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Professor Priya Kandaswamy of Mills College speaks with me about VR and Sex Work

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Had a great interview this week with Professor Priya Kandaswamy  who teaches Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Mills College.  Priya is participating in a new project I’m working on about women making VR pornography.  She had many thoughtful ideas about these complex topics.

About sex work and tolerance:

“Changing our cultural conceptions about sex in general would do a tremendous amount to shift the conversation about sex work. In our culture, sex is deeply associated with ideas of morality. Someone can not be into pornography and someone can be into pornography, and it doesn’t have to be a moral clash between those two people. This goes beyond sex in our society and understanding diversity as a positive thing. Moving away from these ideas that there is one way to be. There are lots of different ways to be, and all those different ways to be can exist side by side.”

And VR:

“You could inhabit a different perspective…I think it’s really important for us to think about ways in which our perspectives are limited. It’s interesting to think about a technology that would enable you to see from different perspectives.  But I guess I would question what kind of transformative impact that really has.”  

What if you took on another person’s POV in VR?

“The experience of being a woman is something you live with social consequence all of your life.  To be in that experience for a short period of time might provide you some insight, but I don’t think it really tells you what it’s like to be a woman, right? That insight doesn’t translate to you having to then go outside and get catcalled or get paid less than a male counterpart.  A lot of our experience of these social differences has to do with the material structures around us and how they shape our lives.  The virtual experience, perhaps it provides some sort of understanding, but it doesn’t change those structures. The danger is that it creates an illusion that you understand when maybe you really don’t. … There is a difference between the embodied experience of living an identity and playing with that identity for a little while.”

Priya also brought up something that’s been bothering me — will VR be accessible to everyone, or just a “playground for the wealthy?” I’m looking forward to further discussions with Priya and her students!

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