Paper Droids is an online magazine dedicated to geeky girls. As part of our upcoming "Geek Girls" issue (37.3, September 2014), three of the editors were kind enough to answer a few questions about the magazine and what it means to be a woman in geek culture.
What inspired you to start a geek culture website for women?
Nikita Shah (Style editor): It's funny -- this all started as a project when I was in publishing school. The concept of a geek girl magazine was pretty far from my mind until a classmate suggested it to me outside of class. I brought the idea to my group and it was a hit! The magazine really flourished as we got to know each others' strengths and weaknesses, both in a technical sense for running an online magazine, but also in a cultural knowledge and geek knowledge sense. A few years ago, I wasn't very well-educated in women's issues, and the more I learned from my colleagues and my own research, the more passionate I became about creating a space for women to talk about their geeky passions and their views on feminism and geekiness in our culture.
Megan Patterson (Science and Tech editor): When I heard what the group was doing, it was really a no-brainer for me to want to join. I knew I had something to contribute to it, and I had experienced some of the fake geek girl stuff before, so I felt really strongly about creating a site that would be a safe space for them to write and discuss their interests. I’m just glad they let me in!
Elissa Smith (Entertainment editor): I’m pretty sure I invited myself into the group. I basically went up to Nikita before class and told her I wanted in, because I knew that a geeky blog was something I really wanted to help create and be involved in for a while. She was very kind to allow me to join the group in spite of my very abrupt request!
Why do you think it's important to have female-only spaces on the Internet?
Nikita: This is a question we get asked a lot -- particularly, why is it female-only. When it comes to geek culture, male voices reign over the internet. As many females know it's much harder to get heard, and furthermore, it's much harder to be taken seriously. At Paper Droids, we aim to create a space for women to talk about the things that are important to them, how femininity is perceived in geek culture, and to explore how these ideas have impacted their lives. We all know very well that not all men are misogynistic trolls. We have many male readers who identify as feminist and are very progressive thinkers, but the fact that they identify as male means that they have experienced geek culture differently than women.
Megan: Well, speaking for my section, which covers science and tech and video games, it’s important because most of those spaces are so, so hostile to women, to the point where it silences them. There are so many tech and video game sites that even I don’t feel comfortable commenting in. And there are women who want to talk about these things, and often they can’t, because they will get harassed, or drowned out. So I think it’s super important to have female only spaces so that women can feel more comfortable talking about this stuff, and have the discussions that matter to them without worrying about negative repercussions.
Elissa: For me, it’s definitely all about sharing a perspective that doesn’t have as loud a voice on the internet. Even though my section covers plenty of things that aren’t specifically targeted at a female audience, our contributors all have different opinions that are informed by their experiences as female geeks. The internet is full of male and general audience sites, and I think it’s important for female geeks to have a place for themselves as well.
How do you think Paper Droids combats sexism in the geek culture?
Nikita: I think one of the most important way to combat sexism is to talk about it. Our writers are extremely poignant and intelligent women who are capable of expressing their thoughts and feelings on women's issues in their articles. They aren't afraid to post about something that's been going around the internet that's irked them. When they have something to say, they say it, and they put forth their ideas in very articulate ways.
Megan: In science and tech, we’re doing it by just giving women a place to write and talk about issues in science, tech, and video games. They’re afraid to do it. I have a hard time convincing people to write for me, because they think they have to have a degree or something. But that’s not true! Science and tech are part of our everyday lives, and yet women’s voices are often not used to talk about it. A degree certainly helps, but as long as you’re smart and have something to say and are willing to do a bit of extra reading, your voice is just as important as anyone else’s. And I make a concerted effort to publish stories about the contributions of women scientists, programmers, game devs, etc., as much as I can. And I write a lot about the issues facing women in STEM and the game industry, because I want it to get better, and one of the ways I can do that is by highlighting these issues and hope that it helps spur some change.
Elissa: I find having a space where our contributors can talk about just what in geek culture bothers them is extremely helpful, and not just for the contributors. Our readers interact with us on social media and in comments telling us their own thoughts, and it allows for geek girls to really connect and talk about important issues without worrying about internet trolls coming down hard on them.
What do you think it means to be a "geek"?
Nikita: To me, geekiness is being unapologeticly passionate about something. When you can go on and on about what you love to the point that someone might think "that's a little weird" and you don't even care, that's geekiness. Paper Droids is divided into five very broad sections because there are so many things that we can talk about and get mutually excited about.
Megan: Well, I definitely don’t prescribe to its original meaning, which was “sideshow act.” I think now it just means that you’re passionate about something, and that something can be anything: sports, movies, books, comics, tech, whatever. I think means that you’re passionate about something, and you’re willing to share that passion.
Elissa: I don’t think there’s any real magical starting point where liking a specific thing earns you your geek credentials. It’s all about enthusiasm for me. If you’re really passionate about something—cosplay, comic books, history, music, etc.—that makes you a geek for that particular topic.