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.