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The Messenger - Immersion #5: Gender and Immersion

The Messenger
The Messenger - Immersion #5: Gender and Immersion
By Socratus • Issue #49 • View online
We are used to thinking of gender identities as fixed: once you’re born in a woman’s body you’re going to stay a woman your entire life. In contrast, gender fluidity is a new concept for most of us: technology and society are changing in ways in which it’s becoming possible to choose one’s gender rather than accept it.
Even if you don’t want to become a different gender from what you’re now, you might be able to inhabit another gender’s body for a bit using immersive technologies.

Gender and Identity
Immersive tech can be used to play with gender in many ways. One is to switch genders in a virtual world - why should your virtual avatar have the same gender as your real world one?
What’s both unsurprising and sad is that harassment carries over the virtual world - if your avatar is a woman in a virtual world that has many other avatars, that avatar will sooner or later encounter unwelcome behaviour.
On the plus side, virtual worlds can implement Rawls’ famous ‘veil of ignorance’ and by experiencing the world from the perspective of a randomly assigned gender might help everyone see how other genders inhabit the world.
There’s a puzzle about gender identity worth unpacking. One the one hand, we want everyone to be treated the same - their need for dignity acknowledged, their capacity to flourish encouraged and their bodily autonomy respected. On the other hand, we also want to acknowledge that different genders have different experiences that are unique to that gender.
So what comes first: SIMILARITY or DIFFERENCE?
It’s too easy to say ‘similarity comes first,’ – we are all human aren’t we? But equal treatment and equal protection becomes an issue often when it’s difference that’s salient. It’s not enough to say: women (or gender minorities) should be treated the same as men because both are human. It’s equally important to say: women (gender minorities) should be treated the same as men despite women being women and men being men.
Sameness can’t come by denying difference, but by acknowledging it.
Some Links
Before you switch from Zoom calls to VR as your primary mode of work:
I Spent Hundreds of Hours Working in VR. Here’s What I Learned | WIRED
and what if ‘real reality’ was also virtual, as in: it’s a construction of our brains.
How the Brain 'Constructs' the Outside World - Scientific American
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