Misogyny and the Furry Fandom

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and trying to sync up our con schedules. I asked if she’d be selling her art at a certain convention we’ve met up at in the past. “I’m not going to that one anymore,” she said.

Curious, I asked why. She said there are a couple guys at that convention who make her uncomfortable, who follow her around and won’t leave her alone, who on at least one occasion followed her back to her room. “Why didn’t you report that to staff?” I asked, horrified.

“They were staff,” she said.

If you recognize yourself in this story, congratulations. You’ve successfully discouraged an artist from coming to your convention. If your immediate reaction to this is “she over-reacted” or “I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm, they were just trying to get to know her,” then you need to re-think your mindset. It is not a woman’s job to divine whether your clumsy, harassing behavior means harm or not. It is your job to understand social cues, to err on the side of caution, and if a woman is not expressing interest, or has explicitly told you to go away, then go the fuck away and leave her alone. I don’t care if you think you’re in love and she’s the only person you can imagine yourself being with. I don’t care if she let you hug her once. If you can’t act like a reasonable fucking human being around her, then get lost. Reasonable human beings, FYI, are not characters from romantic comedies or sitcoms who persist charmingly in the face of rejection after rejection. Reasonable human beings regard other human beings as people with feelings, not a receptacle for your affection or an audience to show how awesome you are. Reasonable human beings don’t stand around someone who is clearly ignoring them for hours on end, or try to touch them when they’ve made it clear that the touching is not welcome. Reasonable human beings don’t follow people back to their hotel rooms without being invited (in what, the hope that “hey, if I’m just standing out in the hall maybe she’ll invite me in!”?).

If your reaction to the above story is, “that’s an isolated incident,” then sit down.

I know (secondhand) of a woman who reported harrassment to a furry convention staffer, only to be told that she was the problem.

I know women who have left furry convention parties because the same guy or guys kept brushing up against them or contriving to be near them.

I know women who have had furries stand at their dealer table for hours, or even come around it uninvited, invading their personal space without asking (or with a cursory “do you mind if I come around?” as they are in the act of doing so).

I also know of one case where harassment was reported to a furry con and handled appropriately, so score at least one for the cons.

The above are just the stories I have heard casually from knowing a good number of women who attend furry conventions. And the part that is almost as bad as all these things happening is that the women involved often don’t feel comfortable enough to do anything about it, especially if they’re younger artists or new to the fandom.

“I don’t want to make waves.”

“I don’t want to be labeled as ‘one of those bitches who complains.'”

“It’s easier just to leave.”

*

If you look at the code of conduct on many furry convention websites, you’ll find something close to this (this one is taken from the RainFurrest site specifically):

Harassment and Assault

Harassment is defined as any behavior that intentionally annoys or alarms another person. This includes making any unwanted physical contact, following someone around a public area without a legitimate reason, or threatening to physically attack someone. Please remember that if you approach someone and they tell you “no” or to leave them alone, your business with them is done. If you do not leave them alone as they have requested, your actions may be grounds for a complaint of harassment. If you feel that you are being harassed, or you have been assaulted, please report the matter immediately to event security.

Kudos to the cons for including this. It’s a great first step. But I’d like to see convention staff (not just event security–some conventions do do this) also educated in how to deal with a harassment report. I’d like to see dealer room staff specifically asked to keep an eye on tables and offer to help in situations that look awkward–like if the same guy has been hovering over an artist for hours. Artists/dealers are perfectly free to say “No, no, it’s cool,” and maybe you’d make your dealer room a place where they feel a little bit safer.

Most of all, though, I’d like to see furries be aware of how we treat each other, and specifically the women in our fandom, so that nobody ever has to report anything under these policies. Guys, I know that sometimes dealing with other people in a big convention setting feels as complicated as rocket science. I know it sucks when there’s someone you just want to hang out with because they’re cool and you can’t figure out how to be one of the friends they’re always spending time with, especially when it’s a woman you’re attracted to. I know that a lot of furries are isolated in their non-convention lives, that we are in general very worried about our social skills, that sometimes you can’t tell whether you’re causing a problem. I think many furries who are guilty of harassing behavior don’t intend it to be harassing (but I’m an optimist). None of this changes the fact that that behavior makes other people feel uncomfortable and even threatened. Maybe, you say, it’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to be part of a society that views men’s actions toward women in a threatening light. Well, neither did the women ask to be part of a society where they have to view men–all men–as potential threats(*). We’re all living together and we have to deal with it, and dealing with it means understanding these baseline realities and showing consideration for each other.

(*) Read some of the #YesAllWomen posts going around on Twitter this week–yes, that was partly the inspiration for this post–and the blog posts they link to. One of the ones that affected me most was a guy talking about a class he’d taken on sexual assault where the instructor asked the men, “What do you do on a daily basis to keep yourself safe from sexual assault?” After nobody answered, he said, “Okay, women, what do YOU do on a daily basis to keep yourself safe from sexual assault?” The answers filled his blackboard.

So what can we do? Well, first off, be aware of your actions and those of others. Being gay (as I suspect many of my readers are) is not an automatic pass; one of the situations I mentioned above involves a definitely gay man who nonetheless was the harasser. Probably unintentionally, but as I said above, it is your job to be aware of how your actions affect others (and not just women, of course). But also, if you hear about harassment going on, call it out. If you see what looks like an uncomfortable situation, don’t be afraid to step in and see if everything’s okay (how to do this is a whole other post, but if this is an artist in the dealer room, you can at least break up a situation by asking about the merch on the table and pulling the artist out of whatever other conversation is going on).

If your friends include women in the fandom, ask them what you can do to help. Some of them might not want your help. Some might ask you just to keep an eye out for them. Some might point out specific people that they have a problem with. I guarantee you that none of them will be upset at you for asking to help.

If you are part of a convention staff, make sure everyone knows what to do if harassment is reported, and take harassment claims seriously.

If someone has the courage to tell you that you’re making them uncomfortable, stop what you’re doing, apologize, and go away. Don’t get mad at THEM for telling you. (And don’t follow them around the convention insisting that they accept your apology–this is also harassment, cf. ReaderCon 2012.)

And talk to people about it. A lot of this harassment continues because nobody wants to speak up. We’re all part of the same fandom, men and women, and we want our fandom and our conventions to be places where everyone can have a good time and feel safe. We do not want them to be places people avoid because they’re afraid of what might happen there.

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5 Responses to Misogyny and the Furry Fandom

  1. Altivo says:

    Alas, I think that a fair percentage (perhaps not the majority, but a significant number) of these incidents involve other social difficulties such as Asperger’s or related perceptual issues. That is, the harrasser really doesn’t mean to harrass, but also doesn’t understand what s/he is doing wrong. It’s extremely difficult to address these situations and yet be fair to all parties. In general, I agree that more intervention on the part of con staff and other bystanders is in order. Finding a way to intervene politely is the delicate matter. Offering those who feel threatened a way to request help without being obvious about it is probably a key element here. My own experience (yes, I’m male but I’ve been in the position of “harrassee” more than once) suggests that the targeted individual may actually be afraid to complain or ask for assistance. There is fear of retribution, fear of being laughed at, and other such concerns that can actually outweigh the immediate nuisance or threat.

  2. Windfalcon says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve linked to it in a few places to hopefully give con-goers a hint. I’ve thankfully never been harassed to the point of fearing for my safety, but as a dealer, I’ve had multiple guys (not singling out gender, but in every case they have happened to be men) do that thing where they just…hang out around my table. This has happened at multiple conventions by a number of different guys. I tend to be too polite and wary of confrontation, so I try to give them the hint that they shouldn’t just be standing there. “Hey, can I help you?” “Is there anything I can help you with?” “I’m going to work on this sketch, let me know if you need any help.” Basic social cues would tell you “oh, I shouldn’t just stand here and stare at this person or try to force conversation.” But they don’t get it :(

    I’ve also had an instance of someone coming to my table and offering to trade me a massage if I drew in their sketchbook. Not only are they basically asking me for something where the ‘payment’ is actually something THEY want, but it’s also super creepy and inappropriate to ask someone if you can touch their body under the ruse of ‘it’s payment’. Gross. Nasty. Looking back on it, I should have notified someone about it (several of my friends, also dealers, said this guy also made them the same offer), and now I’m confident enough and fed up with the harassment going on at conventions where if it ever happens again, I will alert con staff.

    Conventions are a place where people let their hair down and relax a bit, and that’s great. I love the fact that conventions are an environment where people are more outgoing and make new friends. That’s great! But the basic rules of social conduct still apply, and if you’re trying to hang out with someone and it’s just not happening, don’t keep trying. Everyone has the right to have fun and feel safe, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to recognize if someone isn’t responding positively to their advances.

  3. XenDrgn says:

    Funny thing that’s going on lately. Sad that it took some guy going batshit crazy to open the eyes of the media to the misogyny that is ingrained in our culture. From childhood, every girl is taught what clothing is or is not appropriate because it will or will not garner the right or wrong attentions from a man.

    Growing up, I always thought something was different about me, because… despite the fact that I wasn’t the prettiest girl, by far, ever even, something about me just screamed to the males around me that apparently, I wanted to see their penis. I think I was maybe 4 or 5 the first time I remember it happening because a little boy wanted to play I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. It was also around that time when a 16yr old cousin of mine wanted to play ‘just give it a kiss’. And that continued for years. Always with different guys, never more than once with the same guy. But when it starts so young, and you see it so much.. you start to question. It was years before I ever told anyone about any of those incidents. But by then, the damage had been done. I have been twisted and broken down into this introverted, confused young girl who had such an extreme aversion to being touched that I became almost anti-social. I walked away from every incident untouched physically, but the touches were there mentally. When I got to high school, I only ever went on one date. One. I know the guy liked me, but.. I was uncomfortable. I was already scarred from my past experiences, and that night he wanted to be the picture of every other long standing couple on the dance floor (it was homecoming) even though this was our first date. And be huggy and kissy and frankly, I wanted to run screaming from the building. But I didn’t. Instead, I let myself be uncomfortable all night instead of sticking up for myself and saying how I felt because I didn’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings. That was the first, and last date I ever went on. I was asked out at least one other time, but before I could even say yes, I found out it was a ‘She’s All That’ moment and the guy just wanted to prove he could get into my pants. I well and truly feared sex before marriage. It may have started because of religion, but by the time I hit my teen years, it was less about dogma, and more about life experience. Guys only wanted me for my sex. So if I didn’t give them that they would either have to like me for me, or walk away. Because of the scars on my mind and heart, I couldn’t deal with real relationships. So I spent 3 years of my life in two different long distance relationships. the first 2 with a guy I’d never even seen a picture of. When I did finally meet him, I realized even I needed something physical to go on in a relationship. So.. I moved on. The next one was still long distance, but before I committed, this time I made sure I was physically attracted as well as mentally. We visited each other as often as we could. We talked every day. His amazing family let me travel with them to a place I’d never been or could ever have hoped to go to. I was dazzled and swept away. He’d asked before, but it had been too soon and I was too unsure, but after a couple of very large events happened, I made my choice and I finally accept what I thought was a marriage proposal. And in doing so, I decided that I would finally take the pleasure I’d heard so much about. It wasn’t pleasurable. It was quick, painful, and cold. Because it wasn’t a marriage proposal. It was a joke played on on me, my body, and my heart. It was my worst fear given life and flesh just to hurt me. After that, he walked out the door and left no word, no communication. Nothing. Like he didn’t even exist. Not even a good-bye, a see you later, we’re done, I’ve been seeing someone else for a while now. Fool that I was I held on for months because no word wasn’t bad word, right? Then I did finally get a call. An offer for a quick bang in an airport bathroom during a layover. And broken fool that I was, I fell for it. At least until I got to the airport. I hope it was a guardian angel watching out for me that kept us from meeting that day. Or I’d have another scar to bear for it.
    In the end, I count myself lucky. Because I did get to walk away. Because I didn’t have to go over the edge. I only had to look into the chasm that is the product of that misogyny. But even just a look is enough to scar and to hurt and to damage. I was lucky because I had friends who formed a wall around me long enough and strong enough that I was able to grow into myself and my own sexuality without being afraid. Who gave me the time and strength I needed to find a healthy relationship with a loving man.

    This Is my #YesAllWomen .. I shared it here first, specifically because.. it was the fandom that saved me. Meeting and becoming friends with a couple of the local furs.. they were the ones who became my protectors. One of which is now a con chair, so I can tell you for a fact, some cons take that stuff seriously. I came to them broken, and they helped me fix myself. At movie nights, when everyone was piled on the floor, they would make sure they sat in the seat beside or behind me to ‘cuddle’ me so that someone I didn’t trust or felt comfortable around didn’t take the spot instead. They watched out for me, and made sure that no matter how silly it may have sounded or looked, every perceived threat was taken seriously and dealt with subtly so that I felt comfortable and confident in telling them. I didn’t have to hide anymore. Are the threats in the fandom there, very much so, especially because of the prolific amount of social dysfunction. But just as there are devils in disguise, so are there angels.

  4. Urthdigger says:

    This reminds me of an incident I witnessed at the RF dealer room. One of the dealers was having an issue with a customer making her uncomfortable, so another dealer, with her permission, posedhelp as her boyfriend. It’s been a while so I may have a few details wrong , but it was nice to see someone help out.

    Also, I wonder how hard it’s be to make a panel on common etiquette? Let’s face it, a lot of furries are socially awkward, and could use some advice on how not to be a creeper. Maybe phrase it as helping them make friends, get people to like them, or making contacts?

  5. Ric says:

    This sort of thing is not new but it seems to be getting a lot of attention lately and that’s a nice change. The atheist movement has had the same problem and things are changing; the same goes for sci-fi/fantasy cons so far as I can tell.