March is Women’s History Month. And are the times shifting for women? Yes, they are. Our institutions are taking a more and more active stance to address the imbalance of power affecting our societal life. But movements against sexual harassment like #MeToo are only the tip of the iceberg. The so-called “weaker sex” has been fighting an uphill battle since decades, with both the assent and support of the United Nations. This must have all sounded very familiar. Did you also know about women’s stakes in the sex-tech industry, though? If the answer is, again, a resounding “yes”, one of them coming up with a most innovative startup will hardly feel surprising to you. Haddock’s “Lora DiCarlo” (https://loradicarlo.com/) is one of the new businesses breaking the mold. They submitted this year their first product, “Osé”, for the 2019’s Consumer Electronics Show. The prestigious event has a 40 year-old history; for the 2019 edition in Las Vegas, Lora DiCarlo’s aim was to steal the show with a very ambitious presentation. They had developed the first hands-free, fully robotic device capable of gifting the Holy Grail of female sexual pleasure: the blended orgasm. This holistic array of stimuli was described as “mimicking all the sensations of a human mouth and tongue and fingers for an experience that feels just like a real partner”. Did Osé live up to the hype? For the third time: yes! The CTA (Consumer Technology Association) running CES, plus a panel of independent judges, felt the device was up to par when compared to Lora DiCarlo’s bold promises. They even granted them an Honoree award in the “Robotics and Drones” category. The story might seem that of a success, but the happy ending was deciduous. CES took the award back nearly a month later, and with a rather flimsy justification. To make things worse, they even banned the company from participating in future CES events. At first, CES claimed that they had the right to disqualify any entries deemed “immoral, obscene, indecent or profane”. Legitimate or not, this statement does not address what the mileage for “obscene” products might be. CES, after all, had no problem allowing sex dolls’ exhibits in CES 2018; nor with renting a room to a company promoting VR porn for men. When Haddock confronted the CTA about this, she received a follow-up email from CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro and executive vice-president Karen Chupka. The text wryly stated: “Unfortunately, Osé does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program. We can understand your frustration, but hope you understand that we cannot make an award for an ineligible product, even if your submission was mistakenly allowed in the first instance”. This doesn’t add up as well. Osé went through a vetting process by the CTA and was carefully studied by a panel of expert judges in robotics before receiving the award. Sadly, all evidence points to a “sex-tech discrimination” case at best, a gender discrimination one at worst. Haddock isn’t taking either scenario lightly. She went as far as to call out CES on the Lora DiCarlo website, with a more detailed coverage of the story. Lora DiCarlo is not pulling any punches in addressing their unceremonious ban. Given what we know so far and since CES is not new to this kind of possibly sexist behavior, maybe neither should we.
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