Why are “nerdy” groups male-populated? Revisiting a debate full of dogma.
by Patch O'Furr
Many corners of “nerd culture” can be guy-heavy. A lot of people are predisposed to look down on that (with double standards if you flip the situation – only seeing the shadow side of one gender and the light side of another.) Recently I shared another writer’s comments about it. I liked them enough to invite her to submit guest posts. She sent a great new one about animation. (More please.)
The topic offers a cure for misunderstanding about Furries and gender.
Amanda at “Deep Fried Pancakes” gave open-minded insight:
In my opinion, it’s very telling that most furries are men… In general, men are discouraged from self-expression. They are coached to hide their emotions… stuff like this attracts a disproportionate number of men because it provides something they have a much harder time getting than women: self-expression. They are encouraged to show everyone their true selves.
There’s an insanely long list of reasons why this is true. It doesn’t even necessarily come from a problem… Stalwartness and self-discipline can bring as many benefits as lacking it brings drawbacks, and there’s no reason why men, women, or others should follow the same patterns as each other (but more options is ideal.) It does vindicate every guy with a positive interest who’s been slandered for sharing it with other guys.
There are fundamentalists who insist that Furry fandom is “sexist” because it’s “male-dominated” (no, it’s male-populated.) Sexism is bad, but behavior is separate from bodies*. Mindless proportionality ignores why people gather in the first place. When you sweep intentions aside, it’s easy to lump people into the same pot and cook up foregone conclusions about their “original sin”. It’s a fallacy of demographics, based on things people don’t choose when they’re born. It happens if you only look for the bad in people. You can find badness anywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of control or worse than elsewhere.
More men than women doesn’t mean that bad behavior drove women out – any more than two male friends are evil, if they get together without a corresponding pair of females to chaperone them.
Some interest groups are just differently balanced, but less exclusionary and more friendly than general society. When a group is open and growing – there’s no need to trash some members to make room for others. When the power is in the individual to join just by saying you like it – if you want the numbers to change, the real solution is to invite your friends to make it how you want it to be.
* Not everything’s binary, but “cis” fits the vast majority of people being divisively labeled – who are so flexible about identity that they cross species for fun.
Beef with a Horse
The above link was a look at why Furry fandom has many guys. It happened way back in the first month of this blog. There was a response from JM Horse at the Adjective Species blog. It’s really hard to be nice about it, because it’s full of misleading and false distortions, even though it attempts to couch them with pleasantries. Even worse, it unfairly undermines a group I love, and slanders me. That’s just not OK. The nasty impression it makes is still clouding the air like a steaming pile of horse crap. Let’s see why.JM’s post is dishonest starting with the title, “Dogpatch Press on Women”. It suffers from problems like these:
1) It rips quotes way out of context, to mischaracterize small pieces apart from extra-super-lengthy reasoning in a post with the title “all HUMANS welcome”. It bends over backwards to force them into an agenda to prove “inherent sexism”.
2) It distorts an entire forum thread of women’s experiences in Furry fandom, pretending they support JM’s beliefs, when they actually give healthy dispute. It’s another sign of the “dearth of public support” that he references. It comes not from outside haters, as he asks you to believe – but from the very people he tells he knows what’s best for them. Brainwashing does tend to rub people the wrong way. (A good reader comment about that.)
3) I’m libeled as “”egregiously sexist”” for daring to disagree that a group of shared interest has a problem measured by bodies. Of course I don’t like sexism. I also don’t pre-judge people for debatable offenses done by others. I respect them as conscious and capable of independent thought.
4) It misuses data from a computer security paper about the internet, that doesn’t support conclusions about this group. There’s a deeper look here. It’s used for biased beliefs that harassment is some all-powerful force, but says nothing about where it could come from. Since JM hasn’t defended the weaknesses, let’s boil down what’s wrong with it:
– 90% of activity in the study has to be ignored, before it can lead to conclusions about people. The place it studies is overflowing with porn piracy.
– They only used unfiltered chat with “any connection”, so pirates and scammers could do what they want (as if real life never has rules.)
– It uses bots to stand in for human experiences, saying nothing whatsoever about intentions behind people’s activity.
– That’s PEOPLE’S, because it doesn’t measure gender (or NUMBER) of the shadowy figures behind the supposed bad behavior.
– Applying such data to a social group is like using a single Nigerian scammer to prove the wickedness of half the human race. You might as well blame spam email on furries because they use the internet too. It’s a breathtakingly biased excuse for guessing games and leaping to conclusions.
– Even without dishonest blame about who is responsible, there’s a false premise behind JM’s belief that harassment happens more to women. Paternalistically honing in on one kind (sex) ignores that different kinds occur in different amounts to different people. Readers who have experienced bullying will understand this (and can read it from many sources, like: “Men Are Harassed More Than Women Online.“)
5) It mischaracterizes this: “Apparently Patch thinks that women who stay away because of harassment are “insecure”. That’s a 180-degree twist in the meaning. “Insecure” actually refers to JM’s biased leaps to conclusions about women “staying away” due to harassment. JM assumes that fear is why women express furry interest, but go to cons disproportionately less often. Never mind personality differences.
Don’t buy it. Here’s a clue about personality differences in outgoingness and risk taking: Lightning kills men six times more often than women – (the same gender imbalance in this separate Furry topic). Is weather sexist? No – men have risk from going out more for leisure activities like golf, hunting and fishing. It’s interesting how much those involve solitude. The furry hobby brings cameraderie, but first, members have to share an urge to seek it.
There’s a million reasons why some people seek things more than others. Exclusive focus on fragile, one-dimensional victim roles ignores every other part of interest and personality. It pretends that only one gender has challenges, and the other has the cure. How do you feel about being patronized as a helpless sheep or an evil scapegoat, just because personality differences exist?
This is divisive and insulting to the majority of people who share the Furry interest.
Take it for granted that furries are familiar with being punching bags in the media. Now it’s troubling how a solution for an internal “problem” requires throwing 80% of the group under the bus. While it’s not really necessary to single out JM, it’s just one example of wider dogma and bias. (What kind: Confirmation bias.) You’d think that a focus on a maligned subculture would bring sensitivity about mischaracterizing. But internalizing it can create weird compensation, and enemies within.
Actually it’s not hard hitting to me, because there’s so many ways to point out how wrong this is. It’s harmful because it misinforms others. I would invite JM to retract distortions. Since I don’t expect that, I can only point to cemented bias as a great reason for everyone to be extremely skeptical and give dissent whenever this topic comes up.
That’s only moderately personal. I’m happy to trade colleage tips or resources when appropriate. (It was cool of JM to forward contact about a study from Northwestern University put out here, the study has overcome criticism to succeed since then.) I have no problem with forwarding anything that suits the Adjective Species blog. But it’s only reasonable to put out some prickly words while a misinforming article stays that way.
For better articles by JM, skip that one and check some of the really interesting ones about books or art, like The Modern Furry Aesthetic.
If empathy with female friends is commendable, so is understanding for male bonding and expression. A good pop culture trope for this topic is – Misunderstood Loner With a Heart of Gold.
We can ask – when complaints of bad behavior come up, who do you ask for help to solve it? How many guys volunteer for free, to organize, keep order and give aid at conventions? Why overlook their generosity? Volunteering is the opportunity for complainers to step up and bring real, pawsitive solutions.
This entire community runs on DIY volunteerism, to a degree unprecedented among others. From mods and meet organizers, to websites and cons, there’s always a need for volunteers. They don’t have the power – YOU do.
If you’re ever demanded to “check your privilege”, the best response is “unwash your brain”. These topics can reach mutual understanding when we can all be critical about judgements of original sin, or inherent anything applied to individuals, and their shared interest and potential.
“Whether online or on TV, furries tend to be the scapegoat of the modern age, used whenever something funny, weird, disturbing, perverted or generally strange is needed to keep things going. Unsurprisingly, there are few facts involved in such portrayals…”
Interesting. For what it’s worth, I’ve just done a gender survey of my own anthologies. Make of this what you will.
Best in Show. 2003. 26 stories from furry fanzines from 1989 to 2003. 23 by male authors; 3 by female authors.
Already Among Us. 2012. 14 stories from s-f magazines from 1942 to 2006. 12 by male authors; 2 by female authors.
The Ursa Major Awards Anthology. 2012. 11 stories from furry authors from 2001 to 2010. 8 stories by male authors (3 by the same author); 3 by female authors.
What Happens Next. 2013. 11 stories by furry authors written for the anthology. 7 stories by male authors; 4 stories by female authors. All illustrated by furry artists; 5 by male artists; 6 by female artists.
Five Fortunes. 2014. 5 novellas by furry authors written for the anthology. 3 by male authors; 2 by female authors.
Anthropomorphic Aliens. 2014. 11 stories from both s-f magazines and furry magazines from 1950 to 2013. 8 by male authors (including two collaborations); 3 by female authors.
The Furry Future. 2015. 19 stories by furry authors written for the anthology. 16 by male authors; 3 by female authors.
An Anthropomorphic Century. 2015 (forthcoming). 20 stories from general, s-f, and furry magazines and websites from 1909 to 2008. 18 by male authors (one collaboration; 2 by female authors.
Great observations. I’m going to assume that fan publishing like this involves very low or no pay, and takes picking for quality from what’s available. In a lot of such cases, the key ingredient is initiative. Take this blog – it’s a labor of love that nobody pays or gives permission to do. If someone wants to put out their own voice, all they have to do is start one. Similar to contributing stories at Flayrah.
Consider who is currently making such blogs or contributing such stories – what does it say about who takes the initiative? And if someone feels like it’s too many guys, the answer is… start your own! Having a community based on DIY principles is a great thing.
Only fools do not know that only about 25% of any group takes surveys.
>an entire article about men/women ratio in a fan conglomeration
Who cares? Why should I care how many men or women are in the fandom? Why should ANYONE care? Is there some special cash prize all furries will get once the 50/50 quota is established?
Surveys are better than guesses, right? If you do enough of them you can piece them together and use comparisons to project how 100% might answer.
Some people are using arbitrary ideal ratios to say something is missing and wrong, while others (like me) say the important part is what people want and do, not how many of each kind there are.
Okay, that makes sense.
Hi Patch, thanks for continuing on this conversation and I hope you don’t that I thought about this for a while before responding.
I agree that none of this is personal, and I certainly don’t take anything you’ve said personally. [adjectives][species] gives me a small soapbox for presenting my opinion, as Dogpatch does for you. But that doesn’t mean that I think my opinion is more valuable or more correct than anyone else’s – my only goal is to be engaging and informed, by showing my reasoning and providing references.
I will say that I don’t think that furry “should” be 50/50, or 80/20, or any other arbitrary gender breakdown. To suggest that there is a correct ratio would be wrong, and it was never my intent to suggest that. My point is that furry is less welcoming towards its female members than its male members.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve been reflecting on the tone of this ongoing discussion, between us and other people within furry, and comparing that with the tone of similar discussions in other male-dominated geek-heavy groups. The ongoing culture wars in groups like gaming, sci-fi, IT, and geek culture hotspots like 4chan and Reddit are famously bad-tempered and full of extreme points of view, on both sides. And that’s even before we get into flashpoints like Gamergate and Puppygate. By contrast, discussion on gender politics within furry is level-headed, thoughtful, and moderate.
I think that’s a sign that furry is going pretty well, all things considered (although of course I think we have a long way to go).
Anyone interested in my arguments can follow the links that you have kindly included in your piece, and read them there. I have no doubt that people can make up their own mind, and I equally have little doubt they appreciate the ability to read both sides, here and on [a][s].
It’s remarkable to me how the two of us have such different interpretations of the data and other evidence. I cited a peer-reviewed paper, research performed by the IARP, and of course drew on the stories from women in that Eurofurence thread, among many others sources. That’s not to say that your interpretations are wrong – I think you’ve made good arguments for your point of view in each case (and others). I’m saying that these issues are complex, and that nobody should be confusing opinion – mine or yours – for fact.
I think that pieces like yours here do a lot of good, because they make people aware of the issue (or potential issue) of sexism in male-dominated spaces like furry. Information, discussion, and analysis is only going to help people become more informed. And hopefully they enjoy the read as well.