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Science

Innovation? It's all bums and beards at the Hanover Fair

Is this innovation at the Hanover Fair, Germany's high-tech industrial trade fair? It's bums in skirts and beards in suits in every hall. The sexual stereotypes are looking very tired, let alone the exhibits.

Traipsing around the grounds of any trade fair can be hard work, especially when you're on the look out for visually stimulating stories - new technologies, innovative processes, or fresh ideas - things that might change our everyday lives in some meaningful way.

The Hanover Fair is no different. The grounds here are truly huge. And there is plenty on show. The only problem is, we've seen it all before. Too few of the companies make an effort to change their exhibits from one year to the next, whether they are showing robots or beer production lines. So if you visit the fair regularly and you're not in the market for buying or selling, it can get a little boring. Even for the exhibitors (you see it in their eyes).

It's a shame for a trade fair of such long-standing repute. The Hanover Fair is celebrating its 70th year - it was the first fair of its kind in Germany after the Second World War.

But it's starting to show its age. Dare I say it, the Hanover Fair seems stuck in the past. And there's no greater indication of that than the sexual stereotypes on show. In fact, if there's any innovation in Hanover, it's stopped at the stereotypes.

Everywhere you look there are young women - students acting as "hostesses" perhaps, although we should probably avoid that term - dressed in ill-fitting skirts, constantly having to readjust them.

And there are those whose unfortunate responsibility it is to frequently get boxes of flyers out of low-lying cupboards. Try doing that when you're dressed as eye-candy, with only a tiny slit at the back of your skirt to help you.

Of course there are exceptions. There are women in suits, and that's another stereotype - they're all older or superior in business. They can afford to dress properly.

None of the male "hostesses" seem required to wear anything as uncomfortable or revealing as their female counterparts. So you turn your attention from the boys and move to the men, the guys making the deals, or those serious engineering types. And guess what, Hanover is beard city.

So where women are required to reduce their body coverage, men add on hair. Sure, beards are a hipster fashion, and the hipsters out in force too, but I'm talking about men who look like they were born with facial hair, and bags of it.

Dull suit, beard. It's a regulation outfit. But if that's what it takes for men to feel they will be taken seriously in Hanover, what does it say about how we view the women who are expected to dress as party girls - good for curves and little else?

Why aren't their puny male colleagues expected to exhibit any muscles, or just let their chaps hang out?

This being an industrial trade fair, there's all manner of talk about robotics, Industry 4.0, and artificial intelligence. We're told Hanover is where "man and machine" come closer together.

It is, rather, where man uses machines to ogle women.

Seventy years after this fair first started, this should be a place of both industrial and social innovation. It should be capable of yearly renewal. After all, would the Hanover Fair have been possible in 1947 if it didn't represent a break with this country's past? It was a new beginning, like so much else after the war.

But the war of sexual politics continues as if nothing had happened in the intervening years. Using - and I do mean using - provocatively-dressed women to entertain tired-looking business men is sexism, pure and simple. It has ramifications far beyond Hanover, effecting how we all see women in society and what their roles can be. Don't we want a healthier balance of men and women in industry, in the sciences and technology? Yes, we do. And with equal respect for all. So, next year, let's see some change at Hanover.