CES, one of the largest consumer electronics trade shows in the world, is at the center of a sexism controversy after the organization rescinded a robotics award for a female sex toy maker.
Sex Toy Story
In an open letter criticizing the organization, Lora Haddock, CEO of Lora DiCarlo’s, said that she was notified her company had been selected as a CES 2019 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone product category for the Osé personal massager. The hands-free sex toy, which was built in conjunction with the Oregon State robotics engineering laboratory, utilizes “new micro-robotic technology that mimics all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue, and fingers, for an experience that feels just like a real partner.”
A month later, Haddock was notified by the CTA, which owns and produces CES, that the honor was being rescinded.
“Entries deemed by CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image will be disqualified,” the CTA wrote. “CTA reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any entry at any time which, in CTA’s opinion, endangers the safety or well being of any person, or fails to comply with these Official Rules.”
Although Haddock claims CES’ decision was based on this clause, reps for the organization told TechCrunch that the award was revoked because “they don’t fit a product category.”
As this ZDNet piece notes, regardless of the imprecise definition of what constitutes robotics, the Osé “seems to pass [the] test.” As for its merits as a health device, Wired points out that “the UN’s World Health Organization includes pleasure in its definition of sexual health.”
But because the Osé apparently fell between the category cracks, Lora DiCarlo not only lost their award but was also barred from exhibiting at CES (they were able to appear at Showstoppers, a large party held during CES).
Of course, a broader explanation could be that our entire society—and, by proxy, CES—still feels uncomfortable with female sexuality. After all, CES had no problem allowing a VR porn company to exhibit at the show in 2017 and 2018.
“Other sex toys have exhibited at CES and some have even won awards, but apparently there is something different, something threatening about Osé, a product created by women to empower women,” Haddock wrote in her letter.
If nothing else, the controversy underscores the gender gap in the tech industry in general. The Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) conference for AI researchers was recently pressured into changing its acronym to NeurIPS; this might be funny were it not for the fact that women make up less than 25 percent of employees in the AI sector.
CES deserves credit for attempting to address some of these disparities: After inviting all male keynote speakers the past two years, this year’s group was split evenly between men and women. Still, the organization would be wise to adopt more uniform standards for exhibitors, stronger criteria for its awards, and a measure of open-mindedness. To do nothing is to make a bad situation even worse.