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Women Use Virtual Reality to Create New Opportunities In Silicon Valley

The up and coming industry, virtual reality, has been making waves in the technology sector. A spring 2017 virtual reality industry report, conducted by Greenlight Insights, said that virtual reality is predicted to gross $7.2 billion in this year alone and magnify more than 20 times that amount within the next three years, with an expected $150 billion by 2020.

In a male dominated industry, described by many (including an article from the Guardian) as leaning too heavily on being by men and for men, a promising new sector can be seen as a bright opportunity for an underrepresented minority to push forward in marking their place in tech.

Women in Silicon Valley have been jumping at this opening to level what has been a primarily male-dominated industry.

Radboud University professor and visual culture expert, Anneke Smelik, told the Guardian that the prime opportunity for women to make their move is now. She said, “Gaming, and VR generally, is considered very much a male genre, but female artists and filmmakers need to start appropriating new genres and technologies for their own storytelling.”

The Guardian reports that the industry’s first major investments were primarily gaming and pornography – both of which are male centered. And after media had begun to discuss and dismantle the apparent gender issue in the tech industry and in Silicon Valley, feminists everywhere were happy to hear that this new industry sector is potentially making VR the most diverse corner of the male-dominated tech space.

Women producers have been taking steps to ensure that the new sector won’t be as one-gendered as the rest of the tech industry and, as the Guardian said, “making content for and about women.”

Independent filmmaker, Jayisha Patel, is one of these women. Patel directed a short documentary following the story of “a human-trafficking survivor”, titled “Notes to My Father”. The perspective, when the film is watched through virtual reality technology, tells the tale through the point of view of Ramadevi, the woman whose life inspired the scenes of pain, objectification and sexual assault. Patel told the Guardian, “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.”

Patel expounded on the importance of placing those watching into the “female gaze.” She said, “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.”

Producer and curator Catherine Allen is another woman who is putting in work to create more “female spaces” in the virtual reality world. Allen, who leads a virtual reality initiative focused on bringing more women to create virtual reality technology, told the Guardian, “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 on the Oculus store, I’m hit by so many pieces that feel like they’re made by men, for men.” Her goals, reported the Guardian, are to find “ways to amplify women’s voices, stories and narratives.”
“We’re still working out what virtual reality even is, how it fits into society and who experiences it. I don’t think it has more opportunity to expose people to women’s stories than any other medium,” Allen said, “but because, as an industry, it is newer, we have a responsibility to help make it the most diverse form of entertainment it can be – and one that can be reflective of society.”

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