I’ve just arrived in Hartford, CT, after a four day transcontinental trip that led me through snow in Dallas, rerouted through L.A., and then mercifully, eighteen hours later to my final destination, San Francisco, for the 2011 NADA convention.
Eighteen hours of travel could land you virtually anywhere on earth, but my eighteen hours of travel did more. It transported me to a time long since passed, which all things considered is an impressive feat for a commercial flight, the second leg of which couldn’t disembark without spending three and a half hours to de-ice a plane. (Hey Dallas, it has snowed there before, yes?)
As I deplaned, San Francisco appeared normal by today’s standards, yes, it was 2011; I was safe. The hotel, same thing. Signs referencing WiFi availability, wall mounted, flat screen televisions and the mono-chromatic comfort of a modern four star hotel made it clear that I had not been sucked through some sort of time-bending worm-hole. Then I went to the 2011 NADA convention…
Welcome to 1982. Yup, just like that. Enter the convention; roll back the calendar 30 years. I have nothing personally against 1982, but while I’m thinking of it, why couldn’t NADA warp us back a few years to prevent the mortgage crisis? But at any rate, there we were, 1982.
Now I’ll grant you that I live in Connecticut, a progressive state by most standards. Where I live, it’s okay for a woman to have a high paying job, wear sensible shoes, hell it’s even okay for a woman to marry another woman and become a husband in 2011. Having been to San Francisco before, I found the city to have a similar perspective and in some situations, far more liberal. But the NADA convention is like a time capsule that annually descends from the sky to land in a different city and provides a brief glimpse of an industry, the automotive industry, from the unique perspective of 1982.
With a large and ever growing female demographic taking the automotive industry in a new direction, (to the evident consternation of men) what was the promotional tool of choice?
That’s right, scantily clad young women!
I don’t know about the rest of you gals, but I say to hell with iPads, or digital cameras. If you want me to check out your slick new CRM, show me the butt-cheeks of a twenty two year old girl.
Selling a brand new concept in advertising?
How about a very obvious pair of saline breast implants! I especially like the ones that are barely contained in a super low-cut cleavage revealing, loosely knit collection of threads.
Oh, I hope I didn’t embarrass any of the male readers out there. I just assume you guys are as comfortable reading about cleavage and tushies as you are with flaunting the obvious fact that I’m still being objectified due to my gender. The proof was everywhere at the 2011 NADA convention. In fact, it was celebrated with the devil may care attitude of 1982.
I understand the need to occasionally get away from it all and surround yourself with indulgence. Become a different person, shout things like “more champagne!” while raising your hand triumphantly in the air without having to worry about anyone saying “take it easy honey”. I really do. I however, have been living under the naive impression that they built Vegas for that very reason. I feel like such a fool. I should go to more conventions. Why vacation when you can convention?
But seriously, this is a convention right? Not a cabaret? I understand, back in 1982, there weren’t many women in the business to hold your entertainment decisions up to scrutiny. Who’s to complain if we have strippers walking around the convention floor? We could turn this hotel into a veritable see of butt-cheeks and cleavage. The more the better, I say! But it’s 2011 and there are almost as many women employed in the automotive industry as there are men.
I know, it really does suck. It turns out the automotive industry isn’t a closed club of rapidly aging men who can govern the business any way they see fit, because hey, like I said, who’s to complain? It’s an industry. A business. It’s an industry that needs the female portion of the labor market the same way all other industries do.
So why the misogynistic attitude in this day and age?
My first guess would be that it has something to do with the makeup of NADA’s board of directors. Based on the information I found at www.nada.org there were no women serving on the board, but I was able to confirm that in fact the board of directors now has one women, it’s just that the information on the website wasn’t updated yet. Frankly I was shocked and even a little impressed. Hopefully, that one lone woman will have an impact on next year’s convention policy, but it was too late for this year.
To be clear, it’s the vendors who create this atmosphere, but it’s NADA that allows it.
For example, it was the choice of a vendor, a marketing company, to have Playboy bunnies walking around signing autographed pictures. A vendor’s decision, but it happened at the 2011 NADA convention. I did consider having one of the bunnies sign my cleavage. I mean think of the power. I could walk up to the President of a large company, cleavage exposed and strike up a conversation about how, just moments ago, I had a Playboy bunny’s face buried in my boobs while trying to spell Crystal with a sharpie.
Resistance is futile boys. And it would have happened at the 2011 NADA convention. Of course, I have this bizarre compulsion to keep my dignity intact as I feel I am an executive of ability.
Which brings me to my next point. Condoleeza Rice.
There was a small, but passionate group of protesters outside the hotel holding creative signs accusing Ms. Rice of a litany of transgressions, the worst of which was war criminal. I’ll set aside my political differences with Ms. Rice for a moment and suggest that she may have been following orders and doing her job whether we agree with it or not. That being said, what we have here is a woman. An exceptional woman. An exceptional woman who earned a PhD in her mid-twenties, and ascended to one of the highest offices in this country. Condy, do you really need the speaking fee so badly that you would lend your name to an event that views women as sub-human amusement rides asked to wander the convention floor to appease a group of ginned-up, slack jawed gawkers who are feigning work?
You answered my question with an excruciating, monotonous and interminable drone. I waded through a sea of butt-cheeks and cleavage to hear you speak, would some inflection have killed you?
I don’t mean to suggest that all men are guilty of boorish behavior. In fact that’s the principle reason for my disgust. Most of the men and vendors I spoke to claimed to have been put off. Within the male demographic, there was an overwhelming majority of happily married men who would have rather been home watching the Superbowl with friends and family, just like me. (Hey NADA, you need to schedule around the NFL, not the other way around!) But here they were, so they busied themselves with conferences, meetings, you know, business stuff. And at the unfortunate instances when I found myself discussing business with a male counterpart, and we were happened upon by a butt-cheek, or some cleavage, it created discomfort. Discomfort, the fuel that drives business. Wait, that’s not right. When you’re discussing business with an acquaintance, additional discomfort sucks!
I would like to personally thank NADA’s board of directors for all the uncomfortable moments, all the discomfort. They must have come to the conclusion that having strippers and bunnies and other scantily clad young women who have nothing to do with the business of selling cars, would improve the atmosphere for all of the attendees of the convention, except the women.
It’s a shame that so many hard-working and innovative people feel the need to resort to base means in order to attract clients.
The female demographic will continue to grow in the automotive industry, just as it will in most industries. Eventually, there will be so many people having so many uncomfortable moments that the environment will change. Perhaps the pendulum will swing so far the other way that the 2021 NADA convention will be littered with g-string clad, well-endowed men with washboard abs giving free neck massages as long as we listen to the pitch about the slick new CRM.
Of course, I wouldn’t attend that conference either. Not for all of the hand sanitizer on earth. I find the thought revolting and really don’t see how it would be conducive to business getting done. But I would love to see the expression on the faces of all the men who came expecting butt-cheeks and cleavage.
It’s clear that the NADA convention isn’t ready for people like me at this juncture. By people like me, I mean normal, professional women who are tired of being objectified and uncomfortable while attending a work function.
One of the speakers suggested that the world looks to NADA for leadership. Well I suggest to NADA that they take the opportunity a bit more seriously unless it’s NADA’s intention to boldly forge a path backwards to 1982. If that is the intention, kudos. If it was your intention to be a beacon of professionalism and innovation, you truly missed the target.
I think the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. You threw a great party and didn’t really consider who you’d be offending. You harkened back to some of your early memories at the convention. You did what has always been done. 1982, butt-cheeks, cleavage.
It wasn’t the beautiful city by the bay, the glorious hotels, the spirit of innovation, or even the bright, hard working professionals that will have defined the 2011 NADA convention for me. Nope, none of those things will stand out as much as all of the uncomfortable moments that confronted the hard working professional people like me. In that spirit, I would like to leave you with a word that will most likely create an uncomfortable moment for the men on NADA’s board all by itself; vagina.