This week, the Consumer Electronics Show is being held in Las Vegas, and people from around the world are flocking there to experience the latest products and technologies. Among the handful of honorees in the robotics and drones Innovation Awards program should have been a sex toy called Osé, but two weeks after receiving notification of the honor, the device was not only disqualified, it was banned from exhibiting at the event. A few ridiculous reasons have been forwarded for the change, but nothing seems to shift a narrative that points to a pervasive gender-bias.
The Osé is the product of company Lora DiCarlo, who worked with the robotics engineering laboratory at Oregon State University (the #4 ranked Robotics Lab in the US) to develop the toy, which uses “biometric mimicry” to allow for hands-free vaginal and clitoral stimulation. Its also the subject of eight pending patents so far in the areas of robotics, engineering achievements, and biomimicry. Sounds pretty relevant for a robotics and drone award, right? There was a time that the Consumer Technology Association (the organizers behind the even) thought so too. Awards are fairly simple, with an independent panel ranking a group of products and bestowing the title of honoree on those who score highly enough. So, how did the Osé both make it through the first round of vetting by the staff of the organization and get these high marks only to end up banned?
On October 31, CTA invoked a clause in their terms and conditions that says they can use their sole discretion to disqualify any entries they deem “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image.” Fine. They don’t feature sex toys. That’s their right. But, the thing is, they do feature sex toys.
In 2016, a CES event was all about an oral sex simulator. On the floor of the 2018 CES, a sex doll for men was launched and there is a VR porn company that exhibits yearly, inviting people to publicly consume pornography on the show’s floor. OhMiBod, a sex toy company, has shown its wares for years. And, a vibrator that connected to e-books was even a wearables category Innovation Awards honoree in 2016.
When Haddock pushed back against the notion that the Osé was somehow unseemly in light of these other sex toy inclusions, Gary Shapiro (CTA president and CEO) and Karen Chupka (Executive VP) sent a letter asserting the problem was actually ineligible in the robotics and drones category, which is certainly dubious given the aforementioned work with OSU and the team of engineers with expertise in robotics and AI that contributed to its creation.
CES has been accused in the past of failing to equally include and represent women in the industry, and this is arguably another example. That’s certainly what Haddock believes, as she stated in an open letter.
“From the exclusion of female founders and executives to the lack of female-focused products allowed to exhibit on the floor – there are demonstrable issues with diversity. Gary Shapiro has even defended the use of scantily clad booth babes while denying that there is a hostile environment for women at CES.”
And although there is a 50/50 split of female and male keynote speakers at the 2019 event, for the last two years, CES has only had men in that role. Clearly, they feel some pressure to properly promote inclusivity in tech. This morning, the CTA opened a $10 million venture fund aimed at “women, people of color, and other underrepresented startups and entrepreneurs.” But these moves lack resonance when at the same time companies that promote sexual wellness and are helmed by women are being pushed out the door.