Am I Wrong?

I knew Jenn from Jennisodes before I met her in person. Jennisodes is a popular indie gaming podcast that is frequented by a lot of game designers and people active in the gaming community. If you have a game coming out, you try to get on Jennisodes.

When I met her at GenCon, I immediately started scheming to get her in front of my camera. I always have photography in the back of my mind. Can’t help it. Ideas for shoots start to build the minute I see someones face. Jenn was up for the experience. Like she does with anything she’s interested in, she threw herself into it, getting cool outfits for the shoot and working with me to develop ideas.

Jenn in Gold

During the shoot I asked Jenn why she didn’t have more photos of herself up and around. She told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, is that she wants people to judge her on the quality of her work first, and not the way that she looks. I assured her that she has done enough work out there in gaming that no one (excluding a troll) would judge her on her looks. After all, with her popular podcast that people were clamoring to get on, and her game, where she has a team of some of the brightest working with her, she’s no longer in a place where people would judge her that way.

Now I’m wondering if I’ve been foolish. Recent events and comments have made me second guess myself. I’ve always felt that it was to an artists advantage to engage with their audience, and that showing your face was a part of that. Now I’m not so sure. Would these photos, that show Jenn’s extraordinary beauty, actually hurt her credibility? Is it better to hide your face if you’re a beautiful woman?

Jenn in Gold

As a photographer, I want to say no. I want to say that a person that has done so much, worked so hard, and supported a community wouldn’t be judged on her looks. That attractive or not, her accomplishments are what’s important, that no one would ever think that she’s popular because she’s beautiful, but because of what she does. I want to believe that. I want that to be my world. I’m not sure if it is.

It’s a damned if you are, damned if you’re not situation. A “beautiful” woman is told she’s only popular because she’s pretty, her accomplishments erased. An “ugly” woman is told she has no right to speak because of the way her body looks. Either way, both are dismissed. I don’t like that message and I won’t accept it. Not ever.

I come here armed only with my camera. Now it feels like a weapon and I wonder if I’m responsible enough to handle it. I shoot, and all I can do is hope I’m pointing it in the right direction.

20 thoughts on “Am I Wrong?

  1. I’d suggest that anyone who considers it a hit to her credibility is someone looking for an excuse – if there weren’t photos, they’d find something else.

    Not that it’s not enraging all the same.

    • I can see your point, that someone looking to hate on someone can find any reason to do so. I do wonder if photos can make a person more vulnerable though, to being dismissed. Of course, there is also the reward of sharing who you are with your audience, so it feels like these are two things that need to be weighed carefully.

  2. For me, the fact that you (J.R.) are beautiful doesn’t hurt your credibility, and it doesn’t hurt Jenn’s either. If there are people out there for whom it DOES, well, then they are being asshats. Then you just have to take Jared’s advice from a couple days ago and not cave to the asshattery.

    So no, you are not wrong.

  3. I have a follow-up comment, actually, which is a little more salient.

    I am a proponent of being “out” about one’s hobbies, in order to combat stereotypes and give people reasons to dispel them on their own.

  4. There is a truth that the Interwebz reinforces every day: You can’t please everyone.

    Sadly though, on the Interwebz and (one could argue) in the Real World, it is the minority — the trolls, the bitter, the S.M.O.F.s, and the asshats who will armchair careers of all kinds — who tend to be the loudest.

    Or, at least, sometimes, it feels that way.

    Somehow, somewhere, it was believed that the prettier you are, the dumber you are; or that if you are pretty, life is made easier for you. I’ve heard one friend call it the Pretty Girl Syndrome, and there are some who do tap into that, thereby perpetuating the stereotype. Heck, I dated one such girl in high school. She was a real tragedy in that she was smart as a tack but preferred to play the “dilly blonde” because she felt that people around her preferred that.

    So yes, there are people that perpetuate the whole “I’m cute” entitlement. And then when you see behind the scenes at beauty pageants and Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, you realize that sense of entitlement is everywhere.

    However, I believe these women to be in the minority. I was pretty taken with Aisha Tayler’s recent “Dear Gamers” reply, no doubt in reply to the issue that you bring up. You can read it here…

    One bit of Aisha’s open letter really resonates with me:

    “I’ve been a gamer since before you could read.
    Since I aced midterms after staying up all night playing Evil Tetris.
    Since I became dorm champ at Leisure Suit Larry.
    Since I double-wielded on Time Crisis 3 at Fuddrucker’s.

    I was a voice in not one, but two major video game titles.
    I hosted the Reach Beta tutorial.
    I was a Gears of War superfan panelist at ComicCon.
    I hosted the Ubisoft presser at E3 2012.
    I didn’t do any of it for the money.
    For most I got paid next to nothing, and for some, less than that.

    I did it because I love video games.
    Because I’ve dreamt since I was a kid of being in one of the games I love.
    How many games have you done voices for?
    How many cons have you repped at?
    Your buddy’s Unreal Tournament garage deathmatch doesn’t count.”

    Somewhere, particularly in our genere and in our circles of gaming, costuming, and other geekdom, you can’t be attractive and be a geek. You’re apparently just a pretty poser. Aisha’s been called that. Felicia Day’s been called that.

    All I can say is, it’s their loss.

    I don’t think you’re wrong, J.R. I think it’s a sad commentary on a sub-culture that prides itself on acceptance, on open-mindedness. I also think that these voices of unwarranted criticism is in the minority. I still believe, personally, in ability, in talent, and in drive. If you have that, then the potential is endless.

    I’d like to think I’m in the majority. Sometimes, it’s really hard to tell.

  5. Maybe this is just selection bias, but I feel as though we’re on the verge of a major equal rights movement, and it necessarily must be led by women. I think racism has largely fled to the confines of sexism, because there IS a difference between the sexes where no legitimate differences between races exists. So, bigots everywhere jump on the biological differences in order to promote and maintain their sense of superiority without as much fear of reprisal.

    I say all this because I don’t think it’s simply a matter of ignoring asshats, of not caving to them. Rather, they need to be actively engaged and dismantled. People who would attack Jenn for being attractive are not simply trolls looking to get a rise out of people. They’re bigots hiding behind trollish behavior because everyone knows you don’t feed the trolls, thus they get away with it without much backlash.

    In no instance ever would we tolerate someone denigrating a black man’s accomplishments because he’s black. Nor would we wonder if he’d be better off not showing his face so that his accomplishments could stand on their own. Rather, we’d destroy the racist, and we should do the same with misogynists as well.

    No man has his body of work judged by his appearance (George R.R. Martin, David Letterman, Meatloaf, Ron Jeremy), and no woman should either, but the answer is not to hide from sight. I think the answer, instead, is a two-step process.

    First, female creators should put themselves out there more. If Jenn’s pictures are only up in a few locations that gives a focal point for the hatred. If they’re everywhere, and if it’s common practice for women to have their pictures attached to their work, then there’s less opportunity for sexist commentary to concentrate.

    Since I’m not a woman, that might be easier said than done, but the second part of the process is key: the audience needs to be trusted to shut down sexist commenters, making the environment one where they simply won’t be tolerated. Dissent and criticism are key to a functioning culture, but someone who dismisses any woman simply because they are a woman is providing neither dissent nor criticism and should have no place to spew their hate.

    I’m sorry my first comment on your site is so long and diatribe-y, but this apparently struck a nerve. The asshats not only can’t be allowed to win, they have to be actively defeated. So shoot on. Hatred can’t stand against persistence.

  6. Beauty is an advantage in life and business, although extreme beauty can also have its drawback as well. I can understand why she would be reluctant to have images of herself out in the wild, given how weird our hobby can be about sexuality and gender.

    However, we should always judge people’s work on its merits first. 100+ episodes of a podcast is REAL. Which reminds me, I need to download and listen to the James Raggi episode.

  7. I love Jenn’s podcast, it helps me home on a long commute. I backed her kickstarter, not because of her appearance but because I want to play that game. Remember most normal people don’t see a pretty woman and think hateful shit. We say to ourselves “hey nice picture” then we move on to our day. One asshat should not invalidate a few hundred regular people who no one noticed because we didn’t spew out nonsense. Don’t let some jerk hold you back.
    I would have to disagree with Jonathan on one point: “I think racism has largely fled to the confines of sexism”. That makes me cringe a little because it feels like the racisits are taking off their sheets and hoods and sending tea bags instead of orange pips these days. But I agree that usually when someone says something clearly racist they are much more likely to be called out on it than if they said something sexist. So what I do agree with Jonathan about is that we should call an asshat an asshat.

    • This is not a post that is directed at one particular comment or person, but at a larger culture. I know that many people like and support Jenn’s work, and the work of many women, without any regard to their appearance, and that’s great.

  8. When my blog partner and I go to conventions as press, middle-aged white men roll their eyes when they think we’re not looking. “Yeah, THEY’RE press.” I don’t have a model’s body. I’m not the beauty ideal of our culture. But I’m not going to be dishonest about it. I know, that in the nerd circles I run in, a number of people think I’m cute. Fine. So we look a little bit younger than we are, some nerds think we’re cute, and we’re dressed nicely because it’s fun. Immediately dismissed. Whatever the assumption is… booth babe, arm candy, girl who’s just there with her boyfriend… we are dismissed.

    This isn’t a case of “Hot Problems” (See Youtube. Horrible. Hilarious.). This is a SERIOUS problem. Judging women and dismissing their passions/knowledge/worth based on appearance is wrong and prevalent. Heavy, skinny, ugly, pretty, short tall… it’s still judging women for their bodies.

    I’m rambling a bit. Don’t even get me started on that “Real Women Have Curves” bullshit. Arg! Thanks for pointing this out. And for listening.

    • Dismissal is a huge issue. At my last job, I was constantly questioned about my ability to edit HTML, despite the fact that I did it daily. The man who worked with me was never questioned about his abilities. My husband is often mistaken for me at conventions, he becomes the photographer, people assume he is the game designer. Without knowing what we look like, people assume that he is the one doing the things they like.

      • Funny thing? Most of my HTML and coding help comes from women. I was taught HTML by my college girlfriend. When I hear about the sexism among programmers, I just want to smack these guys.

  9. I think you ask questions well worth asking and thinking about. Thank you for doing so.

    All I know is this, I podcasted for years and helped produce a solid show that was nominated for awards and blah blah blah. When I was a guest on Jenn’s show, I learned things about setting a guest up to be interesting and interviewing that I will take with me to whatever podcasting endeavors might be in my future. I think she’s the best gaming podcaster out there right now and she got there because she’s hard working and wicked smart.

    Three cheers for Jenn!

    Also, the pictures look smashing.

    • Thank you for your comment. Jenn is hard working and wicked smart. I really enjoyed taking photos of her, and I love how they turned out. I do feel a strong responsibility, as an artist, to think about the material I put out there in the world.

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