Women who watch porn have been left out of the conversation: Deep Dives editor

How do sex, gender and technology come together in the modern world? Richa Kaul Padte is the managing editor of Deep Dives, an award-winning digital imprint, and is interested in examining that question. Deep Dives' first collection was called Sexing the Interwebs, and ran in 2015. Richa and the team is now running Sexing the Interwebs: Season Two. Excerpts from an interview:

Richa, please tell us about how Deep Dives started. What was the genesis of ‘Sexing the Interwebs’ Season 1 and what prompted you to put together a season 2?

Deep Dives began in 2015 as a freewheeling conversation between Bishakha Datta and myself. Bishakha runs Point of View, a women’s non-profit in Mumbai (which, by the way, is where I had my first proper job), and they had some funding available. I was at a place in my life where I was dealing with severe health issues and feeling pretty uninspired, and so I think both of us felt excited about the prospect of making this thing together. We’re also both writers, and we love good writing, so I think in a way the impetus behind Deep Dives and Sexing the Interwebs was that we wanted to create the type of writing we like to read – about issues that matter to us.

Gender, sexuality and technology — Sexing the Interwebs looks at an intersection of these in its featured writing, artwork. Why are you specifically interested in these three ideas? A lot of your personal writing on your website also looks at these subjects.

There are so many ways to look at this, but here’s a simple one: technology is increasingly central to our lives. I’m not only talking about rich people with iPhone 7s, but I mean basic Nokia phones, or Facebook, or CCTV surveillance. Digital technologies are becoming embedded in the ways in we navigate the world, and the ways we communicate with each other.

Deep Dives' Sexing the Interwebs

Deep Dives' Sexing the Interwebs

At the same time, there are massive gender inequalities, not just in India but everywhere, which results in women being left out of conversations about technology (and like with all inequalities, the more marginalised women are, the further away they’ll be from the tiny room where these conversations are happening). Aside from being sexist and perpetuating all sorts of further inequalities, this creates a situation where decisions about technology are made on behalf of women, which tend to translate as: for the protection of women. And often, what women are being ‘protected’ from is the threat of sexuality, which is apparently taking all sorts of new violent forms with digital technology.

To me the super interesting (or terrible) thing about all this is that no one is actually asking women how they feel. I mean, we know for a fact that Indian women are using technology to navigate sexuality: porn, dating, sexting, selfies. We also know for a fact that access to technology is unequal, and so are experiences of tech – such as the gender-specific abuse women regularly face on Twitter. So it follows that what would really make a lot of sense now, in this new digital India, is to make some serious room for women’s experiences of gender, sex and tech.

Oh, maybe that’s the answer to your question about why we’re working on these three ideas. Because it’s the sensible thing to do.

How has technology impacted gender and sexuality (and the other way round as well)?

I think it works both ways. So on the one hand, you have technology shaping new negotiations of sexuality, and also allowing sexually marginalised groups including women to explore and express desires and solidarities.

And on the other hand, the pursuit of gender equality has the potential to actually shape the future of technology. I think given the way technology is seeping into every aspect of our lives, digital rights are totally bound up with other human rights. And if we have enough diverse voices discussing these intersections, we’ll hopefully end up asking more questions like: are CCTV cameras making women feel safe or uncomfortable? Or, say, is the way social media currently functions gender equal?

Oh and as for sex influencing tech, I really recommend a book called The Erotic Engine by Patchen Barss. It’s a history of how the pursuit of porn has powered all sorts of communication technologies through the ages.

Why do you think a platform like Deep Dives is needed — or rather, what does it make possible?

So this brings me back to what I was saying before, about how women are excluded from conversations about technology. A really good example of this is the proposed porn ban, which is something I have been obsessed with for years now. There’s this idea that we need to ban porn to protect India’s ‘vulnerable women’ (seriously, that’s verbatim from the Supreme Court petition), but what about the tons of women who watch porn? There are so many of us, but we’ve all been left out of the conversation.

Screengrab of Deep Dives' Sexing the Interwebs

Screengrab of Deep Dives' Sexing the Interwebs

I think in a nutshell, Deep Dives (and currently, Sexing the Interwebs) is a way of putting women and trans* people at the forefront of the conversations we’ve been excluded from. But instead of continuing the debates in the same manner, we want to shift the terms. Deep Dives is about well-told narratives and compelling art, but it’s also about using language that’s actually relevant to real people and not legal petitions. We want to create a space for storytelling that reads like experience: messy, sweaty, sexy.

What for you, as an editor (and also writer), have been particularly interesting, fulfilling stories to have on the site? Could you talk about some of these in a little more detail — why you felt they were important, what conversations they triggered. Also, was there something quirky you came across that you mightn’t have known of before? For instance, when publishing the story on ‘A twist in a straight line’?

I’ve genuinely loved working on every single one of these stories, because they’ve all taught me things I didn’t know. I guess that’s the thing about deep storytelling: as soon as you scratch below the surface, and start to see interviewees as full people rather than quotes, you are automatically revealing something new – because everyone’s experience is different.

But since you asked, there are two things that immediately stand out for me. Last month we published an essay by Neha Dixit that followed one woman’s experience of “revenge porn”. This is a story I’ve wanted to tell for ages, because there is so much victim-blaming around this particular type of consent violation (‘why did you let him take that kind of picture?’ and so on) that women just don’t feel safe coming forward. What’s more, all the Indian reportage around these cases is about scandal and shame, rather than what it actually feels like to be a victim of this crime. I think Neha did such a great job of staying true to the survivor’s story.

The other piece is a poem by Priya-Alika Elias that we published as a part of season one. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s called ‘Text’ and it is exquisite. Honestly, I didn’t edit a single word, it was just so beautiful.

What are some of the other stories you’re looking at exploring on Deep Dives or in your personal writing? Are there any questions you have that you’d love to explore?

Future projects are still in the planning stages, but I can tell you for certain that we’re definitely going to take deeper dives into sexuality. Bishakha’s done loads of work with sex workers over the years, so that’s a thread we’re keen to follow. And we’re also very interested in younger women, and what negotiations of sexuality might look like for, say, a teenage girl.

As for me, I will probably continue to chase my love for porn until it either results in a book or in my laptop overheating. I think it’s too soon to tell which way the chips will fall.


Published Date: Mar 11, 2017 06:06 am | Updated Date: Mar 12, 2017 11:55 am


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