Call it the tweet that launched a thousand cries of sexism. Electronics company Asus tweeted, then deleted, a photo showing a woman demonstrating one of its products at Computex 2012. The caption of the picture, taken from behind and showcasing the woman's backside, read, "The rear looks pretty nice. So does the new Transformer AIO."
The post disappeared quickly, but not before screen grabs were shared on multiple sites across the Web and charges of sexism were lobbed at the tech company. Asus has since apologized and pledged to "take steps to ensure this doesn't happen again."
Still, the use of scantily clad women to promote products is standard practice, as Susan Friedmann, a trade show expert, pointed out. But employing the "booth babes," she cautions, should be approached "very, very carefully." She added, "You also must take into account where you are exhibiting. What might get you thrown into jail in Paducah would be par for the course in Tokyo."
And on the Internet, the world is your stage -- and the world was not happy with Asus. On Mashable, a roundup of Twitter responses to the photo noted the general sense of outrage. From Leigh Honeywell: "Hey Asus, do you not want women as customers or something? Not cool." Pwang added, "Wow, ASUS poignantly shows why tech is an uphill battle for women." Anil Dash posed, "How sexist is tech?"
How sexist, indeed? The photo brought attention to the controversial use of the "booth babe" and the broader issue of sexism in the high-tech industry.
In an essay titled, "Seriously, stop with the booth babes," the blogger for Standalone-Sysadmin argued, "By being conditioned to treat women as intellectually inferior to men, we are actively discouraging them from joining our environment. ... Essentially, by marginalizing women, we are automatically halving the number of potential colleagues and collaborators."
Molly McHugh, a technology writer for Digital Trends, spoke to the BBC at the 2012 CES conference in Las Vegas. She said being around the women for hire at the shows was "weird," adding, "Seeing women in their booth babe attire ... is confusing, because it's sending this message of what my sex is here to do." The E3 conference, going on now, even has a site dedicated to the women working the trade show floor.
Wendy Schuchart posted on TechTarget about last year's VMWorld 2011, also in Vegas. And the minority of women tech professionals, she wrote, could not fail to notice the invasion of the booth babes. She wrote, "The tech world has taught us that women are for eye candy. Don't ask them questions. Don't take them seriously."