Dogpatch Press on Women

“Could it be, that guys aren’t here to oppress, as much as reacting to being repressed?”
– Patch O’Furr, Dogpatch Press, 21 April 2014

 

In recent months, I’ve written a couple of articles looking at how the furry community treats women. I presented evidence and discussion for furry being ‘inherently sexist’. Those articles received a fair bit of criticism.

I chatted with a few of the people who were critical and asked if they’d be interested in writing a counterpoint article for publication on [a][s], or otherwise go into a bit more detail. I had two motivations: firstly, because criticism is good thing in general (we’ve published several counterpoints on various issues in the past); and secondly because I wanted to explore the differences in my language, and the language used by someone who doesn’t think that furry is ‘inherently sexist’.

I think it’s an important conversation, and one worth having. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find someone who had the time and motivation to make the argument. That is, until last week.

Dogpatch Press is a relatively new venture, a journalistic if irreverent look at furry by Patch, who you might already know as an occasional contributor over at Flayrah. Patch has written some great stuff in the past (notably this 2013 expose of fake furry ‘dating’ paysites), and he already has some engaging content on Dogpatch Press.

Patch has written a long article, which is critical of my arguments. I recommend that you read it (it’s called All Humans Welcome), and I also recommend that you have a browse through the rest of his site if you haven’t done so already.

Patch is reacting to two of my articles for [a][s] that look at the treatment of women:

1. It’s Raining Men, looking at demographics from Furrypoll data and how that affects furries who might wish to start a relationship with a fellow fur.

2. How To Pick Up (Furry) Women, looking at how women are treated at furry gatherings and conventions, and why it’s not cool.

I want to challenge a few of Patch’s points, but before I do so:

  • I respect and appreciate Patch’s willingness to discuss this topic. I think his opinions reflect those of many people, and I’m glad that he’s taken the time to explore and publish them.
  • Patch uses some strong language. I believe that this is a style choice, intended to be irreverent and jaunty, and not intended to be insulting. I encourage anyone reading his article to approach it in this spirit. (I’ll add that a recent article of his describes a trolling incident, so obviously he doesn’t think he’s a troll.)
  • While I’m challenging Patch in this article, I don’t think that he represents every contrary point of view on the topic. [a][s] is happy to publish opinions from anyone who would like to continue the conversation or disagree.

Right, preliminaries over, let’s look at some of Patch’s comments:

“‘Sexism by numbers.’ A raw number doesn’t show one motivation to cause it, like negative exclusion.”

 

Here, Patch is referring to furry’s gender demographic, which is approximately 80% male / 20% female. He doesn’t think this is evidence of a problem.

He is quite right if you look at this data alone, but there is converging evidence. Converging evidence is evidence from various sources that point to the same conclusion. Nuka wrote about this in some detail recently in a guest post for [a][s], where he says that converging evidence “bolster(s) our confidence in the obtained findings“.

My first piece of converging evidence: many women agree that harassment at furry gatherings is a problem. I’ve spoken with a lot of women through the course of writing these articles, and there is a common (but not universal) theme: that you can expect to be harassed by men if you attend a convention or large meet. Some women choose to stay away; others consider it to be the “price of entry” and manage as best they can.

There is a thread on the Eurofurence forums titled Women at Furry Conventions, where several women share their stories. The responses are similar to the responses I’ve received: a big range of experiences but a common theme. I’ll add that the women responding are largely those who are still active in the furry community—I also spoke to women who chose to leave the community, sometimes after being harassed, sometimes after being sexually assaulted or raped.

My second piece of converging evidence: women are less engaged with furry than men. (Ref furrypoll.com results.) When asked “How strongly do you consider yourself furry?”, women score significantly lower than men.

My third piece of converging evidence: women are under-represented at furry conventions. When you ask furries online to fill in a survey (like Furrypoll or one of the IARP surveys), a consistent 20% or so of the respondents are women. Yet women make up only around 10% of attendees at furry conventions*.

*Source: IARP data, which is partially collected at conventions, discussed here; and Eurofurence demographics (11% female).

It’s clear from this result that furry women are less likely to decide to attend a convention, compared with furry men.

My fourth and final piece of converging evidence: the preponderance of women in the dealers’ den at conventions. When women have an external motivating factor to attend conventions—selling their wares—they attend in much greater numbers.

Patch may argue that none of these pieces of evidence is proof, and he’d be right. But they paint a compelling picture: that women suffer from harassment at large furry events, and that they are choosing to stay away from these events, or leave furry altogether.

“Are women driven away from here because they consider themselves too feeble to deal with annoyances, without special protectors? I disagree. I consider them to be tough, independent equals, who assert themselves. Insecurity isn’t the norm.”

 

I don’t intend to comment in detail on this quote from Patch, except to point it out as one of his more gratuitously privileged and condescending points. Apparently Patch thanks that women who stay away because of harassment are “insecure”.

“It’s easy to suggest that if a significant amount of female furries were more than slightly annoyed with awkward social interaction, they would take matters in their own hands, and form constructive support groups in furry fandom.”

 

Patch sees a dearth of public support groups for furry women as evidence that there isn’t a problem.

Of course, any feminist or women-focussed group in a visible furry space will attract abuse and harassment (see here for an example).

I’d suggest that many women who are harassed simply leave furry altogether.


 

It’s worth reiterating that women are not the only furries who suffer from harassment. It’s common enough for guys to be harassed too, sometimes by gay furries and sometimes by women. This harassment can be serious too – I have, for example, spoken with a male furry who was raped by a female furry.

Even so, furry women are in a special predicament, for two reasons: they are more vulnerable, and they receive much more harassment.

To illustrate what I mean by vulnerability, let me relate a story told by a non-furry friend of mine. This guy is 6′ tall, big and strong, 40 years old, and a world-class aikido teacher (and former competitor). He was at a bar, waiting for his drinks to be poured, when he was approached by a guy, who proceeded to hit on him.

This happens from time to time, where a guy or a girl will hit on my friend. And he will shrug them off, telling them that he’s not interested. The difference on this occasion is that his latest fanboy was tall. This made my friend feel uncomfortable, even though there was no suggestion of violence, even though he could look after himself (and then some) if anything happened, even though he was sure that his fanboy had nothing but good intentions. The fact of a few inches of height was enough to make my friend feel mildly threatened.

So my friend tried to make neutral and noncommittal comments until his drinks arrived, and he made his escape. He wasn’t harmed or damaged in any way except for 30 seconds or so of discomfort.

The slight power imbalance in my friend’s situation is one felt by women all the time. Even though guys who hit on women are often doing so in a friendly and positive way, there can be a perceived element of danger. And it doesn’t matter if the danger is real (or realistic), it only matters how it is perceived. If you are made to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable on a regular basis when you go out, you might question whether you wish to go out at all.

There is a simple experiment that neatly demonstrates how often women are harassed: researchers placed a silent bot on IRC, using either a male name or a female name (ref). Over several weeks of data collection, the female bot received 25 times more malicious messages than the male bot.

78-ircstudy

Harassment can happen to anyone. But it’s more threatening to women than men, and women receive much more than men.

“When a group is imperfectly human- is the glass half empty, or half full? It all comes down to your fundamental view of human nature, and whether it’s evil or not.”

 

Patch makes an interesting point here. He loves furry; I love furry – so why spend time exploring furry’s problems, when I could be discussing those things that make furry great?

I think that it’s good to be self-critical, and that by being self-critical we can become better and better.

“Could it be, that guys aren’t here to oppress, as much as reacting to being repressed?”

 

Which brings me back to Patch’s pièce de résistance, where he argues that men are the marginalized ones, not women. It’s (sadly) a common refrain from men who don’t realise that they are in a privileged position.

He is able to empathize with men who have found furry to be a safe haven, and he can’t imagine that such a tolerant and welcoming place might not seem so tolerant and welcoming to all. He is, unwittingly, refusing to believe that the negative experiences of women in the furry community are valid. And that’s wrong.

But even though I disagree with much of Patch’s essay, I’m glad that he has taken the time to write it. It’s an important conversation, and criticism is always welcome.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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13 thoughts on “Dogpatch Press on Women

  1. Heh. I’m not even female and I often feel oppressed by rampant sexual and sexist attitudes in large furry gatherings or online forums.

    It is unfortunately a common element of any gathering in which human males hold a supermajority, whether that is a convention, a classroom, a sporting event, a bar, or an online gathering spot. This is learned behavior, but it quickly becomes ingrained. And because it is rarely criticized (let alone punished) it continues to flourish.

    I don’t have an answer, as I’ve despaired of finding one after so many years of observation. However, I take issue with anyone who denies that the problem exists. It does, most emphatically.

    1. It’s my hope that articles like this one will provoke a bit of discussion and give the issue some visibility. I think a lot of people are unaware (or unwilling to accept) that there is a problem.

      With visibility, change will come. For example, I know of a couple of conventions in Australia who are actively taking steps to improve the experience of women who attend (which is a partial response to the biggest Australian convention, Confurgence, which has a bad reputation). And the Eurofurence forum thread I referenced was started by the con chair, soliciting opinions and feedback from women who have attended. It’s a step in the right direction.

  2. There are a lot of awesome things in furry. The amount of creativity is fantastic. However, there are ALSO a bunch of negative things in/about furry, and if we fail to see them, we do ourselves a disservice. The geeky, nerdy fandom as a whole seems to be experiencing a kind of backlash against those who would silence women because they spoke a negative word, and I think that this can only be a good thing.

  3. Okay, I’m going to respond to both your and Patches comments here from a woman’s perspective, and it may get long. Double quotes are Patch’s.

    ““Are women driven away from here because they consider themselves too feeble to deal with annoyances, without special protectors? I disagree. I consider them to be tough, independent equals, who assert themselves. Insecurity isn’t the norm.””

    You’d be amazed, Patch. It’d be one thing if all women had to deal with are some socially awkward nerds at conventions. If that were the case, there would be a lot more women at cons, dare I say even half. However, the truth is these “annoyances” happen everywhere, and all the time. I’m not exaggerating. Every single place we go, there is a chance we will be sexually harassed, and it often happens. This is a good place to get an idea of what happens: http://everydaysexism.com/ A lot of these things are just annoyances (often even worse than that), but when they happen constantly, it’s like swimming through a sea of acid. To try to relate, it would be like everyone asking to suck your dick (or have you suck theirs), slap your butt, or just straight up insult you just for walking down the street. Also, they might try to beat the living shit out of you and rape you for no good reason. Keep in mind this would happen to you frequently. Worse yet, when you complain to your friends, some might even say “You’re overreacting.” and “You should be happy to get that kind of attention.” It’s toxic. So, yes, while women are tough and assertive, there’s only so much shit one human being can tolerate to the point where it’s easier to sometimes not to talk or go out at all. Also hence why you see less women at fur cons.

    ““It’s easy to suggest that if a significant amount of female furries were more than slightly annoyed with awkward social interaction, they would take matters in their own hands, and form constructive support groups in furry fandom.””

    Yea, we’ve tried taking matters into our own hands. We’re still trying. When people hate you, insult you, harass you, and threaten to rape you for critiquing a comic book cover (http://comicsalliance.com/sexual-harassment-online-rape-threats-comics-superheroes-lessons-men-geek-culture/) or merely existing (http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/marinaomi-harassed-comics-panel), there’s not a lot you can do. The truth is, support groups of women don’t solve the main problem. All they really do is make women feel better and bring these issues to light (which is important, don’t get me wrong). The solution, in my opinion, lies with men learning to recognize these problems, not causing these problems in the first place, and stopping other men from causing these problems. And some of them do, and that’s good! But it needs to be a lot more wide spread than it is.

    “I’d suggest that many women who are harassed simply leave furry altogether.”

    Okay JM, this is a horrible idea for one very big reason: it will tell the harassers that they’ve won. Women leaving fandoms all together is going to do more harm than good. One, it will allow the harassers to amplify the sexist culture with no consequences, and two, it will give the impression that no women in fandoms is normal to good, well meaning men. There’s already a problem with good men not believing or noticing that this is happening (as evidenced by Patch’s comments). If women leave altogether, there will be no education on this issue. No, I believe the solution to this is to have more women in the fandom educating good men on what happens, so the community as a whole can work on solving these problems. Also, if women were to leave, where would we go to express our interests? There’s hardly a fandom out there that’s solely female. Fanfic is the closest, and that’s hardly free of it’s own special sexism.

    “The slight power imbalance in my friend’s situation is one felt by women all the time. Even though guys who hit on women are often doing so in a friendly and positive way, there can be a perceived element of danger. And it doesn’t matter if the danger is real (or realistic), it only matters how it is perceived. If you are made to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable on a regular basis when you go out, you might question whether you wish to go out at all.”

    I covered some of this above, but yea, when I want to talk to other nerds in a public setting, there’s roughly a 20%-40% chance that I’ll become uncomfortable because of a guy (my odds are lower because I’m almost 6 feet tall; for shorter women it seems to be worse) . This in increased if I’m the only women there. They may be well meaning, but more often than not, in order to keep a conversation with me, they follow me and invade my personal bubble, even though I give all the signs that I don’t want to talk to them right know. Telling them they’re being creepy may not work either. Most often, they will say “no I’m not” or “your overreacting” and keep doing the behavior. I’ve been lucky that they haven’t turned hostile, but I’ve heard that’s happened. But that’s the thing, you don’t know if someone is going to turn hostile, and some women do not want to take that chance.

    “”“Could it be, that guys aren’t here to oppress, as much as reacting to being repressed?””

    I admit, I don’t even get this comment. How in the world are guys repressed? That’s like me saying because I’m white and POC complain about racism, that’s somehow their complaints are ruining my good time? Is that what he’s saying? I don’t know. What?

    Anyway, that’s my $0.02.

    1. Hi Scape, thanks for the comment, and sorry for the delay in having it published. We have an auto-spam system running on [a][s], and your comment was flagged as “questionable”, so needed to be specifically approved. Unfortunately I only saw it just now, which is a pity because it deserves to be read by a wide audience.

      (As it turns out, I spotted your ‘pending’ comment while uploading another article on the topic, which will be published on Sunday.)

      I completely agree that it’s a problem that good men either don’t notice or don’t believe that this can happen in our much-loved fandom. It’s my hope that this discussion will help raise the profile a little. Thanks for the comment, thanks for the thoughtful perspective, and thanks for taking the time to participate.

    2. Thanks so much for posting this, Scape! I wish people saw more of these perspectives.
      I’m involved with a couple of other ‘geek’ communities and they suffer many of the same problems as furry. Hopefully it’ll get better.

    3. I think (I hope!) that when JM wrote “I’d suggest that many women who are harassed simply leave furry altogether” he was making an observation rather than proposing a course of action :)

    1. Keito

      Thanks for the link, that is some really interesting reading.

      I think there are parallels with a relatively recent event over here: a older Christian couple refused to allow a gay couple of stay at their B&B. They were sued (successfully), but much of the public discussion was about how Christians in the UK are having their human rights infringed. Of course I completely disagree with their point of view, but I completely sympathise with how they reached it – simply, they find themselves in a position of less privilege, and so they think they are the ones being discriminated against.

      I was at Confuzzled over the weekend and gave a panel bringing up this very topic. There was more food for thought there. I will certainly be writing about it again, and I dare say that I’ll use your link as a key reference. Thanks for sharing it.

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