Post InfoComm Wrap-up: Part the Third – The Issue of Booth Babes and A Call to Arms

My InfoComm wrap-up will be in FOUR parts this time. Next part will be about technology. Before we get into that, I have something important to say — something about this show which bothers me. Read on.

Some of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen my hashtag #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 booth with #AVHallOfShame, but it wasn’t for the quality of their workmanship. I didn’t even get close enough to look. What was my issue? Take a look at this, from their marketing email:












Yes, someone at Purelink thought that young women in the tightest, skimpiest outfits they could get away with was an appropriate and reasonable way to bring attention to their booth. (I’m not, perhaps, being entirely fair in singling out Purelink. KeyDigital’s model in a backless Tardis dress wasn’t much better, nor were any number of models in short, tight dresses representing literally scores of manufacturers. Crestron continues to hire scantily clad models as living wayfinding signs to get the masses from one part of their party to the next. There are many examples. Purelink just stood out as the most egregious.) 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 they work, no matter how many find themselves in increasingly important roles, they will always be uninvited guests at somebody else’s party. They will be tolerated because the law says that we have to tolerate them, but this is not their space and they aren’t to forget it. It tells women that they’re in a space run by men, for men.

It sends a message to men too. A message that this is our space which we needn’t worry too much about sharing. That boys will be boys, that any complaints could be shrugged off with a frat-boy smirk. It says that we’re welcome to make bawdy jokes, to 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.

leonard-marvelous-0614It’s also, at the end of the day, a waste of my time and yours. I don’t want to have to get my badge scanned by some hired-for-the-day model in a short dress and high heels who probably didn’t even know that the manufacturer whose booth she is manning existed a week ago. If a woman greets me at a booth, I want it to be someone like Penny Silter of Draper, Kristen Recker of ListenTech, or someone else who’s learned the product, lived the product and believes in it. Someone who can tell me something I don’t know and 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).

Towards the end of a day in which I grew increasingly annoyed by this issue I came to the Earthworks booth, only to be 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 someone actually employed by Earthworks and not a modelling agency. The punchline, of course, is that there wasn’t anyone else in the booth: The “model” I’d stalked past 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 a sigh, and the question of “When will this end”? My answer — expanded from the 140 characters I was constrained to in the initial conversation – is that it will end when we decide to make it end. When those of us who are offended by it speak up and let everybody know that we’re mad and let them know why. Let them know that, in the long term,  this is harmful to the women and men in our industry. That casual sexism should be just as shocking as casual racism would be. We’re not there yet. We may not get there for a long time. Until we do, I call on you to stand with me, to speak up. If you don’t, we’ll stay where we are.

This InfoComm I was too wrapped up in what InfoComm means to me to speak up at the time; I regret not saying this sooner, not saying this during the show. I’ll close with a call to action, for all of you and for myself. To borrow the big-brotherish slogan from my city’s own police department, 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.