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High-Tech Vibrator Ban From CES Show Stirs Claims Of Sexism

Jan 12, 2019
Originally published on January 12, 2019 5:57 pm
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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, just wrapped up this week in Las Vegas. It featured the usual assortment of virtual reality goggles, smart cars, next generation smartphones. But arguably, the biggest buzz was about a product geared toward women that was conspicuously absent from the showroom floor. And here's where we want to mention that the conversation we're about to have may not be appropriate for younger listeners. For more, we turn now to Emily Dreyfuss, a senior staff writer for Wired.

Emily, thanks for joining us.

EMILY DREYFUSS: Thanks for having me.

MCCAMMON: OK, so here's the big reveal, now that hopefully all the little ones are out of the room. The banned product was a robotic vibrator. And before it was banned, it actually won an innovation award. For those who haven't been following this story, Emily, can you tell us what all went down?

DREYFUSS: Yes. So the product is called the Ose, and it's a vibrator that uses micro-robotics and biomimicry. Now, the creators of this device, Lora DiCarlo, had submitted this to CES robotics category, into which it was accepted, and then they actually gave it an innovation award. And that's an award that is given by a jury of experts before you show up to the show.

But then, before the company was able to show up to exhibit at CES in Las Vegas, CTA, who are the leadership behind CBS, changed their mind, sent the company an email saying that actually, they had decided that this device did not fit into the robotics category and, in fact, was going to be excluded from the show floor because it was deemed to be either immoral, obscene, indecent or profane.

MCCAMMON: And that has struck people as a sexist move, right, given that one of the most talked about products at last year's CES was, to put it bluntly, a sex robot. And virtual reality pornography has been featured in the past as well. What do you make of all this?

DREYFUSS: Exactly. I think that the hypocrisy is one of the biggest reasons why this has gotten so much attention. They have gone out of their way over the years to not be a sex device show. It's not like every year there are tons of sex gadgets. But they have over the years had some, especially if they had some sort of interesting technology to offer, which this device clearly does. It has, you know, a lot of interesting 3D printing and rapid prototyping that went into it that really does justify it as a technology device.

MCCAMMON: The health category at CES includes lots of products geared toward pregnancy, motherhood, early parenthood. I mean, how much of the blowback here is about what was allowed in the show compared to what was actually banned?

DREYFUSS: Yeah. So I think that's another double standard. You know, five years ago, you really wouldn't have found hardly any devices that were specifically tailored to women. But now there has been this change. You know, the market has recognized that mothers and new parents represent a very lucrative category for innovation. This year, there were all sorts of devices catering specifically to women as mothers. And that's on the one hand wonderful.

But, on the other hand, the double standard that there were breast massagers on the show floor this year that were geared toward treating women who are breastfeeding and experiencing mastitis, which is a absolutely legitimate and important device - that is allowable, whereas a device that gives pleasure is not allowable. It really does just play into existing stereotypes. Shows like this have the ability to legitimize a topic so that scientific grants can give money toward the study of female sexuality and venture capitalists feel comfortable giving money to companies that are geared toward women and their pleasure.

MCCAMMON: Emily Dreyfuss, senior writer for Wired.

Thank you so much.

DREYFUSS: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: And we should add, Emily Dreyfuss tells us the Consumer Technology Association, which runs the CES, did not respond to her requests for comment.

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