"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</p>
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*.
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.
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.