Virtual Reality or VR may be a field that is still in its nascent stages of development. However, it is a field which is expected to raise a revenue of around $7.2bn (£5.6bn) globally, by the end of the year 2017. But, the already low and ever decreasing opportunities for qualified, educated women in the field have become quite an issue. This has been increasing in recent times especially after the Silicon Valley Company Upload VR came under the scanner for its obnoxious treatment of its female employees. They were booked under various charges including gender discrimination and sexual assaults against their female employees.
In spite of many such instances, there are people, including a lot of women who are trying hard to make the industry more congenial for women, by giving them a more conducive atmosphere to prove their mettle. They are also trying to give women the space that they deserve, by making content for, and about them. For instance, Independent filmmaker Jayisha Patel is a woman trying to exploit VR’s potential. Her film Notes to My Father is a short documentary that explores the story of a human-trafficking survivor, an Indian woman named Ramadevi. When viewed through a headset, the perspective is chilling.
One of the most harrowing scenes positions the viewer inside a train carriage full of men. In virtual reality, it is a vivid and uncomfortable depiction of what it is like to be the subject of the male gaze. “I was trying to get the viewer to feel what it’s like being the only woman in the carriage and having all these men staring at you, hearing them adjust their belts, breathing heavily. You start to understand what it’s really like to be objectified,” says Patel. “What I wanted to do with this film was not just use the female gaze in a story about sexual abuse, which is typically a women’s issue, but use it to address the fact that men are often complicit in it and are instigators of it,” she says. “Doing stories about women is not just about showing empowered women on screen for a female audience, it’s also about showing vulnerability, so it can be a piece not just for a female audience, but for everyone.” Here, the female gaze in virtual reality puts the viewer in the shoes of a character, offering an empathetic, sensory exploration of the female experience.
Another example of the virtual reality that positions the viewer in a female space comes from producer and curator Catherine Allen. She runs a VR diversity initiative that tries to get more women to create virtual reality. “We’ve got this golden opportunity to make the VR space as inclusive and diverse as possible, but right now it is so male-dominated and the content reflects that. When I go to the Oculus store, I’m hit by so many pieces that feel like they’re made by men, for men,” she says. These women, by way of their small yet strong initiatives, are trying to change the male dominated scenario in VR as much as possible. Finding ways to amplify women’s voices, stories and narratives is no mean feat, but virtual reality is starting to look like a positive space in which to execute those stories.
The situation for women in VR has been bad for a while, but these women who are trying to and willing to make a change must be supported and encouraged. That way, we can probably better the situation that the women are facing in the big, bad field of virtual reality.