Best of Systers, Community Voices

Booth Babes

by Laurian Vega

The mere presence and topic of booth babes deserves a well crafted feminist rant. However, I don’t have to write one, because recently posted to Systers is a male slant on the booth babe discussion from Matt Heusser.

Attending conferences, where many typical computer scientist (read: socially inept people) are huddled together to learn about esoteric topics, can create a breeding ground for isolation. For example, being the only woman at your small start up may be annoying but being the only woman in a room full of strange men may be daunting.

Booth babes are women who are strategically work in conference booths – usually wearing provocative clothing and having little or no technical knowledge. There are times that the booth babes aren’t even actual employees for the company they represent, but are instead hired models to promote the company or product.

Booth babes are like salt in a wound. At a basic level the presence of booth babes highlights that there are so few women. The fact that they are rarely appropriately dressed, keenly demonstrates objectification to the few women who are at the conference. The whole thing is questionable and a clear call to “brogrammer” culture.

Yet, booth babes continue to exist. What can we do about it?

Here are three links that we use when contacting companies about their use of booth babes:

Are there others that we could use?


  1. Judith Says:
    June 18th, 2012 at 7:33 am eThe “serious” industry should take a look at PAX, the largest US videogaming conference, which has banned booth babes. Last year at PAX Prime, heavily made-up women in short skirts and spike heels handing out sample beverages sparked immediate complaints from the floor and were instantly banned and removed. Way to go, gamers!
  2. Alan Bell Says:
    June 19th, 2012 at 10:25 pm eif you contact the *other* exhibitors who don’t use booth babes (for whatever reason, even if perhaps they would like to but can’t afford the expense) and get them to complain to the conference organiser about the unfair practices of those who do use booth babes then the weight of your argument will be amplified by the fact that people who actually pay lots of money to the conference organiser agree with you (and they do agree with you – booth babes are effective). As an outsider or visitor you have no weight. I would also urge a bit of caution in the way you phrase stuff to avoid including women who are genuinely working on stands. Aim at hired greeters who don’t know anything about the company or products, don’t aim at women.
  3. Laurian VEga Says:
    June 22nd, 2012 at 4:03 am eThose are both great comments. I think that as more women start to organize and chair conferences it won’t be unreasonable for booth babes to be banned. However, until that happens being proactive in writing to conference organizers and others at the conference is very proactive. Also writing to the offending company can’t hurt as well.

    Judith & Alan, thanks for being our first commenters!

  4. Jennifer Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 10:47 am eAlan makes an excellent point at not targeting women in particular. As a young, femme programmer, I’ve been accused, a few times, of being a booth babe, when in fact I am a technical woman. It’s important, in our activist efforts, not to take action to promote further gender stereotyping (because “obviously the blonde girl in a skirt is a booth babe – technical women don’t look like that”) or others dictating our appearance (“well, if she didn’t want to be mistaken for a booth babe, she should have worn sweatpants”)
  5. Laurian Vega Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 12:44 pm eI definitely agree. Babes come in all shapes and sizes and occupations.