Interview: Lydia Caldana, GSSI Student/GSSI Website Developer
Hi Lydia. To get started, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Lydia Caldana. I am from Brazil and left for Italy in 2009 when I was 17 years old to go to university. In Italy, I came into contact with trend forecasting and knew that was what I wanted to pursue as a career. I went to London to get my undergraduate degree in Trend Prediction and Forecasting from University of East London. During those five and a half years in Europe, I also worked at leading trend bureaus, like Trend Union and Protein.
After graduating, I returned to Brazil and worked full-time as a brand strategist and forecaster. My projects exploring Latin American culture and behavior led me to realize that gender, race, and class were always key issues that would radically change the entire project. Though these are global issues, they are exacerbated in Latin America due to violent colonialist processes that shape our culture and societies.
That’s when I decided to study Gender and Sexuality more in depth and came across Gender and Sexuality Studies at The New School. I enrolled as a master’s student in Liberal Studies to be able to focus on Gender and Sexuality Studies and have a minor in Global Urban Futures. That way I get to explore behavior and intersectionality as well as apply it to urban landscapes and its inequalities.
I am also a part of the SexTech Lab at The New School, an applied psychology lab that studies the intersectionality of technology, ethics, and culture.
…and the primary developer of this website! It’s difficult to adequately express how grateful we are to you for your ceaseless and meticulous efforts in building up this platform. Though it’s been a lengthy and complex process, could you summarize any central motives or insights that most guided you in this work?
There is a lot of thought that goes into creating brand identity and website usability. Interfaces are finally becoming more people-centric, that is, prioritizing easy access to the most looked for information, for example. Long are the days when ‘exclusivity’ and ‘scarcity’ formed our idea of aspirational and beautiful. Full access and democratization of everything is the way forward, so things like resources, blogs, podcasts, history – all of these help people have a clear understanding of what the Gender and Sexualities Studies Institute is about.
The website takes the ‘people-centric’ concept further by alphabetizing the Research and Practice page by forename. A crucial part of mainstreaming feminism is dismantling the patriarchal codes embedded in our society, and by calling people by their first names – and not their father’s surnames – we are acknowledging them as people with rights to their individuality.
Returning to your first response in relation to this emphasis on ‘right to individuality,’ can you say more about what you mean when you say that gender, race, and class were always key issues radically impacting your projects? How did gender disrupt or complicate the intended project?
For example, I worked with Uber (Rides and Eats) to understand emerging behaviors in Latin America. We looked at various topics (like socialization, food and drink, mobility, home life, and so on) through various qualitative research methodologies (speaking to consumers, interviewing experts, and conducting desk-based research). We were able to find political, economic, social, and technological contexts that shape Latin America’s realities and that give birth to people’s demands. When we had identified those demands, we were able to design ways in which Uber could step in and deliver solutions that had a perfect fit with local culture.
Economies in Latin America are weak and their governments are volatile. States lack the resources to secure very basic necessities, so inequalities are huge. At the same time, Latin America has experienced a process called “technological frog leap” where people go from having no or little contact with technology (internet, computers) to suddenly accessing the latest version (smartphones). Latin American didn’t transition from desktops to laptops, “dumb phones” to smartphones; they went straight to smartphones. This enables many things, obviously, but it also allows tech companies like Uber to step in and offer better services than what the government offers.
For example, transportation in Latin America. It is very unsafe for women, LGBTQIA+ people, and other groups to walk or use public transportation at night or alone. Uber offers a private and great way of moving around at almost the same cost of a bus ticket.
Among the places you’ve lived, Brazil, Italy, the UK, and the US have all had outsize roles in the current pandemic. There has been a lot of writing about how the complications of the pandemic/quarantine and gender inequity come to intersect at this particular moment. How has your engagement with gender studies affected how you think about
the COVID-19 pandemic?
The biggest impact that I have seen in terms of COVID-19 and gender has been in emerging markets, like Brazil. Domestic violence was already a huge issue, and with victims being forced to spend more time with their aggressors at home, the numbers are skyrocketing. The government is not looking at domestic violence as a gendered issue. Recently, they released a campaign that asks people — including neighbors — to report suspicions of domestic violence against women, children and the elderly. To deny that domestic violence in Brazil is a gendered issue is to invisibilize the pain of millions, and to deny the numbers that clearly show this is the case. There are no proper programs that provide shelters for women in inhospitable homes, and the solution of “just report it” shows little sensitivity to a complex situation. Along with the sanitary crisis, unemployment rates are at their highest; alcohol consumption has increased; children aren’t away at schools. All of these tensions add to the domestic violence abuse.
Can you tell us more about what the Sex Tech lab with Prof. Pantea Farvid is like?
The SexTech Lab is an amazing space for discussion, study, and practice of feminist psychology. We look at current topics, like mobile dating during COVID-19, and anarchafeminist relationship models. We use this space to question some of what has been pushed onto us as ‘standard’ or ‘the norm,’ like heterosexuality and monogamy. We also look at relationships mediated through technology, and the biases and ethical issues behind technology. We are still setting the lab up, but we hope it will become a great articulator of feminist ideas regarding sexuality, gender, and culture — not only for academia, but also for the greater public.
If you could recommend just one GSS course to students, which one would it be and why?
I would recommend Gender and Its Discontents. It provides a very comprehensive exposure to various topics through the lens of gender, like Marxism, sustainability, and psychoanalysis. The readings are fascinating, and the teaching is inspiring.
Lydia Caldana (GSSI website’s primary developer) is a student in Gender and Sexuality Studies and part of the SexTech Lab at The New School.