NPR Finds 'Sexism' -- 'High-Tech Vibrator' Banned at Vegas Electronics Expo

National Public Radio has a reputation for being calm and boring, but not about sex. On Saturday night's All Things Considered, fill-in host Sarah McCammon warned "we want to mention that the conversation we're about to have may not be appropriate for younger listeners." Emily Dreyfuss of Wired magazine was outraged that the apparently sexist Consumer Electronics Show had banned a newfangled vibrator from their expo in Las Vegas: 

SARAH McCAMMON: 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?

EMILY 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 CES, 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.

Dreyfuss wrote at Wired that the vibrator-maker "considers the personal massager a health device." A wellness device, perhaps, but not something needed to be healthy. She tweeted "Female pleasure IS a health issue--but it's one the tech industry isn't comfortable recognizing."

As usual, only one side of this debate was allowed on.... All Things Considered. Feminist outrage overflowed:  

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.

The R&D must have been such an uninteresting slog....

Dreyfuss added that products for women have become more common at the electronics show. "There were all sorts of devices catering specifically to women as mothers. And that's on the one hand wonderful." But "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."


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Tim Graham's picture