The Miss-Representation of Women in the Tech World

I recently stumbled across an interesting video that takes a look at “booth babes”. For those who don’t know, “booth babes” are those attractive ladies at conferences or trade shows who demonstrate new products to an often male-centric audience.

As a woman who works primarily in tech, has most of the latest gadgets, and enjoys playing computer games, I find the concept of “booth babes” thoroughly damaging to how people see women in this industry. If nothing else, it’s insulting.

The problem is two-fold.

Firstly, big brands who present new products at these events are aiming them at men; isolating an entire, and rather large, demographic. Sex sells. These women are brought in to showcase the products to men, not women. Are women not interested in the latest gadgets? Don’t women play computer games too?

Secondly, it is an incredibly difficult task for women to be taken seriously in tech. There is a constant battle against the general mindset that the only contribution women can make to the industry is to be displayed as a marketing asset.

It’s not limited to just conventions, either. Have you taken a look at any gadget magazine covers recently? Not only is some new, shiny product gracing the cover, but guess who’s holding it? Most likely, it’s a scantily clad woman.

What’s worse is that alienating and objectifying women is seen as a completely acceptable practice to market these products.

This isn’t a recent trend. Cheerleaders at football games, ring girls at wrestling matches and even the glamorous assistants in game shows are all examples, to name but a few. Take a look at how women are often portrayed in computer games. They’re either a ridiculously good looking badass (Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, Tekken), or a damsel in distress (Princess Peach, Princess Zelda).

Sure, it’s great that there are some strong female leads in gaming, but why are they there in the first place – to empower women? Or, are they there to be objectified and sexualized in order to cater to male audiences? Most characters have been created by men for men, and unfortunately this artificial image of women has been generated (certainly no one I know looks anything like Lara Croft!) and seems to have stuck with us for too long.

Beyond the screen, the negative stereotypes persist on to women playing computer games. Ever heard, “quit playing like a girl,” or “aww, she’s going to try and play Halo with us, how cute”? Perhaps not high-impact examples, but examples nonetheless of how women struggle to be taken seriously in gaming, and the continuation of the seemingly inevitable status-quo. Can we really only be either attractive selling assets, or incompetent damsels? No offense, Peach and Zelda!

The concept of using “booth babes” at tech shows seems a little ironic. How can we be using such a backwards, and old-fashioned way of thinking, to promote brand new products? It’s high time these outdated views change. And women are not the only ones who think so. Both men and women alike disagree with companies objectifying women in this way.

Despite all this, things are looking up. The male-dominated tech industry is shifting as more and more women are entering in to tech-based careers and becoming more interested and involved in gaming, gadgets and technological pursuits. Women are standing up against the stereotypes and breaking down these outdated misconceptions.

Miss Representation 8 min. Trailer 8/23/11 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

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