Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Booth Babes

This past weekend, a scantily clad cosplaying model was asked to leave the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East, due to complaints that her outfit was too revealing and the staff made the judgment call that she was in violation of their recent "no booth babes" rule. A rule I'm very happy about, really.

Now this is still a fairly vague concept to me because having only attended Anime Boston and ROFLcon I haven't really seen booth babes in action. I just read about them. And I wish I'd thought to mention them in Sunday's panel on gender and nerd culture but I didn't even think about the subject when putting together the presentation. No matter, I'll bring it up next time and in the meantime conduct research on the subject.

And, almost by instinct, this appears to be an intersectionality issue. These women constantly report being sexually harassed and even groped on the job, and what's worse is that people tell them they should expect it because they are scantily clad and attractive. If they don't like it, they are told to just get another job. Because clearly, if you work any job at a convention, your job options are wide open. I've never worked at one personally, but I can tell you that it looks like hell, like it's basically a retail job where the crowds are relentless, and due to the nature of nerd culture, not always the friendliest people. Working as a booth babe looks glamorous to a newcomer, and may be only slightly less awful than, say, working in a fast food restaurant. Even without the harassment, you're on your feet in heels for hours on end, you have to smile all the time and be nice to everyone, even the biggest assholes on the planet. Some might be in it for the modeling aspect, others may choose it because it's a job they happen to be qualified for, and they need the money. They may also appreciate the flexible hours, and the fact that the jobs are mostly on weekends, leaving them the rest of the week to a) work another job or b) take care of their kids. Or perhaps look for a job that doesn't involve as much sexual harassment, but let's face it, many of them do.

In general, telling someone they should just quit their job and get another is incredibly classist. It's also ignorant of the fact that most lower level jobs are just as terrible, and that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. The crappy job you may be leaving may actually be less crappy than the new one, it's really a gamble. And let's not forget that not everyone can afford to remain unemployed for an indefinite amount of time.

Also, harassment doesn't have to be part of the job. Maybe it is, but it doesn't have to be. You don't have to harass someone just because she's a booth babe, you can just as easily not harass her and your convention experience will be completely unchanged. Wearing a skirt for any reason (other than maybe being an actual sex worker) is not an invitation to treat someone like a sex object; same goes for being nice to someone. Just because I make eye contact with a guy does not mean he's allowed to be creepy toward me.

Yes, these women know they might be harassed if they take the job. They also know if they don't take the job, they might not be able to pay rent.

I also take issue with the gender dynamic at play in general. Here we see another example of women's bodies being used to promote a product. It's been used for a long, long time and in all sorts of media but that doesn't make it okay. Another problem is that by using booth babes, these dealers and in fact the convention itself sends a message that their intended audience is men, they are only interested in investing in men's interests and ultimately only care about their male customers. This message may make the expo scene unappealing to women, who are not comfortable in a room filled with overt sexualization of women, where women's primary role is that of a sex object. PAX may have taken a huge risk in banning the use of booth babes, because they may have angered their male base - the fact that they took that risk earns them major points in my book, and the fact that people aren't really that angry should send a message to the rest of the industry: it might not be a horrible thing if booth babes were a thing of the past. People will still attend the conventions, they'll still buy things, and they'll still have a good time. I'm surprised men aren't offended at the implication they need boobs to entice them into buying something.

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