Furry Women at Furry Conventions

In recent months, several [adjective][species] contributors, including myself, have been writing about issues faced by women who participate in the furry community.

In general, we’ve suggested that furry isn’t a welcoming environment for many women. We are male-dominated, and we don’t always do enough to reduce or prevent deliberate or accidental sexist behaviour. Many women avoid socialising in large furry groups, and many others choose to stop associating with furry altogether.

We have presented a wide range of evidence that supports this point of view, all of it necessarily either indirectly inferred from Furry Survey data, or based on anecdotal evidence. This evidence is certainly good enough for the basis of discussion, but many furries felt we were either inventing a problem that doesn’t exist, or exaggerating the issue.

Last week, the IARP published some hard data. And it doesn’t make for nice reading.

IARP volunteers handed out surveys to attendees at this year’s Furry Fiesta, held February 21 to 23 in Dallas, USA. 246 surveys were returned, out of 1884 total attendees. You can see their results in full, with discussion, here:


As part of this research, they ran a focus group comprising of 21 women. They asked about experiences of sexism:

  • 68.4% of women agreed that the fandom was an intimidating place for women
  • 22.0% of women felt that women in the fandom were looked down upon. 66.7% of women felt that women in the fandom were put on a pedestal or revered. Those two variables were found to be highly correlated (r = .61, p = .008). The researchers also noted that past research on hostile and benevolent sexism has suggested that both forms of sexism often go hand-in-hand.

Aside from the questions asked by the IARP, there was also some open discussion in the focus group, to explore other common experiences. Among the themes expressed:

  • Several participants indicated that ‘inappropriate touching’ was a problem at conventions, with furries feeling entitled to hug or to touch them because they were in suit, cosplaying, or simply for being a female.
  • Many women expressed frustration over having male friends who would try to make a relationship sexual, or who were friends with the goal of one day becoming more than ‘just friends’. In a similar vein, relationship statuses seemed to be a barrier for many women, who found it difficult to make male friends when they were in a heterosexual relationship.

I urge you to read the whole thing.

I also recommend that you share and discuss the results in social fora, be that Twitter, Fur Affinity, Reddit, or wherever your furry social networks exist.

The IARP’s Furry Fiesta research is notable in that their sample of 21 female furries is a fairly large proportion of the total number of women at the convention (assuming that women made up about 10% of the total turnout, which is typical as far as we can tell). But it’s also worth pointing out that they weren’t able to talk to those women who chose not to attend the convention.

Convention attendees tend to be older than the average furry, and they tend to have been involved with furry for longer. It is reasonable to guess that the women who attend cons are those who are less subject to unwelcome attention, or less affected by unwelcome attention.

To put it another way: furry women who attend a convention have usually got a pretty good idea of what to expect, and they have concluded that any negative experiences associated with spending a few days at a convention are outweighed by the positive experiences. Necessarily, this means that the women who attend are less vulnerable—they are older, more experienced, and more capable of dealing with unwelcome behaviour—compared with women who didn’t attend.

Yet 68% of these women—the ones who are less vulnerable—agreed that furry is an intimidating place for women.

This, to me, is incredibly strong evidence that women (as a group) have a different experience within furry than men (as a group). It is ridiculous to suggest that 68% of men—the older, the more experienced, the convention-going, the less vulnerable men—find furry to be intimidating.

As it turns out, I was at a convention myself last week: Confuzzled, the biggest UK convention that gets bigger and better every year. One night, I was chatting to a (male) friend of mine who introduced me to a (female) friend of his. As we started chatting, she happened to make reference to her boyfriend.

This was, I learned, a coping strategy. When she meets new, male furs in a social environment, she has learned that mentioning her boyfriend helps reduce the regularity with which she receives unwelcome attention. Like the women in the IARP’s focus group, she often has to deal with “male friends who would try to make a relationship sexual, or who were friends with the goal of one day becoming more than ‘just friends’“. For her, this is something she has to do in a convention environment, to help make sure the positive experiences outweigh the negative experiences.

Furry is not alone. Many other male-dominated groups fail to create environments that are welcoming for women: other fandoms, sports fans, gaming communities. Very few men in these groups are outright sexist or want to be intimidating towards women—the problems are largely caused by invisible cultural norms. It takes specific effort to change things.

So what can we change?

Firstly, we can acknowledge that the problem exists. We can share evidence of the problem, be that scientific evidence like that presented by the IARP, or stories of negative experience.

Secondly, we can act as advocates for women. We can do this by challenging people who think that women have it easier than men*, and those people who think that the problem doesn’t exist.

* the IARP Furry Fiesta survey found that 42% of furries feel that the fandom treats women too positively

Thirdly, convention organisers can take steps to be more welcoming for women. This might include a women-only convention orientation session, to introduce women to the convention policy on sexual harassment and key security staff (as well as being a venue for women to meet and support each other through their experiences).

Fourthly… well, that’s something for each of us to think about. It’s a complex and pervasive problem, and it’s not going to disappear in a hurry. But it can get better, with time, and with the efforts of thoughtful and caring furries. Like you and me.

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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14 thoughts on “Furry Women at Furry Conventions

  1. Once again I point out that this issue is NOT limited solely to women, but is probably much more apparent for women.

    Because of the greatly exaggerated emphasis on sexualities that furry fandom has developed over the years (something I still fail to understand,) men attending conventions or other large furry events can also feel intimidated, oppressed, or even threatened. I have felt this myself, in spite of being much older than most attendees; and also in spite of the fact that I am gay and partnered, so I don’t suffer from the fears that heterosexual males may have when confronted with a very visible percentage of obviously gay men.

    Because of the reputation that furry has acquired in some of the less reputable popular media, these issues are magnified further. Furry may even appear to be a haven for some individuals who are looking for potential victims. I agree that this needs to change, but I have no idea how to shake off something so pervasive that even the furries themselves (many of them) actually believe it.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more Altivo that issues of felt intimidation in the fandom are certainly not isolated to women in the fandom! I agree that issues of oppression, bullying, intimidation, and threats are relevant to all members of the fandom. However, I’ll also contend that there ARE panels on such subjects at various cons: panels for members of different minority groups specifically, panels discussing issues such as bullying and bigotry, and panels which help new furs to acclimatize to the fandom and to overcome some of the intimidation they may face when they first enter the fandom.

      Were I to run a panel at a furry convention aimed at addressing issues of discrimination faced by sexual minorities in the fandom, one would expect the topics to focus predominantly on issues facing gays and lesbians in the fandom, who may face bigotry in the fandom despite the fandom’s valuing openness and acceptance. There would hopefully be discussion of asexuality, an orientation that is all-too-often overlooked, dismissed, or trivialized. Discrimination felt by polyamorists or people who express free love or any other sexual minority would be a topic worth discussing in such a panel.

      But hopefully you can see how frustrating it would be for all of those groups, who may struggle to find a voice in the fandom, to have a straight guy raise his hand and say “yeah, that’s all good, but straight guys have to deal with problems too!” No one will deny that anyone can experience bigotry, discrimination, marginalization, ostracisim, and bullying. But there are times and there are places to discuss such issues – including creating panels purpose-created to address these issues. But the time and place to discuss the issues plaguing heterosexual men in the fandom is NOT in the middle of a panel intended to discuss issues plaguing sexual minorities in the fandom, just as the place to discuss one’s love of Sonic the Hedgehog is not in the middle of the Pokemon man, and just as the place to discuss issues faced by men in the fandom is not in the middle of the “Issues faced by women” panel.

      I guess the point is that I agree these are worthwhile issues to discuss, and I think it would be great if someone were to create a panel to discuss these issues! But there’s a time and a place to address them, and that is in a forum / panel / discussion where that is the stated goal and where participants in the discussion have come for that reason.

      1. It was certainly not my intention to co-opt or derail the topic.

        My position, however, is that nearly all of the issues you list here are actually manifestations of the same basic problem. It seems better to me to focus on the chief cause, rather than trying to treat the symptoms alone.

  2. I’m appreciative of your continued articles about women in the fandom. I think it’s very valuable. In terms of our strategies at Confurgence and FurWAG, we’ve been very mindful to create spaces where women can talk about their experiences, (the women in the fandom panels). In those spaces, we all agreed that having these safe arenas to talk was an essential part of helping to change the fandom, as was talking about the issues with other people who may not have attended the panels. I’m very grateful that although these panels aren’t attended by the majority of con goers, feedback is that it is valuable to have them.

    One issue we found was that some men who chose to attend the panel at Confurgence, (there were a couple), tended to co-opt the discussion in the way that Altivo has above. While I hate to exclude people from these panels, all too often, women’s raising of issues is met by a complaint from men that “Not all men are like this” or “Some men have a difficult time too.” This attitude isn’t helpful and, in my opinion, makes people less likely to speak up, even in a safe space like we attempted to create in those panels. It also undermines the specificity to gender that are at the root of some of these issues.

    The ‘women-specific intro’ panel is a good idea and one I’m going to bring up with our committees.

    1. Heya Flye, I really appreciated the (unfortunately titled) ‘Females in the Fandom’ discussion/panel at Confurgence, although it maybe could have had a bit more of an agenda before hand which may have stopped some of the men there de-railing.

      As I mentioned then, these issues are being talked about across all fandoms and STEM culture at http://geekfeminism.org and many of the 101-type questions people have are already answered on the wiki, for instance http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Resources_for_allies for guys who would like to see a more welcoming environment for women and girls, and http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Patriarchy_hurts_men_too (re the above comment that men suffer from harassment at cons as well).

      Altivo, while your comment is probably well intentioned, it’s derailing a topic that is specifically about women, and is a really common occurence in these kinds of discussions.


      – Pomke

    2. One problem you run into with panels like that is whether to not allow men into them at all. If you do, then even a small number of male attendees can derail the discussion, which it sounds like is what happened at the panel Flye is discussing. Even if the males keep quiet, the mere presence of males may be enough to make some of the women less inclined to share and open up.

      But from a convention operations perspective, do we really want to have a women-only event? We’re supposed to be an open, all-inclusive fandom. If we allow women-only events, does that mean we also have to allow men-only events? Who decides whether a transgendered person is female? Can someone attend wearing a fursuit that conceals their gender? Questions like that are some of the reasons many conventions would rather not open that can of worms.

      1. For what it’s worth, I’ll throw my two cents in here, as the fellow who ran the women-only focus groups for the IARP research =)

        When setting up the focus group, there were a number of men who were interested in attending the panel. Admittedly, when planning the panel, which was described as being for women only, it hadn’t occurred to me what to do if men were interested in participating. Those who self-identified as transgender I allowed in, but I tried my best to indicate to the men who wanted to participate that the panel was for those self-identifying as women only. I made a point of emphasizing that it wasn’t a “punishment” thing, nor did I assume that they had planned to take over the panel and make it about men’s issues. Far from it – these were men who, as far as I can tell, were fully supportive of women’s issues and legitimately interested in hearing what women in the fandom had to say.

        In retrospect, while I am glad, in the end, that I stuck to the “men only” aspect of the panel, it did make me think that there is certainly a place for panels about women’s issues that don’t necessarily have to be women-only. However, to avoid the issue of the panel being taken over, it should be CLEARLY stated what the purpose of the panel is, and emphasized that anyone attempting to derail the panel from its intended purpose will be asked to leave. That wouldn’t mean that a panel about issues facing men or issues about sexuality in the fandom are not welcome: in fact, I don’t see a problem with having analogous panels for men. However, in the same way that I wouldn’t put up with someone walking into one of my presentations about furry research and trying to derail it to talk about the philosophy of science more broadly, if a panel is intended to talk about women’s issues, it should be about women’s issues.

        Just my two cents though =)

      2. ‘Who decides whether a transgendered person is female?’ .. Er.. She does o.O

        ‘Can someone attend wearing a fursuit that conceals their gender?’ Well, if they identify as a man and they do this with the intent of ‘sneaking in’ to a women only panel then they are part of the problem we’re trying to solve when we talk about creating spaces that are safe for women to discuss women’s issues in the fandom.

        Sorry for the brief reply, on my phone on a train.

    3. It’s always hard for people to be excluded from a space, especially at a convention, and I can see how the optics on that might be troublesome. As a cis, mostly het guy who would like to be an ally, I would like to be present at a panel that talked about the problem of misogyny in the fandom and provided a safe space for women to speak, but not if it would defeat the purpose of having said panel. Would it help to allow both men and women to attend, but specifically enjoin men from speaking? We could do with more men really listening to what women have to say, without interruptions.

  3. Sexual harassment is a problem in all fandoms, ask some anime cosplayers about this. When you have a large number of males and a small number of females problems will pop up especially when finding eligible partners for dating.
    Still I find fault with using IARP Furry Fiesta because the sample of females is way too small leading to sweeping generalizations. Athrocon with a study at a major anime convention were the ratio of attending females is larger will proved better data.
    Numbers alone are not indication of sexual harassment; part of issue is the differences between men and women; we guy like to hag out together in mass, like sporting events.but in case like anime females eventually are integrated into a fandom. Can it happen to furry fandom, time will tell.

    Our little group Rose City furs is address this ssue by having monthly meets for female fusr.

  4. I’ve noticed that a few of the articles on this site recently have been about the exclusion and threat towards women in the fandom, concurrent with renewed discussion of institutionalized violence against women in society at large. Articles about anti-feminism in the gay community strike home as well, since I’ve witnessed it myself.

    As a gay, furry male, I have to ask: what can I do to make it better? What needs to be done to ensure furry women that the fandom is not an exclusive “boys club?”

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