XII. Gender Issues
Given that the furry fandom is predominantly male,🐾 the fandom itself may be seen by female furries as a male space. In fact, one study found that 81% of women in the fandom considered perceived it to be a “boys club.”🐾 Whether explicitly stated or not, a male-dominated space may be perceived as unwelcoming for women, despite the fandom’s values of openness and inclusivity. Based on prior research on norms, which has found that women often feel unwelcome or repelled from predominantly male areas (e.g., mathematics, computing science, or engineering), it may be possible that one of the reasons the fandom remains so male-dominated is the perpetuation (through the presence of implied norms, rather than explicit, organized, or intentional behavior) that the fandom is a male space. With this in mind, we are interested in testing whether female furries feel that the fandom is a male space and whether this reduces the extent to which they feel they belong in the fandom.
One hypothesis arising from this theorizing is that female furries may need a way to “get their foot in the door” as a way of “validating” their presence in the male-dominated fandom. There is evidence to support this idea: while 90.5% of female furries indicated that their own interests in furry played a major role in their decision to become involved in the fandom, 45.0% also indicated that a relationship partner played a major role in introducing them to the fandom, while 57.1% indicated that a friend introduced them into the fandom.🐾 Other data🐾 suggest that women are significantly more likely than men to say that they are in the fandom for financial or economic reasons, implying that they are artists or vendors—which coincides with data showing that artists in the fandom are far more likely to be female.🐾When asked about their identification with the furry fandom, women did not differ significantly from men with regard to how long they had been in the fandom for, how strongly they identified with their fursona, or with how strongly they identified as a furry. Taken together, these data suggest that, for all intents and purposes, women seem to be about “as furry” as men in the fandom. In the language of fan psychologists, they are comparable to men with regard to “fanship”—being an enthusiastic supporter of the content of a fandom.🐾
The evidence also shows that, despite being comparably “furry” however, women are less likely than men to feel a sense of “fandom”—feeling a sense of kinship with others sharing the same fan interests.🐾 The data suggest that female furries are more likely to identify with other female furries than with other male furries. Given that there are fewer female furries than male furries in the fandom, this may lead women to feel less of a sense of belongingness to the fandom. In fact, women reported feeling less like a member of the furry community, and were more likely to desire friends outside of the furry community and to retain aspects other, non-furry cultures, than men, who were more likely to want to immerse themselves completely in the furry fandom.🐾 In sum, men seem to be more likely to feel a strong sense of belonging in the furry fandom, to the point where they feel little need to look outside the fandom for friends or other needs. In contrast, females experience less of this, perhaps in part because the fandom may seem less welcoming to them, or less like a place that fulfills their social needs entirely.🐾
In focus groups, furry women and genderqueer/non-binary furries were asked to discuss gender in the fandom from a minority perspective. From these focus groups, several issues emerged:
— 52.4% of participants said that when hanging out with other furries, they were often reminded of their sex; 48% stated that the words or actions of other furries remind them of their sex.
— 19% expressed concerns that they did not belong in the furry fandom because of their sex.
— 85% indicated that they wished there were more furry women in the fandom.
— 42.1% of women disagreed with the statement that “women in the fandom are treated as equal to men.”
— 22.0% 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. Interestingly, these two variables were highly correlated, and coincide with psychological research showing that the two often go hand-in-hand.
— 68.4% of women agreed that the fandom was an intimidating place for women.
More general comments included:
— Several women suggested that fursonas represented a way for them to discover and explore gender, although there was often pressure online for women to make characters whose gender matched their own.
— Many women feel that males in the fandom tend to view female furries as outsiders.
— Transgender individuals in the fandom may experience discomfort or objectification at the fetishization of hermaphroditic or dual-gender characters in artwork.
— Given that the furry fandom is a predominantly online one, in many instances online sexism is often worse than in-person sexism.
— 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.
— Several participants expressed concerns that furry artwork portrayed women in an objectifying, derogatory, disrespectful, or unrealistic fashion.
Given the qualitative nature of these findings, we next conducted a large-scale survey of these issues, testing both their prevalence and whether they were limited to women and genderqueer/non-binary furries. These questions were answered by a large and diverse sample of convention-going furries, and the results are presented in the table below.
Attitudes toward Sex and Gender Issues in the Furry Fandom🐾
|I can be myself||5.97a||5.83a||5.71a|
|Gender never comes up with furries||5.22a||5.07a||4.81a|
|Receive unwanted attention||2.55a||2.62ab||2.93b|
|Feel I don’t belong||2.43a||2.47a||2.68a|
|Okay with males in artwork||5.58a||4.94b||5.25b|
|Okay with females in artwork||5.37a||4.62b||4.68b|
|Furry porn makes me uncomfortable||1.88a||3.16b||2.34c|
|Non-furry porn makes me uncomfortable||2.44a||3.25b||3.18b|
|I feel I belong||5.84a||5.47b||5.58ab|
|I feel safe with furries||5.56a||5.38a||5.46a|
|I need to hide aspects of my identity||3.08a||2.70b||3.51c|
|Pressured into romantic relationships||1.98a||1.66b||2.33c|
|Uncomfortable around furries||3.00a||2.56b||3.38c|
|Shy around furries||3.35a||3.13a||3.71b|
The table above presents the average response for each group on a 7-point scale (1 = completely disagree to 7 = completely agree). The letters following the averages portray the results of a series of t-tests: if two groups share the same letter for any given row (e.g., Men = a, Women = a), it means that the groups did not differ statistically significantly. If the two groups have different letters (Men = a, Women = b), it means that these groups differed statistically significantly from one another.
The data indicate that there are some issues in which women seem to experience greater distress or discomfort than men. For example: women are significantly more likely than men to say that they were uncomfortable with the way men and women were portrayed in furry artwork, and were less comfortable with pornography than men altogether. Women were also less likely to say that they felt they belonged in the fandom (though they did not necessarily feel that they didn’t belong either). That said, there were also a number of issues in which men felt greater distress than women—men reported feeling a greater need to hide aspects of their identity around furries, felt more pressured into romantic relationships from other furries, and felt more uncomfortable around other furries than women. Finally, men and women did not significantly differ from one another on several variables of interest, including feeling that they can be themselves in the fandom, feeling that their gender never comes up, receiving unwanted attention from other furries, and feeling safe/shy around other furries. Taken together, these data suggest that while there are some sources of distress in the fandom that are significantly higher for women than for men, there are also sources of distress for men that are significantly higher; moreover, several of the issues thought to be unique to the experience of women were also just as prevalent in the experience of men in the fandom.
Analysis of genderqueer/non-binary participants revealed that there are also some significant issues experienced by genderqueer/non-binary members of the fandom: these participants were, like women, uncomfortable with the portrayal of males and females in artwork, and were uncomfortable with pornography (though less uncomfortable with furry-themed pornography than women); genderqueer/non-binary participants were also significantly more likely to feel the need to hide their identity from other furries, felt more pressured into romantic relationships by other furries, and felt more shy/uncomfortable around furries than men and women.
It is worth noting, as a final point, that these data are not meant to be prescriptive or to dictate what “ought” to be the case in the fandom. In no way are the data intending to suggest that proportions of men, women, and genderqueer are “wrong,” nor are they intended to suggest that any one group of furries are maliciously attempting to trivialize, stigmatize, or prevent another group from entering the fandom. Nevertheless, the data do suggest that these are the perceptions of different gender groups within the fandom.