Booth babes – promotional models – are a mainstay of many conferences and trade fairs. In fact, called to task for hiring booth babes, one business owner insisted that he would lose business without them. If that’s true, then I must be an unusual man, because I have always found them little other than irritating.
Oh, I notice that booth babes are attractive and revealingly dressed. I am, after all, a straight male who grew up in a modern industrial culture where sex is a given in advertising, and I’m constantly invited to stare. But their sexual come-on seems more of a distraction than an enticement to me. They’re like people who insist on interjecting jokes into a serious conversation – an irrelevancy to my main purposes at a conference.
At best, they might hand me schwag or a product sheet, or answer questions from a limited script. Otherwise, few of them can actually answer my questions.
To complicate this basic reaction, I happen to be a male feminist. I know that at least some booth babes receive models’ wages, so they’re not being exploited financially, but I can’t help feeling embarrassed on their behalf. Can’t they do something with a little more dignity? I keep thinking. What’s happened to their self-respect?
Possibly, booth babes themselves would laugh at this reaction, and maybe claim that they’re the ones with the power. But, then, I would respond that they are only rationalizing to avoid thinking too much about their current gig.
If I’m being honest, though, I have to admit that my main reaction is personal. Basically, to me, a company that hires booth babes is saying to me, “You’re a man. You’re easily manipulated by your sexuality.” To me, that implication is so insulting as demolish any appeal that the booth babes might have.
I realize of course, that many women – seriously or half-seriously – like to say that men think of nothing but sex. Many men, too, like to believe that they are helpless to control their sexual instincts.
Yet, personally, I’ve always counted myself a person first and a man second. I hold myself to high levels of responsibility, and I’ve never cared for feeling manipulated. Consequently, when a company imagines that I’m going to be swayed by booth babes – as though I’m a boy just a few minutes into puberty who knows nothing about his own sexuality – I’m insulted. While the insult may not be aimed at me specifically, it’s no less strong for being general.
For all these reasons, far from being lured into lingering around the booth babes so that a real company representative can pounce on me, I keep walking. Any literature or freebies I might have already collected from the company with booth babes gets tossed. Unless the company is too big to ignore, I don’t write any stories about it – and, even then, I try not to. If a company can be so contemptuous of me, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be equally contemptuous of it.
To be honest, I’m surprised that booth babes have survived into the present era. They seem more a relic of the 1960s, when the end of repression confused people into thinking that all forms of sexuality should be encouraged.
But, for me, today, they have the opposite effect than what’s intended. Nor, I suspect, am I the only male who feels that way. Add we dissenting males to the growing number of women at conferences, and booth babes must be well on their way to becoming a liability.
At least, I hope so.