, I read a terrific article about how booth babes don’t convert.

Yay! Spencer Chen, who heads up marketing and growth for the FrontBack app, used cold, hard facts to prove that real people generated far, far more quantifiable leads (read: sales) for the companies that employed them to man their booths at trade shows than the so-called “marketing events consultants,” the budget line-item euphemism for booth babes.

He wrote a compelling piece for TechCrunch, which just delayed my writing of this post because I got caught up and read the entire thing again just now. Sorry about that.

Chen actually used math and complicated stuff like that to prove his theory.

Now, I knew booth babes wouldn’t just disappear because someone had proved that having hot, sexy ladies don’t convert to actual sales, but I figured maybe the tide was turning and at least big companies like, say – Oh! Let’s use Cisco as an example, and you’ll understand shortly why I am – wouldn’t publicly endorse the practice anymore.

Because, you know, this isn’t the time of Mad Men anymore.

So, last night, as I was about to drift off, I noticed my friend Jelena Woehr had tagged me on Facebook. It was either about something feminist-y or maybe about her dog. But probably something that would make me mad.jelena miranda

Do I know Jelena or what? It was a great post about why the “confidence gap” exists for women. Go ahead and read it now – I’ll still be here when you get back. I have some email to check on anyhow.

OK, so then Jelena’s friend Miranda Miller, whom she also tagged, came back with a screenshot of a tweet she’d just seen after reading the confidence gap post.

It was to “serial entrepreneur” Joel Comm tweeting out a photo of his favorite booth babe from Cisco Live, who was not in a booth, but rather in a box. Aww, ain’t that cute? It’s totally taking the whole booth babe thing and turning it on its head! Her boobs aren’t hanging out and she’s in a BOX. Because genies aren’t in bottles anymore – they’re in the more ecologically friendly boxes, like wine and water.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 11.00.02 AM

Apparently, @CiscoLive thought so, because whoever is manning the handle (pun intended) basically high-fived him back, with, “This is awesome! Thanks for sharing.”

Miranda tweeted at @CiscoLive wondering if it were appropriate for an official company account to be engaging in the tech-bro mentality. I chimed in. Jelena did, no one responded, blah blah blah. It’s all there on Twitter. Unless tweets are deleted, in which case I have screenshots, so whatever.

To make matters worse, after Jelena tweeted at Joel wondering why he was favoriting her tweets, he responded with, “I‘ve no comment. Talk amongst yourselves. I enjoy that conversation is taking place.”

Isn’t that cute? Look at the girls being all, “I am woman, hear me roar!”

Well, hear me roar.

It is not cool that there are still booth babes in 2014. It is stupid, in fact, as math (you know, that thing with numbers) has proven they don’t convert to sales, which is probably what you’ve spent lots of money at the trade show to obtain.

Look, I’m a realist if nothing else. I know there are still booth babes. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it didn’t fall in a day, either.

Fine. But for an investor/entrepreneur to be tweeting out his “favorite booth babe” photo and for an official Cisco account to be thanking him for that and then not even acknowledging criticism of that is not a good thing. Not only not a good thing, but kind of a stupid thing.

At the very least, it’s short-sighted. Women have the buying power. We make major, major purchase decisions – even, gasp in tech purchases. It gets tiring having to deal with the same stupidity day in and day out.

When we complain about how women are represented in tech, we’re told to get over it, that it’s just a silly thing, it’s just this one event, this one company, an outlier. When we get passed over for promotions or assumed to be the receptionist or PR gal, we’re told that if we only lean in and stick up for ourselves, this wouldn’t happen.

Go back and read that post Jelena pointed out to me above that set this whole thing off. As Miranda noted, “I’m just waiting for a few of the same asshats who say it’s our own fault we don’t stick up for ourselves to call us crazy bitches for sticking up for ourselves.”

Until it becomes not acceptable to be jovially sharing booth babe photos and major corporations don’t see fit to bro-five those who are sharing their favorites, I’ll still be here, roaring.

Hear me.

UPDATE: After I posted this, Joel Comm tweeted an apology at Miranda. No idea if it was in reaction to this. Anyway, in fairness, he says he felt sorry for the girl, but thought “it made for a good photo.” He apologized for any offense. Still no response from @Cisco or @CiscoLive, which is the bigger issue.

joel comm apology

 

Facepalm photo by César Astudillo via Flickr Creative Commons.

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33 comments
allenmireles
allenmireles

I fell down the rabbit hole in this post and the multiple responses and feel pretty lucky to have done. Great and thoughtful discussion. Excellent post (as usual). I've also (course not recently) been the "booth babe" and the one passed over in meetings and conversations for the superior counsel of the males in the room. It has always been a fact of my life as a woman in business and I'm glad you all are raising the issue for discussion. 

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@allenmireles  Thanks, Allen! I was so pleased with the discussion in the comments here and am grateful to @jayblackcomedy for raising some very interesting (and respectfully put) points - as well as @jelenawoehr and @MirandaM_EComm for sparking this whole thing in the first place and helping me shine a light on this.

RTRViews
RTRViews

@AmyVernon Well, hello Amy. How are you doing. I've been enjoying your Ask Amy pieces - like everything else you do. Hope you're well.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

I get the feeling there are a lot of men in the tech world with high Klout scores and big Twitter followings who are going to be really surprised the first time their stats (and shoe size?) don't get them in the door at a major conference where the organizers are actually interested in selling tickets to an audience that includes women. Something about the level of commitment they show to JUST. NOT. LISTENING. tells me that these men really just think they're never going to need anything that requires them to be capable of hearing and applying feedback that comes from a woman. (To be clear, there's a specific demographic of willfully clueless tech men I'm addressing here. There are also lots of men in tech on the conference circuit who go out of their way to make women feel safe and be heard in rooms where they're outnumbered 10:1 or worse.)

jayblackcomedy
jayblackcomedy

It strikes me that

a) there's nothing particularly sexy about the "booth babe" (as you pointed out, her boobs aren't hanging out, etc.) It's entirely possible this is less a "babe" than a "person in a costume who happens to be a woman".

b) there's nothing particularly sexist about the tweet. It's entirely possible that the original tweet was just a "hey look at this interesting display that's using a person in a costume who happens to be a woman." Unless of course you're saying that the use of the term "booth babe" is inherently sexist, but that would mean...

c) your use of the term "booth babe" is *also* inherently sexist. But since we know that isn't the case, we have clear evidence that the use of the term is because it's a generally understand concept and she you're dealing with 140 characters, terse accuracy is the most important thing.

d) I'd argue further that the use of the term booth babe was employed far more for the joke "not a booth but a box" than anything else. Granted I don't know this for sure, I just know joke construction and that's how I would do it.

So, we have a not-particularly sexy pic being described in a not particularly sexist way using a term that doesn't always have particularly sexist implications in a medium that limits you to 140 characters.

Is it possible that you're bringing some or your own biases into this equation? I mean, this *might* be a tweet that symbolic of the struggle women in tech must deal with every day of their lives, or, too, it might be a tweet from a guy who saw somebody in an interesting costume and who made a joke using a poorly-chosen word.

Further, he may have chosen to avoid replying to twitter criticism because anybody who's been lambasted on twitter knows that there is no chance of a nuances defense of your intentions 140 characters at a time, especially when you're being vilified.

Now, I don't have any dog in this race. I'm just a dumb comedian who happened onto this blog via a twitter link. I don't work in tech. My job involves nothing more complicated than getting three gin and tonics deep and then taking to people at a night club. So, I dunno. Maybe I am pulling all of the above argument out of my ass and that this guy is a soulless misogynist with a point of view that is so insidiously endemic to the way all men think that I can't see far enough past my own sexist assumptions to understand why that tweet is so damaging to women in tech.

If that's then I apologize. Since I can't see past my own deeply-ingrained sexism, then I could try to argue that it's not really my fault, but I've already written enough. I'll just say I'm sorry and leave it at that.

But I do think it *might* be worth considering that you're bringing some assumptions with you to this as well. And that it might be possible that this guy and the Cisco social media person might just have been making a far more innocent tweet than you're making it out to be.

Honestly? I don't know why I've written this much. I'm performing in AC all week and I guess I'm bored. My apologies if this is poorly typed, I am on my phone.

Hm. You know what? I'll plug some shows and that way it'll seem like this wasn't a waste of time. Are you on the west coast? I'll be performing with Kevin Nealon in Portland June 19-21. Come on out and see the show! No booth babes will be present!

Well written blog, incidentally!

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@jayblackcomedy @MirandaM_EComm @AmyVernon  You're going to a lot of trouble to understand his perspective here. I appreciate that. Empathy is a trait I really love in people, and I tend to reflexively try to find reasons to comprehend difficult behavior myself. When I was a very small child, I remember hearing my parents grumbling about a discourteous driver and piping up from my carseat to defend him with, "Maybe his wife is having a baby and he has to hurry to the hospital!"


That being said, I think you're a smart guy and you could go to just as much trouble to understand the perspective of the women in the conversation. I know Miranda well enough to know she would have backed down immediately if Joel's first response had been, "I see what you mean, stupid attempt at a joke. I was rushed and I apologize." 


Instead he went out of his way NOT to acknowledge that he could have been wrong and actively tried to make the women speaking to him uncomfortable.

jayblackcomedy
jayblackcomedy

@jelenawoehr @jayblackcomedy @MirandaM_EComm @AmyVernon  True, I could go to the trouble to understand where the women are coming from -- but I feel like Amy did a fantastic job outlining what the issues for women in tech (and, honestly, the issues for women in the working world in general) are.  I was playing the Devil's Advocate role here, in the old sense of the term -- I was trying to bring in another way of looking at things as a way to broaden the discussion.  Not sure that anybody asked me to do that, but as I've said, being a comedian is far more boring than TV would have you think :)


I think you're right, generally, that a quick acknowledgement of the issue, followed by a forthright apology is the best method for handling situations like this.  I also understand the inclination to be quiet.  As i posted below, I think that Twitter apologies come off as weak sauce regardless of how sincere they are.  It's not a problem specific to this instance, it's a problem that exists in social media.  We're quick to anger, we're quick to judge, we're quick to use individual tweets as examples of a greater problem, and we're slow to accept any kind of apology.  And if the apology is nuanced?  With perhaps a link to a blog explaining something along the lines of "well, I don't think I should have been in trouble for this tweet and here are the reasons why...?"  Then, forget about it.  You might as well just say nothing at all.


--


Side note, and again, no one asked me to write a note, side or otherwise, but I think this is interesting:


I feel like the main issue with the internet is that we have been trained to think about the written word as measured versus the spoken word which we give some leeway to.  If you're in conversation and someone tosses a dumb, unreasoned position or a joke that borders on the offensive, you go "hey, Jay, come on, don't be stupid" and he replies with "you know what, you're right, let me rephrase that..." and you both go about your life.


For the first 600 years of the printed word, that wasn't the case.  When you wrote something down, you "composed" it.  Reading something somebody actually took the time to write gives you the impression that you're reading a set of ideas that hews closest to the ones that they have in their soul.  Otherwise, why take the time to write it down, take it to a publisher, edit a few drafts, print it up, then distribute it?


Our written ideas come much faster than that.  I think the biggest disservice twitter ever did was use the word "compose" for tweets.  That word implies a lot more thought than twelve seconds of fat-thumbed typing before hitting "send" on what can't even be considered a first draft (A 0.2 draft?  Are drafts quantum?  These are questions bigger than I have the brainpower to answer...)


So, what we're left with is a way of thinking about printed text that doesn't jive with how printed text is actually use nowadays.  I think that's a big part of the reason people get angry so quickly over 140 character little brain farts.  


Again, this is only tangentially related to the matter at hand, but something I've been thinking about for a while.  I am not even within spitting distance of mildly well-known let alone famous.  But I have a lot of friends in the entertainment industry who are well known, and a few of them have gotten in trouble for tweets and FB updates that they've made.  I've seen the other side of it, where they've said, "Oh, crap, people are misunderstanding the joke!" and they've taken a lot of heat for something they literally "composed" in four or five seconds in the back seat of a taxi on the way to work.


Speaking of work, I've got a show in two hours and I'm not even *close* to drunk yet, so I have to sign off for the time being.  I mean, I have *some* standards when it comes to my profession...

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@jayblackcomedy @jelenawoehr @MirandaM_EComm @AmyVernon  I think you're onto something, but you're looking at it backwards. The problem here is not with "people get angry so quickly." (I mean that can be A problem on Twitter--witness the death/rape threats directed at the creator of the #CancelColbert tag-but it's not THE problem.) I think the problem with the compose a great narrative vs. 12 second brain-fart disconnect you're identifying is that people will fat-thumb type for 12 seconds and then DEFEND IT as if it's Shakespeare. 


There's some sort of massive social disincentive, especially on Twitter, for saying "Nah really that was a stupid drunk tweet and I regret it," and not being someone who feels that way about my tweets, I don't personally know what it is. I could hazard some guesses; one that I'd put forward is that people are aware that the internet is permanent now, thanks to cached searches and the NSA, and they feel they have to find a way to stand behind EVERYTHING THEY'VE EVER DONE because they might be called out on it 50 years later.


I haaaaate the #sorrynotsorry hashtag and the culture around it, personally. Not because it's used for horrible behavior or anything... I've definitely never seen anyone post "just committed a terrible crime, #sorrynotsorry" (I'm sure it's happened and is on the Smoking Gun somewhere... but I digress) But the overall culture of "Let me post something mildly irritating and emphasize that I know I'm being mildly irritating" is just really reinforcing of the idea that Thou Shalt Stand Behind Every Tweet. 

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@jayblackcomedy @AmyVernon  Thank you so much for all your thoughtful comments. I have no idea how you managed to type so much on your phone. I get frustrated typing on my phone when I get about two sentences in.

I appreciate your insight, and I think you raised a lot of good counterpoints. I love the idea of MeaCul.Pa - ha! I bet we could get VC funding. ;)

Anyway, I think that @jelenawoehr and @MirandaM_EComm covered all the bases I would have, so I won't belabor this except to say that if I'm ever on the West Coast, I'll try to look up one of your shows. 

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@jayblackcomedy  Wow. That was nearly as long as my post. My bigger issue here is, and perhaps it's not abundantly clear in the post (and thank you for the kind words about my writing), Cisco's reaction (and non-reaction) to the dustup. 

It's hard, as a woman in tech (or a woman in almost any field, frankly), to just brush these things off because they happen all. the. time. The post I reference at the beginning that sparked this entire conversation in the first place discusses those points far better than I could at this point.

Say hi to Kevin! (Not that I know him or anything, I just wanted to say that.)

jayblackcomedy
jayblackcomedy

(Dear God. I just reread my comment and there are so many autocorrect and fat-thumb related errors that I fear reading it would not only be damaging to women in tech, but to all of humanity. My apologies to you, the readers, my English teachers, and the WGA...)

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

@jayblackcomedy  I'm amazed you typed that much on your phone. And I thought my emailing-and-walking habit was an overuse of thumb typing! I salute your commitment. That being said, yes, your life experience is different than ours, and I ask that you hear us about our personal life experiences even if you don't identify with them. 

jayblackcomedy
jayblackcomedy

@MirandaM_EComm @AmyVernon @jayblackcomedy  


Interesting read, but one that I'm not sure applies to this particular conversation (at least in the meandering, typo-filled argument that I made above).


What I mean is, I'm not saying that this is a situation where one needs to "lighten up" -- I'm not saying that the overall situation of sexism isn't a problem or that people don't have a right to take offense at whatever it is they want to take offense at.


I'm saying that the joke that was at the heart of this might not have had anything to do at all about sexism.  It might have just been somebody in a dumb costume that another person took a picture of, then posted on the internet (as people are wont to do).  I then went on to surmise that *perhaps* the reason why he referenced "booth babe" was for the dual purpose of using a term that everyone understood and for making the joke "not a booth but a box".


This isn't a typical "hey, ladies, relax!  It's just a joke" kind of post.  It's more a "hey, I don't think the joke you're hearing is the one he's making" kind of post, which is a different kind of thing.


Maybe I'm just sensitive to people being quick-to-be-offended at jokes because jokes are my stock and trade.  I've seen several of my peers get into mucho-trouble for making a joke that was completely innocent, but worded incorrectly.  So, there's probably a lot of my own bias in this reply...

MirandaM_EComm
MirandaM_EComm

@jayblackcomedy @MirandaM_EComm @AmyVernon  


I appreciate your opinion and I wouldn't want to fly off the handle based on my own misunderstanding of someone else's intent. That's why I asked him to clarify. His initial response was to ignore my comments and those of others and favorite what we were saying, then to dismiss us with "talk amongst yourselves."


There was ample opportunity to clear that up right away if I had taken it completely out of context.


The apology "to anyone who was offended" is in itself usually a jab designed to make people appear overly sensitive. I chose to believe he was sincere.


The fact remains that this subtle sexism is damaging and pervasive in tech. It's probably not a big deal and open to all kinds of interpretation if you're not experiencing it.

jayblackcomedy
jayblackcomedy

@AmyVernon @jayblackcomedy  I have a lot of female comics for friends, and they face a lot of the same issues that you bring up.  I've spoken to them at length and while they use the F word a lot more than you do, it's a similar conversation.  I like to think I'm as sympathetic as I can be without being someone subjected to it on a daily basis.


Tangentially related to this conversation, but I think important in the over-all discussion is how we're supposed to communicate and *especially* how we're supposed to apologize in a social-media dominated world.  I mentioned this briefly in my initial response, but I feel like sometimes a non-response is the only one that won't make the situation worse.  When you're dealing with 140 characters, you don't have time for much nuance, let alone the space necessary to say "Oh, no, wait, you got it all wrong, I don't believe that!  Here are 47 reasons why I could see why maybe you thought that I thought that that thing you got upset about was okay to to joke about, but isn't really what I think at all."


What you're often times limited to in apology tweet is basically what was offered in your update.  "I'm sorry if I offended anyone, but..." and we can all agree that those are pretty unsatisfactory so far as apologies go.  So, if you don't have the space or time to make what you said adequately clear, and the space that you do have will only serve to make any apology you offer make you look worse, what's the proper way to go engage?


I'm not asking that in a loaded way, I think it's a problem here and basically anywhere on Twitter where people are offended.  The #FireColbert group being the most recent example of a tweet taken out of context, people getting incensed, and no follow-up tweet being good enough to calm people down.  Now, Colbert had a TV Show to make his case, but that's not something the vast majority of us have (at least not yet -- who's to say what the future will bring).


Maybe a website?  MeaCul.Pa perhaps?  We can start fund it starting right here from this blog.  And when we go to TechCrunch Disrupt, I know a bunch of girls we can dress in bikinis to help people find their way to our booth (see what I did there!?)

Kelly Whalen
Kelly Whalen

I don't know when or how tech companies (and car companies, and...I could keep going) will wake up to the fact that women make up half the population and buy things. In addition a large majority of the other half, men, would agree that this is total BS. 


If the numbers say it doesn't help sales then all they're doing is wasting money that could be much better spent on focus groups and consultants that could teach them how to talk to women and take into account our <gasp> love of technology. The first company that embraces that stance fully is likely to be rewarded with more business, and those that hold onto the vestiges of 'sexism sells' as the years go on are sure to go out of business. 

DocSheldon
DocSheldon

Maybe  @CiscoLive should be rebranded as @CiscoClueless.
The unfortunate by-product of this garbage is that any time a woman happens to be in a booth, there are those that will assume she's only there because she's attractive. I suppose a floor-length sack-cloth outfit, perhaps with burka, might negate some of that.
Great post, Amy. Keep the light shining on it!

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@DocSheldon  Thanks, Doc! I've heard from many women that even if they're the most knowledgeable person in the booth, folks assume the dudes are the only ones who know anything. Sigh.

MirandaM_EComm
MirandaM_EComm

@AmyVernon @DocSheldon  I've been that woman in the booth who dressed professionally, knew what I was doing and still had to defer to male peers. If they didn't ask to speak to a male colleague, one stepped in to get down to the real business. It doesn't matter what you're wearing if you're sporting a vagina. I left that company for a number of reasons, the most pressing being the epiphany that there was no room for me in any position other than 'pretty lead gen.'

LetticePeyton
LetticePeyton

Booth babes aside, even though they're annoying and demeaning, it's insanely creepy to put a woman in a box like she's a doll or a shoe or something.

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@LetticePeyton  I'm trying to decide if it's better than a bottle. I mean, it's probably easier to break out of, right? Thanks for reading!

AmyVernon
AmyVernon moderator

@bobledrew  Thanks, Bob! The thing that really put me over the top was when he favorited the negative tweets and was all, "Aww, that's cute."

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