Gender-bias at CES is stifling innovation
Everything we do at Lora DiCarlo is rooted in sex-positivity and inclusion. We don’t hide what we do, and we firmly believe that women, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and LGBTQI folks should be vocally claiming our space in pleasure and tech - both of which are still heavily dominated by male-CEOs and executives. We also believe that society needs to drop the taboo around sex and sexuality - it’s a part of life and health that absolutely should be part of mainstream discourse. No shaming, no embarrassment, just the comfort and freedom to be yourself and enjoy your own body.
That’s why we submitted our first ever product, Osé, for the CES Innovation Awards - one of the most coveted awards in tech and the perfect example of a space that needs to be shaken up and diversified. You see, we’re doing something that has never been done before - we’re making the world’s first hands-free device for the holy grail of orgasms — the blended orgasm. Our almost entirely female team of engineers is developing 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. The product even adjusts to each body's unique physiology for a personal fit that hits all the right spots, leaving the hands free for better uses. We’re talking about truly innovative robotics.
And you know what? WE WON. Lora DiCarlo was selected as a CES 2019 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone product category for the Osé personal massager. It was vetted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA, which owns and produces CES) and then a panel of independent expert judges in robotics scored it highly across all judging criteria; they saw the same marvel of cutting-edge technology that we did. A product that pushes the limits of engineering and design and opens the door to even bigger leaps in innovation, beyond even the sex tech uses.
Lora DiCarlo joined a small percentage of other products that were awarded such a coveted honor each year; this feather in our collective cap made years of research and engineering even more worthwhile and further validated our vision for creating innovative, inclusive products that change lives. My team rejoiced and celebrated. A month later our excitement and preparations were cut short when we were unexpectedly informed that the administrators at CES and CTA were rescinding our award and subsequently that we would not be allowed to showcase Osé, or even exhibit at CES 2019.
WHY? CES Keeps Changing Their Story
The CTA has been extremely cagey on why they took away the award. Their first excuse was to cite this rule buried in their legalese:
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. 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.
Putting aside for a moment the implication that women’s sexual wellness products are somehow immoral or obscene — if we didn’t fit their policy, how in the world did our application even get past the first round of vetting by CTA staff, let alone receive high marks across the board from their expert judges?
It’s also important to note that a literal sex doll for men launched on the floor at CES in 2018 and a VR porn company exhibits there every year, allowing men to watch pornography in public as consumers walk by. Clearly CTA has no issue allowing explicit male sexuality and pleasure to be ostentatiously on display. 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.
Then in an even more insulting and frankly ridiculous assertion Gary Shapiro (CTA president and CEO) and Karen Chupka (Executive VP) sent a letter stating that our product was actually ineligible for the Robotics and Drone category entirely. Seriously? Our product that was designed in partnership with a top university robotics engineering laboratory (Oregon State University has ranked the #4 ranked Robotics Lab in the US), inspiring the genesis of OSU Professor John Parmigiani’s Prototype Development Lab. Osé is the subject of eight pending patents and counting for robotics, biomimicry, and engineering feats. We have a team of absolute genius woman and LGBTQI engineers (and a few wonderful men) working on every aspect of this product — including a Doctor of Mechanical Engineering with expertise in Robotics and AI and a Mechanical Design Engineer who specializes in Material Science with a background in Chemistry. Osé clearly fits the Robotics and Drone category - and CTA’s own expert judges agree.
Gender-bias Stifles Innovation
CES and the CTA have a long, documented history of gender bias, sexism, misogyny, and double standards - much like the tech industry as a whole. 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. We’ve seen token concessions, like the attempted 50/50 split of female and male keynote speakers in 2019 after an all male lineup in 2017 and 2018 - but sadly it’s just cosmetic. It is not trickling down to who’s allowed a seat at the table.
(that we could find, data is tough to come by)
There is an obvious double-standard when it comes to sexuality and sexual health. While there are sex and sexual health products at CES, it seems that CES/CTA administration applies the rules differently for companies and products based on the gender of their customers. Men’s sexuality is allowed to be explicit with a literal sex robot in the shape of an unrealistically proportioned woman and VR porn in point of pride along the aisle. Female sexuality, on the other hand, is heavily muted if not outrighted banned. You cannot pretend to be unbiased if you allow a sex robot for men but not a vagina-focused robotic massager for blended orgasm.
This double standard makes it clear that women’s sexuality is not worthy of innovation. By excluding female-focused Sex Tech, CES and CTA are essentially saying that women’s sexuality and sexual health is not worthy of innovation. Dismissing an innovation in micro-robotics and biomimicry because the technology is in a pleasure product makes a strong statement. It seems the CTA is just fine with “female-oriented” products like breast pumps, Kegel exercisers, and even robotic vacuums - things that also benefit someone else - but something that squarely focuses on women’s sexuality is off the table.
Included in the 2019 Robotics and Drones Honorees: 2 robotic vacuum cleaners, 1 robotic skateboard, 4 children’s toys, 1 shopping companion robot. Looks like all of women’s interests are covered, right?
CES is stifling innovation.
At its core these biases smother innovation by blocking access to funding, exposure, and consumers that could take brands and products to the next level. You never know how technology can be used, the future of healthcare might well be in the patent for a sex toy. But if CES and CTA are so intent on keeping women and sex tech out, we’ll never find out.
So the question in the end is: Why is CES threatened by empowered women and the products that empower them? My team and I will be asking these questions at CES and continue asking them, we’re fighting for our seats at the table, and we’re fighting for yours too.
How can you help?
If you’d like to get answers, we encourage you to make your voice heard:
- Share this letter with #CESGenderBias:
- Join our newsletter at the bottom to get all the updates on CES, Lora DiCarlo, and the Osé launch!
Lora HaddockFounder and CEOLora DiCarlo