The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the organization behind CES, doesn’t exactly have an admirable reputation when it comes to its treatment of women and products designed for women, specifically sexually-oriented ones. It appears the organization is attempting to cover its ass when it comes to this reputation, but it is doing so in a way that is breathtakingly backward.
On Tuesday, the CTA sent out an update to its policies for CES 2020, which included both the addition of a sex tech category as well as a dress code. The former is characterized as rolling out “on a one-year trial basis” as part of the conferences Health and Wellness product category. It’s hard not to view this belated addition as a response to backlash after the CTA revoked an innovation award from last year’s innovation winner, sex toy Osé, that at the time the CTA characterized as “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image.” It then gave back the award five months later following public criticism.
A sex tech product category isn’t inherently a bad thing, but as Gizmodo reported at the time of the scandal, it’s important to acknowledge that these products are technically impressive and to not shy away from these feats just because they cater to a woman’s sexual health. A separate category isn’t necessary—as with the Osé device, it nicely fits into the existing robotics and drone category. And to roll out the new product category on a trial run is still a pretty cowardly form of inclusion.
“It’s silly to me for it to have its own separate category, separate from robotics and AI for example,” Liz Klinger, the CEO of Lioness, a women-led company designing smart vibrators, told Gizmodo in response to Lora DiCarlo’s Osé device having its award rescinded. “Some of these products are using robotics and AI to make the product, and there’s innovation there, and it should be evaluated as such.”
And in the same breath that the CTA seemingly takes a baby step forward when it comes to illustrating its commitment to its non-male attendees and exhibitors, it took a serious stride back in its implementation of a prudish dress code on the show floor, which is included below:
“Booth personnel may not wear clothing that is sexually revealing or that could be interpreted as undergarments. Clothing that reveals an excess of bare skin, or body-conforming clothing that hugs genitalia must not be worn. These guidelines are applicable to all booth staff, regardless of gender. In addition, the existing CES ban on pornography will be strictly enforced with no exceptions for CES 2020.”
The dress code raises a few questions. First, it’s not immediately clear what the CTA defines as “sexually revealing” or what constitutes “an excess of bare skin.” The dress code might be catering to critics of booth babes, but the new regulation over what exhibitors can and cannot wear uses language that is vague and subjective. It was also not immediately clear who will be policing exhibitors who may violate the dress code. Jean Foster, CTA’s SVP of Marketing & Communications, clarified a few of these questions in an email to Gizmodo.
“We define sexually revealing as clothing that reveals an excess of bare skin, or body-conforming clothing that hugs genitalia,” Foster said. As for who will be policing exhibitors on the show floor that might be showing too much skin, Foster said that “CES Show Management reserves the right to make determinations on appropriate exhibitor/presenter attire. If for any reason an exhibit and/or its contents are deemed objectionable by Show Management, Exhibitor will be issued a warning and asked to alter the attire of its employees, exhibit staff and/or models. If necessary, Show Management may issue a second warning and the Exhibitor may be asked to remove the individual(s) in question at Exhibitor’s sole expense. Failure to comply will result in a loss of three (3) priority points.”
What’s more, if the CTA’s concern is the degradation of exhibitors by other exhibitors or attendees based on what they are wearing, creating a code of conduct that instead prohibits people from harassing those individuals better addresses that issue without shaming someone for violating an ill-defined dress code. Instead, though, it appears the organization is more concerned with outward appropriateness based on their own definition of revealing.
While the CTA is no longer prohibiting sex tech, it’s still separated into its own category and on a trial basis. Products in the sex tech category are defined as “sexual health products as technology products that aid humans’ physical well-being in relation to sexuality.” Pornography and/or virtual pornography as well as “anatomically correct dolls or robots intended for use in sexual acts” are not eligible in this category, according to the eligibility page. It’s not exactly a strong vote of confidence or symbolic of the organization’s maturation when it comes to honoring innovations around women’s sexual wellness. And the dress code only serves to further drive home the CTA’s discomfort with visible displays that aren’t overtly nonsexual.
“I think specific to CES and CTA, it’s been just incredibly frustrating to see all of the boring companies be allowed on the floor and then all of these weird rules around female sexuality and specifically vibrators,” Polly Rodriguez, the CEO of luxury sex toy company Unbound, told Gizmodo in January.