A sex toy called Osé from the company Lora DiCarlo won an award at the Consumer Electronics Show. Then the show’s organizer, the Consumer Technology Association, took the award away. Lora DiCarlo founder Lora Haddock’s pointed, honest response is one of my favorite press releases of all time.
Obligatory content warning: If it bothers you to read about sex toys and orgasms, skip today’s post.
First, a little background. The Consumer Electronics Show, CES, is an ecstatic, hype-drenched celebration of technology innovation with 180,000 people attending. It’s set in lascivious Las Vegas and surrounded with sexual innuendo, not least the buxom rent-by-the-show babes that some of the smaller exhibitors deploy to entice people into their booths. In fact, the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo used to run right alongside it (I stumbled into it one year by mistake — honest — and felt as if I’d blundered into a brothel.)
The CTA, which runs CES, is a powerful lobbying organization for the tech industry and likes to maintain a “wholesome” image as it presses legislators to relax tech regulations. I’ve run afoul of the CTA and its CEO-seemingly-for-life Gary Shapiro when I said something less than positive about HDTV — these people play for keeps. So it’s no surprise that the CTA isn’t comfortable with internet-connected hands-free sex toys.
But tiny Lora DiCarlo isn’t taking the CTA’s bullying tactics lying down. Here’s most of its very un-press-release-like press release with my commentary.
Open Letter From Lora DiCarlo: Our Sex Toy Won A CES Robotics Innovation Award Then They Took It Back
Gender-bias at CES is stifling innovation
NEWS PROVIDED BY
Jan 08, 2019, 03:00 ET
LAS VEGAS, Jan. 8, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — 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.
Commentary: This open letter/release started poorly. Instead of stating what happened, it begins with a squawk about sex-positivity, inclusion, and LGBTQI (what’s I?) folks. The one thing I like about this is the voice — by starting with “we,” the release signals that it’s going to be a personal statement. But I think Lora DiCarlo could have had more impact by dispensing with the foreplay and starting with the next paragraph.
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.
Commentary: Nice job getting the product features into an open letter that’s about to get cited in thousands of articles.
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.
Commentary: Drama is absent from most press releases. This one has it.
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?
Commentary: Good freakin’ point. Given the sex-drenched hype that pervades CES, a product whose only objective is to give women better orgasms can’t objectively be described as obscene, immoral, or indecent. “Not in keeping with CTA’s image” might be accurate, but that’s because that image is tech that excites tech consumers — you know, guys. The Osé may be the coolest product I’d ever heard of at CES that was for women only. If that’s “not in keeping with CTA’s image,” then the problem is the image, not the product.
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.
Commentary: Banning sexual content from CES would be a challenge. Banning sexual products for women only is easier — but looks pretty biased to me.
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.
Commentary: It’s a device that moves based on interactions from the consumer. Robotics. You don’t get to redefine robotics just because you don’t like where it’s going.
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.
Commentary: There is, perhaps, a case to be made that CES is not sexist any more. But no one at CTA is making it, because they’d rather not talk about it. By raising this issue, Lora DiCarlo further raises the stakes, generating discussion about far more than its product. Nice twist.
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.
Commentary: If you are going to allow sex at the show (and how could you stop it?) there ought to be room for both lady sex robots and high-tech dildos.
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?
Commentary: Okay, now you’re getting snarky. Good.
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. . . .
Founder and CEO
Commentary: Lora Haddock has just gotten herself a spot on cable news every time someone discusses sexism and women’s sexuality. This is how a victim of discrimination turns the tables. Masterful.
- About Lora DiCarlo
Lora DiCarlo is a woman-run start-up that is determined to change the face of SexTech. Proudly sex-positive and gender-inclusive, our goal is to create products and educational resources that promote female and LGBTQI sexual empowerment. They have partnered with Oregon State University’s College of Engineering to develop a range of products to close the orgasm gap and make blended orgasms a right rather than a reach. The team will offer a sneak peek at their first product in Las Vegas at CES Showstoppers in January. For more information on Lora Dicaro visit: www.loradicarlo.com
Commentary: I wish this boilerplate lived up to the rest of the release. Time to rewrite it with the same level of punch.
Lessons from Lora DiCarlo’s feisty and effective response
I’m cheering. This was the most refreshing press release experience I’ve ever had. Was it good for you?
Before we leave the saga of Lora DiCarlo, here are few things you can learn from what they did.
- Don’t be afraid to write a release in the first person. It’s violates all norms. But that’s what makes it attract attention.
- Every setback is an opportunity to get attention. The more public the setback and the more powerful the enemy, the better. The press and the public love underdogs.
- Framing your setback in personal terms makes it a two-party fight. Personal fights are less interesting than movements. Lora Haddock’s positioning of her company’s setback as an instance of sexism at the hands of a powerful business organization has far more resonance. Wrap yourself in a cause and you’re a lot bigger than you look.
- CTA screwed itself badly here. As with the Streisand effect, withdrawing Lora DiCarlo’s award generated far more publicity than giving it in the first place. The people who would be offended that CTA recognized a women’s sex toy will still be offended even though the award was rescinded. And the people who believe women have a right to better orgasms now see CTA’s sexism explicitly revealed.