“Nerd culture” debate reveals agendas

by Patch O'Furr

A spiky debate! – Us vs. “Women” – Princesses to save – “Nigerian princes” who represent us – Yes Virginia, Santa Claus has problems too – Please put down the clipboards

Us vs. “Women”

The always dependable writer for [adjective][species], JM Horse, has a point/counterpoint about “Furry Fandom: All Humans Welcome”. His answer, “Dogpatch Press on Women,” rolls out dishonest agendas in the title. It’s nicely written mischaracterization. It divides us into opposing camps of arbitrary identity, rather than self-chosen participation. It pushes “white knighting” for a subset of us, presuming to speak for that one, with misguided intentions that condescend to ALL of us. (Sorry for that term I’d rather not use. It’s no more respectful than “sexist”, but no other fits.)

“All Humans Welcome” isn’t about women, but everyone who makes a culture. (It also doesn’t respond to specific sources, as much as address “nerd culture” in general.) It’s about how we choose to be. Nobody’s passive, when we’re glued together by interest and DIY creativity. We’re accused of being “inherently sexist”, but is it true? Not any more than we’re inherently evil. Sexism is just one human state of mind… like greed, self-serving protectionism, or tolerance. Whatever you are, speak for yourself.

To it’s credit, the [a][s] counterpoint gives good respect for individual opinions, despite doing a swing and miss at proving it’s premises. Misguided faith isn’t just the fault of one author. Blame that on dogma. Speaking of…

Princesses to save

The [a][s] counterpoint re-iterates foregone conclusions that demand help from “white knights.” That’s who projects insecurity onto helpless female victims, who aren’t allowed to be “tough independent” women of action I described. “Help us! – I’m galloping to save you, m’lady!”

It rehashes gender reductionism to claim “converging evidence”. (If that’s how you want to excuse circular reasoning, that excludes conflicting information. Like age and sexuality and the way different kinds of people bring different interests to subculture, that doesn’t tightly fit the mold of mass culture). That circles back around to the trump of “harassment.”

Supposedly, victims of comment spam and sexual come-ons are so threatened, that absence of more extreme reaction is evidence of exclusion. There’s some invisible silent majority somewhere else, that’s too passive to speak up. That’s the assumption about a group so lacking gatekeepers – so accepting – that it’s the ONLY place many nerdy and fetishy activities are welcome (even at the cost of intense mockery from elsewhere). The assumption ignores that if you claim the label of “furry”… you are one.

When you cut through the insecurity projection, this really is a gateless space built by active participation. Women aren’t lacking voices because they choose creative expression that’s more gentle than extreme. As many women say for themselves (when they’re not being spoken for), annoyances aren’t too powerful to handle by being assertive.

This goes with affirming to female equals: you’re much more than princesses to save.

That female furry opinion thread was linked to support the [a][s] counterpoint. Read it. It doesn’t. What it shows is a sense of a complicated world that isn’t black and white. That’s the conclusion of “All Humans Welcome”. What does it reveal about this debate? One side offers dogma from one misguided voice. The other offers realism from many.


“Nigerian princes” who represent us

Data helps. To support how threatened women are online, the [a][s] counterpoint points to a 2006 study about bots receiving “malicious” attacks in IRC channels. (Meanwhile, it hopes nobody notices how my link to an empirical study about real humans who adopt identities to seek help went completely ignored.)

Furries are familiar with misuse of bots to substitute human contact. Trusting behavior “models” certainly comes with problems.

I didn’t ignore the IRC bot study. A look inside finds plenty of problems. It’s a computer security paper, meant to find out about virus downloading as much as anything else. It makes no attempt to identify who could be sending “malicious” messages to bots, or why. It offers no evidence whatsoever for motivation, and no support for any social theory. It only excludes other bots and identifies “humans”. Funny, that’s what my article did, too. Society has downsides and upsides.

It focuses on the IRC medium with 80% of activity dedicated to spamming, file sharing, and pornography trading. Who’da thunk you’d get sex messages from porn traders?

Who are these mysterious human attackers? How many are there – two or three? Male or female? What puts them in contact: jealousy, pranks… or to steal your bank info?  100% of these attackers may be “Nigerian princes”, or jealous females.  Since we’re playing guessing games, that’s as good as assuming that this study says anything at all about “sexism”, or our own group.

Whoever is attacking – apart from viruses, they use private messages. But what does “malicious” mean? What’s an “attack”? We get no definition at all, except: – “if it contained sexually explicit or threatening language”. On the same topic, let’s ask 9 court justices to define “obscenity”. You can expect 9 different answers. Pick whichever supports what you already think is true.

The study found high attacks to “female” bots by screening out many IRC channels. It narrowed focus to 10% of channels “allowing any connection and used for chat… the only ones that could provide meaningful results”. Get that? It required “any connection” (as if online communities can’t be filtered or moderated.) Ninety percent of the activity wasn’t “meaningful” to support this study.

Other “junk science” like this demonstrates how easy it is to breed foregone conclusions. Some U.S. studies of human trafficking (paid to draw grants and funding) are exclusively built on guesses about internet ad photos. Proximity to a national border was considered a risk that treats half of all Americans as potential slaves in trouble. These junk studies earn plenty of critical disagreement.

Data helps, until it’s taken off-topic and reveals dishonest agendas. There is plenty to say about harassment from people who experience it. When someone else replaces their voices with robots to speak for them, we can dismiss their false agendas and move on.


Yes Virginia, Santa Claus has problems too

The [a][s] counterpoint continues to demonstrate how felt beliefs are supposed to be self-evident facts:

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

Wrong. In the USA, Homicide rates for males are 3-4 times higher than that for females. Assaults and violent crimes in general fit the same pattern (no matter if it’s very complicated by race and class.) A woman’s street cat-calling is a man’s mugging fear.

Anecdotes? We got ’em too. I have scars from a random mugging assault, and won’t brush off such experiences and their long term PTSD effects. My last con visit (BLFC) last month was almost canceled, because the driver was hospitalized by a serious concussion. It happened in a random assault, on the SAME CORNER where mine happened in 2008.

This causes stress to walk on the streets we all use. A typical answer: who commits violence is supposed to make the experience less valid than others. But we’re not myth-loaded “bros” with privilege above it. We’re real people who bleed, who know that having male genitalia doesn’t bring safety… but the opposite.

Please put down the clipboards

The [a][s] counterpoint trails off with a last gasp of denialism. (Oh man, this is really mean! I’m sorry, JM- it’s theatrics. Have a hug.)

“Men are the marginalized ones, not women. It’s (sadly) a common refrain.”

Forget “either/or”, it’s “and/also”. Why simply wave one side away as if it doesn’t exist and there can be only one? This ingrained dogmatism says everything about what’s wrong here.

These got waved away without answer: Male stoicism and associated higher death rate and suicide. ADHD, autism, learning disabilities and other biological differences. Behavioral punishments in schools and dropout rates. Many positive interests too, that gather people to support each other. They all have uniquely male qualities, are measurable, and more than feelings. They won’t just go away because they don’t fit a belief system. They reveal human motivations that form culture.

TL;DR: Don’t buy dogma. Be cool to each other. Please put down the clipboards for counting what sets of genitals come in the door, and enjoy being here. It’s fine to describe, but don’t prescribe to people who aren’t patients or guinea pigs. (Well… a few of us might be.)

JM: thanks for bouncing articles. Try Norah Vincent’s excellent book, “Self Made Man” in which a woman does immersion journalism disguised as a man to investigate the experience. (Spoiler: she learns a lot about stress.) It’s good reading for those interested in roles and masks and transformations. And it would be my privilege 😉 to get you a beer if we’re at the same con, and chat about all kinds of other furry stuff. That’s enough on this topic for me.