Booth Babes

 

English: Booth Babes from Eidos Stand at E3 2000

While the various technology trade shows and video game expos are supposed to be about the technology and the games, considerable attention is paid to booth babes. For those not familiar with the way of the booth babe, a booth babe is an attractive woman (the “babe” part) who works at such an event (typical in or near a company’s booth) in order to attract the attention of the predominantly male attendees and lure them, like sirens of old, to the booth.

The job of a booth babe is typically not extremely demanding: they tend to work in two or eight hour stints (depending on whether it is a product unveiling or a full show). Wages vary, but are generally decent. For example, a booth babe working at Computex in Taiwan might make $100-170 for an eight hour shift of smiling and being leered at by hordes of nerdy men. The pay can, of course, be worse at less prestigious events and better at bigger events.

While booth babes might be considered an odd subject for a philosophical look, they do raise some interesting philosophical issues. For those who are wondering, philosophy events do not, as a rule, have booth babes. Mainly just elderly professors in tweed jackets.

One obvious point of concern for any job is whether or not the pay is just for the work being done. As might be imagined, most booth babes would prefer to be paid more. However, given the extent of the babe’s duties, the pay does not seem entirely unreasonable. What is of greater philosophical interest are the treatment of booth babes and the question of whether or not there should be both babes.

As might be imagined, the sort of technology and game events that feature both babes tend to be male dominated. Also, to fall into some stereotypes, many of the men who attend these events are not accustomed to being close to attractive women. There are also, unfortunately, some strong elements of misogyny and sexism in these areas. As such, it is is hardly surprising that booth babes get leered at. They have also been the subject of what seem to be sexist tweets, such as the infamous Asus tweet regarding the “nice rear” of a booth babe. Booth babes also get plastered all over the net in videos and photos, put on display just like the products they are selling.

On the one hand, it seems wrong to treat the booth babes as objects and to employ them to lure men to the events and the booths. This seems to involve demeaning both the booth babes and the males. The babes are demeaned by being presented as sex objects to lure in males and the males are demeaned because it is assumed that they need booth babes to draw them in (and that they want to see the babes).  This seems to be morally wrong. After all, this is treating people as mere sexual objects used to sell products. Both Kant and the feminists would agree that this sort of objectification is wrong. While this view is very appealing (and almost certainly correct), there are some points well worth considering.

On the other hand, if the booth babes were not sexy and if males were not attracted to this, then there would be no jobs for the booth babes. Put another way, what seems to make the booth babe practice wrong also seems to be exactly what gives it a reason to exist at all. Obviously, if  average looking women (and guys) were hired to stand around the booths in comfortable clothing, then they would not attract people to the booths. If guys were such that they did not have an interest in seeing booth babes, then there would be no reason to have booth babes. As such, the profession rests on the fact that males are lured in by a chance to stare at hot women in person. From this, one might argue that the sexism and leering that people complain about is an intrinsic part of the practice. Complaining about it would be on par with complaining that people ask Starbucks employees to make coffee for them: that is, obviously enough, what they are there for.

There are two obvious replies to this. The first is that perhaps the booth babe profession should be eliminated. After all, the mere fact that the job seems to be inherently exploitative and sexist hardly justifies its existence. To use an analogy, being an assassin requires killing people, but that hardly justifies the practice. Of course, getting rid of booth babes need not entail a ban on attractive women. This leads to the second reply: attractive women (or men) could still be hired to work booths without the strong exploitative or sexist elements. The Pax gaming events, for example, do not allow traditional booth babes.Of course, some might complain that any use of attractiveness is morally suspect-but it does not seem any worse than, for example, using talented, friendly or witty people to attract attention.

A final point of concern is that while such events are male dominated, there are still females who attend, often as industry professionals. No doubt most of them do not find the booth babes appealing and some of them probably find the practice offensive and insulting. After all, the booth babes make these events seem like a boys’ club rather than a professional event.  There are also no doubt males who find this practice offensive as well. As such, the use of booth babes might have a negative impact, which is opposite of what the companies want.

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39 Comments.

  1. “Fear is the mother of morality” -Nietzsche.
    “Truth is subjectivity” -Kierkegaard.

    Each and every “booth babes” knows that they are using their feminine charm to lure the male audience in for the clients who hired them, and they made an existential choice to do what they do. Therefore there is nothing wrong. If one does NOT like or agree to the attention of these women, one can simply ignore them like I do. Ultimately the products sells itself anyways.

    On the aesthetics of the female body, if the female body is attractive to any individual, the individual will think that female is “beautiful.” Kant does say that no individual should be used “merely as a means to an end.” I am sure these women are not being used only as a means to get attention.

    The some of us who do find these booth babes offensive clearly have not thought things through beyond the morally objective level, and should be thinking on the moral subjectivity of other individuals.

  2. I see this “issue” as much ado about nothing, much. It is a “safe” issue. If you wish to attack exploitation of women visit the garment factories of Phnom Penh, where women work in near slave like conditions to make the expensive clothes worn by western women. That is exploitation.

    As for the bbs, women are often appreciative of attractive women, as men are appreciative of strong men (eg sports stars).

    MAaN

  3. I personally find this state of affairs one of extremely bad taste. Were I thinking of buying a car for instance and I was confronted by women whose job was to attract me to the product in some way by raising my sexual passions I would begin to wonder what was wrong with the car that it needed me to be introduced to it in such a way. I am thinking that a product should in some measure sell itself, with the assistance of an expert who can answer all my questions thoroughly and truthfully.
    My suspicions would be aroused by so called “Booth-Babes”. It may not put me off proceeding to purchase eventually, but I would find it as irritating as say, a pestering spoilt child hanging around.
    I am not sure of the moral side of this. Presumably the women do the job of their own free will and are reasonably well paid. I guess they are in a way prostituting themselves in the sense of selling themselves basely. The only way I could be attracted to or by an attractive woman, would be if she showed some genuine interest in me as a person. If she is just working to entice me into something which, I may or may, not want then my interest is not aroused in her, nor increased in whatever her employees hope to sell.
    It is all big irritation so far as I am concerned but I would not seek to ban it. There are other things far more morally harmful. Hopefully it will die a natural death in due course, but whilst vendors can genuinely see a financial advantage in it, this seems unlikely.

  4. The proposal ‘perhaps the booth babe profession should be eliminated’ covers rather a lot, ranging from

    In the enlightened world of Tomorrow, such tawdriness will surely have withered away

    to

    How dare these women make autonomous decisions about their employment and the immodest display of their bodies? There should be a law against that.

    Eliminated by whom, exactly? On the basis of what theory of permissibility? PAX has made its choice, but then, so has E3.

  5. I agree with Don in the sense that when I feel that women are trying to manipulate me into buying something through pseudo-sexual seduction or through showing off their physical charms, I get irritated and would tend to not buy rather than to buy said product, simply because I don’t like to be treated as a fool.

  6. Does anyone think academics are immune to the use of women, attractive women, to draw attention to subject matter? If so you don’t look very carefully at news in the sciences, where attractive women are substantially overrepresented in reporting. There IS a point to this. We want whatever causes or encourages our attention to rest on a subject we wish to promote to assist us in promoting that subject. People who love philosophy, the sciences, and the like have learned to promote a pleasure response to the consideration of the subjects. If we must jump-start that process of association with a pretty girl (so long as we have not constrained the woman to actions involuntarily or required her to do things that may eventually bring her harm) how have we done anything immoral?

  7. I for one would be more attracted to average women in comfortable clothing at a booth, who would appear to be looking like they were simply doing their job promoting each game, and enjoying themselves much like a normal woman at a normal job. The objectionification of women as booth babes prevents the evolution of them at the same time by defaulting back to a previous time of sexism when there was a seperation between the genders, when games were not playable or geared towards females at all. To a degree this is still the case, and it is rather unfortunate that women are almost as if by gamer law required to be offended when attending a gaming event because of things like this.

  8. “Booth Babes” is a rather pejorative term. “Promotional Models” is less biased. Is what they do that much different from other models?

  9. While the booth babes are no doubt aware of their role, there is still the question of whether this is something they should chose to do. But, S.K. raises a good point that perhaps their choice makes it acceptable. That is, even though they might be treated as objects, they have elected to take this role and are free to do so. To deny them this choice, it might be argued, would be worse than any alleged moral harm of being a booth babe.

    I’d be inclined to say that the booth babes are generally there just to get attention. After all, they generally are not engineers, game designers, and so on. They are hired to be there and be pretty. Of course, it could be countered that their role is that of any salesperson-one must appeal to the potential customer in some many, be it by looking good or being friendly.

  10. Ian Reide,

    Yes, there are far worse things than being a booth babe. However, the issue does still seem to matter and addressing it does not take away from any concern one might have for more significant matters.

    True-people can be attracted to their own gender in non-sexual ways (like, as you note, sports stars). However, this is generally seen as non-exploitative. But, it could be argued that attracting people via looks or via one’s basketball prowess are on par: that is, a matter of inheritance and effort.

  11. Don,

    There is some trend away from the booth babe approach. For example, Pax does not allow booth babes in the usual sense. Also, as more women become involved in the tech industry and gaming, there will probably be a decline in this approach. Or maybe they will have some booth beef cake for the ladies, that way everyone can get exploited.

  12. Robert,

    It does indeed. I would be opposed to a law banning it, on the grounds that people have a moral right to chose such a job. Naturally, this requires the assumption that the person is not coerced and so on. However, I do think that this is probably a job that people should not chose nor offer.

    I think the main factors that will reduce the profession is the increasing number of women in the relevant fields and the fact that there seems to be a somewhat negative view of the practice on the grounds that it seems sexist and so on. That is, it will die a natural death.

  13. Lee,

    Academics is probably not immune. However, the academic events I have attended have not had any booth babes that I noticed. It could just be a budget thing-after all, philosophy book sellers generally don’t have the cash flow of electronics and gaming companies.

  14. Nal,

    To be fair, not really. After all, models who are used to sell clothing are chosen for their appearance as well. While appearing in a clothing catalog is probably considered more upscale than boothing, they would seem to be on par in most ways.

  15. By my comments I’m not saying I see the literal use of pretty women who couldn’t deal with the subject matter. I’m simply noting that, all other things being nearly equal, the physicist or philosopher you see on a video might be a pretty woman because it is more likely that people would watch. Then they might also associate philosophy with a pleasurable experience. We are not philosophical beings sometimes and psychological beings at other times. We are both at all times.

  16. The choices these “booth babes” made to be what they are might not be right or good choices. From a Kierkegaardian point of view, this type of choice is an aesthetically existential choice; it is far removed from an unconditionally committed existential choice of being, and prone to fall into despair and not living a well-lived life. Most of us do live in the aesthetical sphere of living as indirectly stated in your essay. Ultimately these ladies will have to be their own judges of their lifestyles, perhaps hopefully transcend beyond the aesthetical mode of living.

  17. Re:-Lee Jamison June 23.
    “the physicist or philosopher you see on a video might be a pretty woman because it is more likely that people would watch. Then they might also associate philosophy with a pleasurable experience.”
    Do you think this argument still holds if the person in question were a “pretty” man?

  18. Don Byrd- Re: June 23, Pretty man

    Why not? My best friend is an astrophysicist and a woman. Who’s to say that one of the reasons she latched on to a love of the wonders of the universe was not the pleasurable experience of seeing Carl Sagan? That’s not what she talks about when she discusses ‘Cosmos’ but, then, most men, when discussing their wives, will not talk about how much like their mothers they are. Some parts of our understanding of things have aesthetic influences we poorly understand.

    This article points out some of that aesthetic influence, but philosophers on the whole are apt to discount it as trivial. It’s not. All the truth we can ‘know’ we know with brains that are constantly modified and influenced by hormonal responses and pain and pleasure. To get students to develop the concepts with which they will access the world of such understanding they must learn to find some pleasure in that construction process.

    In delivering the message a pretty person, whatever the sex, may cause more people to dwell on the cognitive construction process that delivers the world more philosophers and scientists.

  19. Lee:

    Isn’t philosophy precisely that way of investigating the world and ourselves which strives to see “things” without being influenced by subliminal and unconscious factors, as far as possible?

    Doing philosophy involves being aware of how far one may be influenced by a pretty woman or a pretty male and then striving to see “things” without the influence of the pretty woman or male.

    Note that I speak of “striving”, not of achieving.

  20. swallerstein, Philosophy is also, is it not, a seeking after “truth” (whatever that is), a search for the beginnings of things, and a seeking after meaning. Is Einstein wrong to seek a truth that is “beautiful”? Is it wrong to find pleasure in drawing closer to the truth? Or, more to this point, is it wrong to draw closer to a perceived pleasure and find yourself nearer the truth?

    Here are other questions we might want to ponder. Why would we seek a conceptual foundation for what we call truth that would eschew the influence of pleasure and pain? Do we resent or, perhaps, fear their influence over our image of the universe? Is it possible that nothing we would recognize as intelligence can really form in the absence of aesthetic influences?

    At this moment you are probably experiencing an aesthetic response. What does that mean to the way you will proceed from this point? Does it predispose you to support a certain opinion? What is the origin of your emotion in memory, in conceptual framework, in defense of the existential home all of your theoretical foundations have made for your mind?

    Philosophy is also a tool for building the world in which our minds will live. It will not be a sterile world because it doesn’t house sterile minds.

  21. Lee:

    Yes, as I read your comment, I experience an aesthetic response, an emotional response, a visceral response, etc.

    Philosophy, in my view of it, signifies stepping back from my primary response, reflecting on it and examining it with the project of seeing if my response is rational, in the context of allowing me (and others) to live a freer and more enlightened existence.

    That stepping back will also be reflected on and examined in the context of the same project, as the project itself will be from time to time to reflect upon if I am fooling or deluding myself, which is always a possibility.

    In the light of the above project, which is mine and is not necessarily yours (nor is there any
    a priori reason why it should be yours), it is unlikely that I will base my life choices (I am not a gamer, although I am a consumer) on whether they are pushed by attractive young women or not, although if you do base yours on whether they are pushed by attractive young women, I see nothing wrong with it.

  22. Swallerstein,
    To be able to step back from purely emotional responses we must be aware of them. We can’t free ourselves of slavery to the chains we cannot feel. It is not irrational to be aware of the tool of emotion and understand how dangerous it is. It might be irrational to so fear or loathe emotion that we convince ourselves we do not feel it, and thereby lose track of how it manipulates us.

    A great deal of the practice of philosophy has to do with words and the ways the limits of language creep into our concept set. I am keenly aware of this because I am a professional artist and have seen how readily the supposed truths of language interfere with simple reporting of vision. The boundaries and granularity of language can interdict the act of seeing. People can’t draw and they have no clue why. Unacknowledged pleasure, pain, and any number of other mind-clogging emotions have a similarly sclerotic effect on our rational lives.

    Aesthetics has a place in philosophy. Partly this is because all intelligence we can yet know passes through organic brains. But partly it is because it is possible the algorithms of reason can’t truly be rid of pleasure-like and pain-like processes- even if it is just that it gives some pain to think an emotion-free rational life is not possible.

  23. Lee:

    I am not a Stoic and do not claim that we can live an emotion-free life or even that an emotion-free life would be desireable.

    I only assert that it is wise to be aware of one’s emotions and how they color one’s judgements, insofar as that is possible. You appear to agree with that.

    What you say about drawing is interesting.

  24. Good! (On both counts)

    My point on language and “reporting” arises from the fact that the reason most people can’t draw is that they “know” things about what they see. In seeking to tell this kind of truth they are prevented from simply reporting the shapes that are before their eyes. If rendered as they were seen these shapes would be properly interpreted by a viewer’s visual system to tell the real-world truths the would-be reporter does not trust them to tell. Many layers of philosophy can be gleaned from that process, but for my purposes in this context there is a pleasure response in taking the risks of violating the conceptual truths our linguistic mind would constrain us to and having them confirmed in a drawing that appears to an uninformed viewer to “tell the truth”.

  25. Ben Myers-Petro

    “How dare these women make autonomous decisions about their employment and the immodest display of their bodies?…”

    To boil away a bit of the rhetoric here, and to take it a step further, what if these Booth Babes not only ‘don’t mind’ being Booth Babes but actually prefer this occupation to others? If even some of them find pleasure and fulfillment in this profession, how moot is the point rendered?

  26. Sex Sells -but obviously not to everybody

  27. Lee,

    True-when professional videos are produced, there is typically an attempt to find people in the field who are somewhat more attractive. Of course, they typically don’t just stick in eye candy for its own sake.

  28. Ben,

    An interesting point and one I have heard raised regarding strippers and prostitutes as well. On the one hand, I inclined to say that it would be paternalistic (or maternalistic) of me to to simply condemn them because I think the practice is sexist. If they freely chose it and find it both enjoyable and fulfilling, then I would be hard pressed to claim that it is demeaning or harming them. On the other hand, it could be argued that they are victims of a false consciousness (that is, they think they are choosing it freely and think it is fulfilling, but they are in error). It could also be argued that even if they think this way, their actions are causing enough harm to others (demeaning women, perpetuating harmful stereotypes, encouraging men to see women as objects and so on) that it would still be wrong of them to be booth babes.

  29. If sex is such a powerful motivating force, shouldn’t we be obligated to use it responsibly and when appropriate?

    Of course we don’t want to objectify men and women; to juxtapose a pornographic film with an advertisement for recycling would be counter productive in many ways, there is a line that needs to be drawn.

    For example, we can have attractive men and women promote recycling or healthy eating habits. The message doesn’t have to be overly sexually explicit, just enough sexual motivation to pull people in the right direction.

    As Lee previously stated, “In delivering the message a pretty person, whatever the sex, may cause more people to dwell on the cognitive construction process that delivers the world more philosophers and scientists.”

    How is this not an awesome stimulus for a better society?

    Ideally we can use concepts of healthy sex to bait people, reel them in, allowing them to be educated in the process and then set free upon the world with new found knowledge and enlightenment.

    After that, any slight sexual undertone becomes irrelevant, forgotten and replaced by more important motivating issues.

  30. In any level of awareness (and here I’m thinking of individual subconscious awareness, individual conscious awareness, a sort of social sub-conscious represented by gathering places like bars, churches, etc., and broad social awareness) there are forms of signaling which function to both encourage and suppress given activities. In the brain these may enhance a train of thought that accomplishes some general good. The same train of thought, unimpeded, could promote great harm. In fact, large brains and societies always present a risk of signaling that cascades into damaging actions.

    This is what we face with sex. It obviously serves multiple good purposes, but it is always a risk for abuse as well. In a sense the way we deal with this signal is an indicator of the social “mental health” of the whole society.

  31. Ben Myers-Petro

    Mike,

    I think the Babes simply being victims of a false consciousness is a tempting route to go. It is especially hard to imagine that someone would be willing to perpetuate a view of their group that could potentially set their group’s progress back years.

    At the same time, though, how many booth babes finding joy and fulfillment in this profession would it take to allay this concern? It’s easy to believe that if the majority find it a deplorable way to make a living, and perhaps only a few claim to enjoy it, that maybe those few ARE, in fact mistaken. What if half think this way though?

    I think the most weight goes to whether or not it significantly matters if, as a result, it is perpetuating a sexist view. The majority of folks find joy in eating meat products even though many others find that practice to be perpetuating a “speciesist” view.

  32. Daniel,

    Good points. Years ago, I wrote an essay arguing that if violence has a strong impact in film, then it should be used to teach a positive message rather than censored. So, I like your point that sex could be used for good (assuming that sex can help sell). There have been some attempts at this, such as models and actors speaking in favor of causes (which might be good).

  33. Ben,

    Good points. I often worry that the “false consciousness” gambit is just a case of one person simply imposing their own prejudices or biases on another person and giving it an intellectual paint job. However, there is some merit to the claim that people engage in acts that are contrary to what is best for them and do so because they are deceived or ignorant of the pressures leading them to those actions.

    I generally hold that people have a right of self-abuse, but this requires that the person not be acting in ignorance or under compulsion. So, I’d say that the booth babes who know what they are doing and freely chose it are acting within the legitimate limits of liberty. Women who are pushed into it by sexist factors and would not otherwise do so would seem to be victims of sexism.

  34. Ben Myers-Petro

    Mike,

    I agree that people have the right of self-abuse. What worries me, though, is how to successfully distinguish between those who sign up willfully and are aware of the issues, and those who are deceived or coerced into it.

    This can be especially difficult if they are indeed entered into a false consciousness because that, and the self-abuser, can look very similar prima facie. My other concern with false consciousnesses is whether, through deep investigation, it will devolve into some sort of skepticism.

    Maybe that’s a bit of a slippery slope but what I mean to say is, if we take someone who says that they feel enjoyment and fulfillment from this type of job, and we think that they must be wrong to think this, we are essentially challenging their beliefs on the sole bases of the fact that contradict our beliefs. Granted our belief may be a bit more widely accepted.

  35. In my experience whenever I talk seriously to people who do jobs that I would hate to do, especially those jobs where the person has to smile all the time at everyone, like being a booth babe, they hate them too.

    Maybe I don’t talk to a representative cross section of people who do jobs that I would hate to do; maybe I do.

  36. By and large “booth babes” are not mistreated in their jobs. We do not expect them to be abused either. On the other hand women who work for states as prison guards ARE abused- verbally, sometimes physically, and not necessarily just by inmates. Then again, so are the men.

    Sometimes we have to put things in perspective. There is nothing inherently humiliating about being a booth babe. They certainly don’t have bodily fluids tossed on them with any regularity. It is not hard to see why someone would enjoy the job.

  37. Mike,
    In what context do you think self-abuse is desirable? I can only agree if the act is selfless in nature.

    Ben,
    I agree with you that we can’t condemn the beliefs of others on the sole basis that we are right and they are wrong. However, we can do our best to empathize with their situation and go forth offering an alternative point of view and hope they recognize the true good behind our intentions.

    To exemplify, this cheesy little conversation would be my ideal interaction with a Booth Babe…

    Me: “Hey Sarah (Booth Babe), are you happy doing what you’re doing?”

    Sarah: “Yes I am! I love pleasing the crowds who come see me and I get paid to do so!”

    Me: “Wow! I can see why you love being a Booth Babe. My only concern is how your work focuses so much on your body and not your mind. I think it’s important that you grow your mind along with your body and do so every day!”

    Sarah: “You know what? I think you’re right… I know! I’ll use the money I’ve made thus far and become a teacher. I can contribute and give back to society the time and attention they’ve given to me!”

    Me: “That’s incredibly noble and selfless of you, Sarah. I wish you the best in your endeavor!”

  38. Ben Myers-Petro

    Daniel,

    Mike is not saying that it’s ‘desirable,’ he is saying that if someone has all of the information to make an informed decision, then they have the “right” to self-abuse. e.g. I may know all of the dangers of smoking cigarettes, all the negative side effects. I am not mislead. But I still have to right to make the choice to smoke them. Although people can say that I am acting foolishly or illogically.

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