I saw a post in my feed recently showing two pictures of a tech expo. Both featured classic “booth babes.” The author captioned the post, “And we wonder why we have a hard time hiring women in tech. …”
Many who commented were women expressing similar incredulity. But one of the comments was from a man who said, “Well, we men are visual creatures.” I immediately replied, “Treating women as sex objects has nothing to do with our eyes. It has everything to do with our decisions.”
Some other men replied that, while they found it distasteful, it’s just something other companies do. Not them. Not their responsibility. Hands washed.
This post is intended for those men. You are wrong. This is your responsibility. This is your problem. Here’s why.
The message you’re sending
When you employ a booth babe, you need to think about the message you’re sending to your employees: “Sexy female bodies contribute more to our organization than smart female brains.”
Your employees will get the message. Your women will feel uncomfortable. Some of your men will, too. Other men will enjoy the license to openly lust at the workplace, because, hey, it’s all in good fun (see below). Do you see a positive outcome for your organization here? I don’t.
And some men have (innocently, I assume) suggested to me that we men need to protect women from this kind of — whoa. Ima stop ya right there. This is not a “knight in shining armor” moment. There is no “damsel in distress.” Women are not possessions you need to protect. They are your colleagues. They have every damned bit of skin in the game you do, and for the same reasons: their careers, compensation and livelihood. If they don’t, well … why the hell did you hire them?
Other comments from men shared a theme: What’s so bad about this? They (the models) are getting paid, right? Nobody’s forcing them to do this.
Where this path leads
To those men (and they were all men), let me show you where this path leads.
So I like looking at pretty girls …
It’s just a joke …
Hey, take a freaking compliment …
Well, with those heels and that skirt …
Don’t tell me you don’t want it; you wouldn’t dress like that …
You liked it …
This is what we mean when we talk about “rape culture.”
One woman responded that women should just refuse to wear such outfits. I like the empowerment vibe there, truly. But it’s worth pointing out that in most companies that hire professional models to be their booth babes, the room in which that decision is made is populated almost entirely by men.
Established by men, enabled by men
Until we men start calling out other men on institutional sexism, women will be under pressure to just get along — “Don’t take it so seriously”; “What, are you on your period?” etc.
Rape culture was established by men, it is enabled by men, and men need to end it. Now.
Will you join me? Will you promise to call out sexism every time it occurs in the workplace? To not dismiss it as “boys being boys?”
Let’s stand shoulder-to-shoulder with women. #ItsNotOkay.
Adam Best has worked in digital marketing and sales for over 20 years, from startups to Fortune 100 companies. He’s attended — and staffed — more trade shows than he’d care to recount. He occasionally tweets @iSnob.
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