[Update] Why are so many men supporting AniFem? and other questions

After just six days AniFem has beaten our first milestone on Patreon of $300 a month! We started out with no community, no name recognition, barely any content – but by yesterday over 70 people felt strongly enough about what we aim to accomplish to commit at least $1 a month to helping us succeed. Today, that number has exceeded 80. This earliest goal always felt like it would have the steepest climb, and we can’t thank our patrons enough for helping us reach that point so quickly.

To celebrate, here is a behind-the-scenes ‘state of the nation’ update on our supporters, our response to criticism and our plans for the future.

Who are our patrons? 

There is this idea that AniFem is run by a team of white American women appealing to an angry mob of equally white American women. For the record: I’m British and a person of colour, our team is an international mixture of cis, trans, straight and queer men and women and non-binary people, and our patrons are… mostly men.

I only have names and email addresses to go by, of course, and there is nothing to say that a person’s name necessarily reflects their gender identity, but after stripping out ambiguously-gendered names from the first 75 patrons we are left with 16 patrons who are most likely female and 45 patrons who are most likely male. Even if every one of the 14 ambiguous names were to belong to a woman, that still means our patrons are around 50% more men than women. If every one of the 14 ambiguous names belongs to a man, that means we have around four times as many male patrons as female.

In other words: the issues we cover matter to people. Not just to white American women, not even just to women, but to people. A common feminist sentiment is “The patriarchy hurts everyone”, and my guess is that at least some of the men supporting us are sick of being spoken for with comments like “Guys just like fanservice, deal with it!” and are making a point with their patronage.

I don’t have to speculate though, because a humbling amount of people have got in touch to tell us exactly why they support the site.

Why do so many men support us? 

Some are established anime fans who appreciate the positive contribution we can make to fandom:

“Anime has shaped my life since the ripe age of 10 years old and its great having different perspectives and criticisms from different angles to make anime more inclusive and feminist. Keep up the great work!”

“I just wanted to drop you this line to say that I support your cause whole-heartedly.  The Monogatari series is some of my favorite artwork, but I cannot share or talk too publicly about it because of how horrifying the objectification is in some of the moments. Although I am a straight, cis-ish-male who could safely be referred to in the same breath as Golden Time’s “2D-kun”, I have come to supremely dislike the overuse of sexualization in my favorite hobby.”

“I came across this site thanks to the Kotaku intervew with Ms. Cook and just wanted to say thanks for creating a place to discuss and hopefully change this rather dark aspect of my favorite form of media. I remember finding myself frustrated a year ago over seemingly every anime having a harem feel to it and not having female characters with any depth.”

“I am a long time reader of Kotaku. Your participation in the article “Anime Feminist Wants To Get Real About Fan Service” was one of the best I’ve ever read. As a man who has watched anime since Sci-Fi had anime Saturdays this topic appealed to me. The older I have gotten the more annoyed I’ve become at the type of pointless fan service mentioned in the article. With all of the extremes on both sides of this debate, not only in anime but gaming, it was refreshing to see a civilized conversation with substance. I truly hope to continue to see this type of journalism from you and the anime feminist team in the future. I am sure some may direct hatred for your article from both sides. Do not let that deter you. You should be proud of the work you’ve done.”

“I just wanted to give a simple thank you for this new site. I love anime, and have since I was a child. I remember recording Dragon Ball Z and Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 on VHS, and re-watching over and over.  At 28 now, I’ve consumed more anime than I can even count. However, something has been happening the last few years that has caused my love for anime to dip, and I truly feel like it has been all the gratuitous fan service. I have a difficult time becoming immersed in a show, in falling in love with the characters, when the show can’t take itself or its characters serious enough to present them in a realistic fashion.  To present in some way that doesn’t come off like it is just trying pandering. This might be going a little too far, but I can’t tell you how many anime I’ve not even given a try simply because of how the female characters are designed. I could ramble and ramble, but either way—thank you again to those who started and are running this site. I hope it gets traction and sticks around for a long time. This place is much needed.”

Some want to use us a resource to find feminist-friendly anime, for themselves or loved ones:

“I’m really happy to hear that a site like this exists! I’m in my late 30s and I have tried to ‘get into’ anime a few times over the years, and have seen some really great stuff, but the prevalence of fan service can often ruin the immersion. So, thank you, for trying to start a discussion on this medium of entertainment, and I wish you the best of luck in the future. I hope that your site helps me to find more quality shows that I can enjoy.”

“I really like the work you are doing here and strongly agree to the notion of  stepping more away from unnecessary fan service and creating anime characters based on more than appearance and stereotypes.  I will try and read as many of your reviews as possible, and use it as a guidance for what to test out.”

“As a (male) (feminist) anime fan, even I think this is long overdue – I just want to be able to watch something great with my girlfriend without having to defend nonsensical, non-plot-related sexualization!”

“Just read the interview on Kotaku. My 9-year old daughter is very attuned to portrayals of women and girls in stories. She’s a big fan of comics and anime (and can quote Ghibli movies, chapter and verse) and this site seems like a great place for me, and her, to vet new anime offerings and find the ones that will appeal to her.  Thanks for doing this.”

Some don’t necessarily agree with us, but understand our intentions and wanted to offer some feedback:

“I’ve been familiar with you since you started writing on The Mary Sue, and though I generally consider myself to be an opponent to your criticisms on anime and would argue against them, I’d like for you to know that I bear no animosity towards you or your new website, especially as I understand that you largely just want to write for an audience you feel to be underserved.  I particularly appreciate your post-interview article as it shows to me a willingness from you to address to your detractors and provide clarification instead of completely shutting them out.  It’s a good display of healthy dialogue that creates harmony instead of tension in the Western anime community.”

And some are just aware of what we’re likely to face every single day for as long as we run this site and wanted to let us know we have allies:

“Just read about your site on Kotaku, heard about all the ridiculous trolls and just wanted to write something positive! Hope you can ignore it and continue. Keep up the good work, somebody needs to be talking about this! And if people can’t handle you talking about it, then *they’re* the problem, not you!”

“Just wanted to drop a message saying I think this is a great idea/project. I can imagine you’re unfortunately going to get a load of hate messages – main from guys – ::sigh:: But I’m sure there will be a lot of guys like myself that agree and will hopefully support you.”

I believe all of the above messages are written by men, but we have had messages of support from all kinds of people, and largely for the same reasons. There is no men vs. women or insiders vs. outsiders divide here, as much as some sections of fandom would like to frame it that way. Some people care about the topics AniFem is raising, some people don’t. Same as any other website on the internet. It’s really as simple as that.

I am so sorry I haven’t been able to reply to you all individually, but please know that every single one of these messages was read and appreciated (as well as the ones I didn’t quote!). Starting up this website has been a daunting process, and we deal with negative messages every single day. Messages like these outweigh all of that and give us new motivation and enthusiasm for our purpose.

What criticism have we received? 

Not all of the criticism we receive is “kill yourself”, and some of it definitely deserves an answer. We are far from a perfect organisation, and very open to acknowledging and discussing our shortcomings.

“Hi, LGBT+ women exist. I understand that some types of fanservice (depending on the show) would make eyes roll. It’s not hard to look online and see that there are women who don’t mind the fanservice as much. And as a bisexual woman, I want to see ass and titties. Especially titties.”

This is probably one of my biggest personal blind spots. I’m straight, cis and have zero positive response to sexy 2D characters. I certainly do not speak for all women or all feminists, but I appreciate that when I wrote all the autumn season premiere reviews myself that might not come across. I try to anticipate and incorporate as many marginalised perspectives as I can when writing, but there’s only so much you can do to see past your own biases.

Here’s one way we’re going to address this: we have multiple queer women on the team, and my ambition for next season is to set up an arrangement like ANN’s preview guide, only with all reviewers writing from explicitly feminist perspectives. However, covering so many premieres is a punishing schedule, and with no way to pay people and only the outlines of a website before launch I didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone else to do it for this season.

“I’m sure you have good intentions by your “mission” to make anime more diverse, but it’s gonna take a lot more than using a poorly-constructed website to fully inject social justice into a mainstream work of art that shows no signs of stopping.”

It’s a common misconception that our mission is to make anime content more diverse when it’s really about making anime fandom more hospitable, both for the diverse people already in it and the people staying far away because they’re certain they won’t be welcome. I’ve detailed our intentions and my thoughts on that in my Kotaku interview follow-up, but it looks like I’ll have to keep repeating this. On that “poorly-constructed website” comment though…

“I personally find the site really difficult to read/navigate. I’m not great with words, so I apologise if I’m not being very constructive, but the site just seems like a big wall of articles. It feels like it’s more designed for younger audiences or those who are more used to mobile/tumblr-style sites. Is there any plan in the works to change/add to the design, or have an alternate “traditional” site layout option?”

Yes – the plan is to get someone who understands web design and user experience to take responsibility for the website as soon as possible! Those of you familiar with lean startup methods will no doubt already recognise that we have put out a minimum viable product just to get AniFem off the ground. We knew web design could become an obstacle if we let it, so we just picked and branded a template that seemed fairly simple and clean and committed to tailoring it to our needs once we could identify exactly what those were. I will work with more knowledgeable team members to make it more useful and easy to use, but those changes will come more quickly if we can afford to pay them.

In the meantime, we do actually have a more traditional page listing all reviews, which you might prefer to bookmark.

“Regarding Ryoka and her ‘anatomically unfeasible rack for her tiny frame’, you do know that girls with small waists and big breasts exist in real life, right? I don’t exactly see that as progressive point of view.”

I’m conflicted on this. On the one hand, there’s a chance that I was wrong, that there are petite girls out there with breasts naturally each the size of their skulls who are living proof that Ryoka’s chest is not in fact anatomically unfeasible, and I should apologise for my lack of inclusiveness. On the other hand, I suspect this accusation of “body shaming” is more likely to be an example of co-opting social justice language in an attempt to manipulate me into doing just that.

So I stand by the phrase “anatomically unfeasible”. Besides, even if there are actually women out there with bodies naturally like this I doubt very much that they would be pleased to be represented by Ryoka’s simultaneously infantilised and sexualised character, defined only by breast size and “quirky” childishness.

“I notice that you mention “manga” on both your about page and your Patreon, but (like most sites out there) you seem to focus heavily on anime, at least so far. I think this is a shame, since there exists so much more manga for and by women than there does anime, for one, but also because there’s so many interesting things in manga you could discuss from a feminist perspective. Do you have any concrete plans for manga-focused reviews or editorials in the future? Or are you looking for people to write about manga?”

This is a really fair criticism. By way of reassurance, our team of supporters include employees of both Kodansha and Viz who have independently volunteered their spare time to contribute to the project. We have a number of avid manga readers on the team, and have plans for manga content in the works. However, the site’s launch was structured around the new anime season, and I personally consume much more anime than manga so this has shaped the earliest content of the site.

I take your point that more of an even split would better serve our target audience, and I agree; manga is such a different industry with many more feminist discussion points, and we should give it as much attention as we’re currently giving anime. Let me discuss with the team how we can bring up our manga content to match the planned output for anime, which is definitely higher than manga at the moment. Thank you for bringing this to our attention and giving us the chance to add value for our readers.

We would absolutely love more people on board to write about manga from a feminist perspective, but we need to have a lot more patrons before we can afford to pay contributors. If you understand and feel comfortable offering us your work for free until we can afford to pay you, please send us a message detailing your background and interests on our contact page and we will get in touch.

“If you want a head start in hosting a community, you may consider having a comment section for your posts if possible with your current website tools.”

We’ve received this feedback quite a lot, very often as a criticism, and I suspect by people who have never been on the receiving end of a harassment campaign.

We don’t have comments open right now because moderating the abuse out of a comments section on a feminist website is time-consuming and emotionally draining. It’s tiring, miserable work at the best of times, and we can’t afford to pay people to do it yet. I have no intention of opening a comments section until we are confident we could deal with the worst of times without it eating into too much of any one person’s day.

While not everyone on my team agrees with my decision, everyone understands my reasons and acknowledges their validity. However, it is a high priority and we are internally debating solutions and compromises to open a comments section in some capacity until we can compensate a team of people for 24/7 moderating duties. In the meantime my priority is to generate content here and discussion over on Twitter and Facebook. If I’m going to pour my energy into something, I’d rather be creating than deleting.

Finally, just a note on this idea that Crunchyroll is paying us in some way because one of their employees has written an article for us, and that this underground deal has been uncovered by dedicated ethics detectives who could smell our hypocrisy through continents of internet and refuse to be swayed by any of the following:

  1. We have stated repeatedly in public since day one that we have no affiliation with any other organisation or company.
  2. Crunchyroll staffers have also publicly stated that there is no connection between us except writers working independently, which I confirmed before launch they are contractually permitted to do.
  3. We named Peter and his job title in our 11th October launch press release, right after the words: “While not affiliated with any companies or organisations, the team includes anime and manga academics and professionals giving their spare time to the project.”
  4. We named Peter and his job title in our Patreon page from our 11th October launch date, right before parentheses stating “acting in an individual capacity”.
  5. We reviewed every single new, full-length anime premiere we could access, whether available on Crunchyroll or not, and gave similarly balanced reviews to all.
  6. Peter wrote an article comparing two anime, only one of which is available on Crunchyroll  in certain countries only – the one he assessed negatively in the context of the piece.

In other words, if there were actually an underground deal we were trying to hide from everyone, this revelation would only prove that a) we are remarkably bad at keeping secrets, and b) Crunchyroll makes very poor investments. I think their money is being used much better elsewhere.

The fact is that Crunchyroll, as well as Funimation, Kodansha, Viz and other companies in the anime and manga industry, have people working for them who are keen to see us succeed, some of them so keen they are willing to give up their free time to try and make it happen. Anyone who thinks these companies should be in tighter control of their employees’ personal time and politics is at the very least not in a position to accuse me of being against free speech.

What do people want?

“I’d like to read your thoughts on previous animes like Re:Zero, Food Wars, etc.”

“I’d love to see your review of Kino’s Journey. Only 13 episodes.”

I’ve been asked “What do you think of [X]?” since I started publishing on The Mary Sue. People are particularly curious about what a feminist might think about something like Re:ZERO (love it) or Food Wars (hated the first episode), which, like so many anime, contain a mixture of positive and problematic elements.

We’re really keen to review older anime and give that perspective, as well as some guidance for other feminist fans looking for new things to watch. However, our priorities for older anime are in roughly the following order:

  1. What have our patrons asked us to review?
  2. What are the writers keen to review?
  3. What is in the public eye right now?
  4. What have non-patrons asked us to review?

One of the perks of becoming a patron for $5 a month or more is a say in what we talk about here. From November we will be asking our patrons to suggest topics and vote on shortlists to decide which older shows we cover and which topics we discuss. Speaking of which…

“I think it would be great to have a voting system in which we can analyse to contribute to the site.”

If you mean voting on what we look at next, that is already going to happen within Patreon. If you mean another kind of vote, please get in touch with more details!

“I was wondering if you would ever make a post about some animes you have seen that you feel fall under a good feminist anime. I have watched anime for a long time, and find my tolerance for cliche characters, fan service and female characters created for the sole purpose of a harem lowers everyday, to the point i have a hard time finding shows. So a list of some kind would be amazing.”

“Any chance that in the future you’ll put together a couple of lists of recommended anime both staff/site favourites and good examples of female characters and queer/LGBTQ+ anime – recently watched Hourou Musuko Wandering Son on Crunchyroll and really enjoyed it.”

Our review policy is “look for the good”. Even the most offensive anime in the world is someone’s favourite, and we on the AniFem team have all had the experience of drawing really positive feminist messages out of anime that no-one could describe as feminist. We will actually be starting a series this week in which one of the team discusses exactly that experience.

For that reason, we are less likely to put together list of what we consider to be good feminist anime as that’s a bit too broad and impossible to get right for everyone, but we are definitely going to put together lists of team favourites, good examples of female characters, anime we think feminists are likely to enjoy, anime which address feminist politics, etc. We will also put up recommendations at the end of each season so that anyone patient enough to wait until the end of airing can have an easy guide to the most feminist-friendly titles of the season just ended.

“As the site grows and more content is added I hope there will be way to browse for particular shows or categories/genres/etc., and, somewhat selfishly, maybe some sort of shortlist of recommended series, past and present, of quality programs with minimal fan service.”

This taps into an idea I’m particularly excited about, but furthest away from, funding-wise – I would love to develop an anime and manga database which makes it easy to search for anime and manga by genre and subject matter, but also by feminism-relevant criteria. We do have developers and designers on the team and I’m obviously not afraid of a challenge, but this is one of those projects for when we have at least $5000 in monthly income from Patreon, i.e. all writers, editors and moderators are being paid fairly for their time.

“I’d like for you to consider a suggestion I have to put more focus on older anime (and manga) you like and would recommend to others.  It appears to me that you’re largely concerned with covering the latest anime season, but I feel this to be misdirected effort if your intended audience hasn’t been keeping up with anime.  They may have no idea about the shows from years past, and furthermore, a lot of anime tends to vanish into obscurity as soon as their run is over unless they’re among the hottest shows of the year.  I therefore believe that there’s a lot of value to be had in covering past anime over current anime, especially if there’s not enough airing shows you enjoy.  In addition, I think bringing more people into anime is better served by positivity in talking about what you like instead of negativity in complaining about what you don’t like.”

First off, I want to nip in the bud this idea that we’re a negative site, because there’s just no basis for it. As mentioned earlier, our review policy is “look for the good”; I watched every new, full-length premiere and found something good to say about every single one, even the ones I hated. Peter’s article was as positive about Black Lagoon as it was negative about Gurren Lagann, and he said at the start he loves both series, so overall it was more positive than negative. Part of the reason for seeking funding through Patreon is so we don’t have to rely on controversy or clickbait to be successful, because driving traffic to our site will be a secondary concern to creating content which pleases our core audience of patrons, anime fans who love the medium as much as we do. We are a critical site, but not negative.

Secondly, we are absolutely keen to review older anime. The site seems focused on the new season right now because it launched less than a week ago and the first type of content we put up was premiere reviews from the most recent season. We do not plan to do episode reviews of airing seasons, just topical articles, and the team has been pitching ideas about a range of shows from last season to shows from decades ago.

A certain amount of our content will be dictated by what we can stream legally, but once we’re at a high enough level of funding I will be able to buy the team DVDs of older shows to watch and write on. If you would like to have a say in which shows we cover, please become a patron for $10 a month or more and make suggestions.

“I would like to know if you have an RSS feed for your site’s articles? I want to add it to my feed watch-list”

We do – it is at https://www.animefeminist.com/feed/ but the plugin I use for social media icons doesn’t have one for RSS! I am looking for other options, but it’s a lower priority than content this week. Please bear with me while I beg more technical people on the team for help!

What happens next?

No doubt some of you reading this will have new questions or comments for us. Patrons, please get in touch through Patreon, where we reply to every single message and post. Everyone else, you can reach us through our comment formFacebook or Twitter.

So far our patrons have taken something of a leap of faith. They agree with out mission, they share our values, they are inspired by our plans for the future and they have paid for that promise. This week we’re going to start giving you some examples of where your money will go. You will be able to see book reviews, interviews, roundtable discussions, analysis and opinion pieces, all of which we would gladly make regular features if we had the funding. We will try to give you samples of as many types of content as possible, more complicated projects like translation or podcasts aside. After a showcase week or two, we will drop down to the level of content justified by the level of funding we have reached and work consistently until we are fully funded.

If we continue to raise $300 a week then in early 2017 we can start work on that anime database, translating Japanese articles, conducting interviews, running a podcast, carrying out research, developing print publications and all the other projects we would love to work on. At the time of writing, we have 84 patrons supporting us with $363 a month, up from 69 patrons and $298 just 18 hours before. Can we make it to our next milestone of $600 by the weekend? If you are as keen as we are to see this happen please become a patron and see how far your $1 per month can take us.