Monthly Archives: March 2010

Jenner Davis, San Franciscan

Marlene says:

I work with a woman who goes by the name of Jenner Davis. She spends her day processing and sterilizing glassware for a biotech company, but that’s not what she really does. Really, she’s a writer and a photographer. She’s also so incredibly cool that she goes by Jenner even though her legal name is Jesse James Davis. She actually doesn’t need the added outlaw mystique of her given name. If she used it, it might even seem like a cheesy affectation.


You may or may not have heard of Herb Caen. He wrote about San Francisco for a San Francisco paper. He wrote about what the city feels like; about how it’s breath smells. Caen died in 1997 and Jenner Davis was too young at the time to inherit his crown.

Caen coined the term “Baghdad by the Bay” which was also the title of a book of his collected articles published in 1949, followed in 1953 by Don’t Call it Frisco. Davis also writes about Baghdad by the Bay, but she has a more contemporary understanding of Baghdad. She writes about a beautiful place with broken buildings that disappear and with colorful personalities who get shot. She writes about a city whose character is frequently shaped by invasion.

Jenner wasn’t around for the invasion by hippie baby boomers in the late sixties, or the gay exodus from everywhere to the Castro in the seventies. She has borne witness to the class invasions of the nineties and the new century. She has seen the city she knew over-run with wealthy young white people driving up housing prices. She has seen what she considers to be her people and her places identified as blight. Rather than simply regret the passing of people, places and a way of life, she documents things gone or going.

Jenner Davis is also a photographerand her writing about the city she loves is almost always accompanied by photographs that give you her view. You might not have seen the beauty of the abandoned cannery on the edge of the bay on your own, but Jenner makes sure you can’t miss it. In addition to her blog about San Francisco and her main photo blog, she also has a blog dedicated to photos taken with her cell phone and the almost self-explanatory Secret Faces.

Both her written work and her photography are full of bitter humor and a style that is both her own and so deeply influenced by the city she lives in that she sounds like others who have had the same relationship to San Francisco. She is flattered that I compare her to Herb Caen. She would very much like to be thought of the way he was; as a voice intertwined with a place. I recently saw that Jenner was reading Caen’s Baghdad by the Bay. She admitted that if she is going to write about Frisco, she should see how it has been done before. I was shocked that she hadn’t already read his work because she sounds like him in her writing. She carries a literary voice imprint that she has inherited by osmosis. Herb Caen and Mark Twain and Dashiell Hammett and Jack London and Warren Hinckle (who she has written about) have so influenced the language of San Francisco and been so influenced by it, that Jenner Davis can’t help but sound like them.

Frisco is what a few out-of-towners call the city, but the dividing line on use of this name is really a class line. When you get to prison and they ask where you’re from, you’re from Frisco. The local chapter of the Hells Angels is the Frisco chapter. Davis does call it Frisco, but she might have convinced Caen to do the same.

Davis mumbles little bits about running for the board of supervisors one day. The folks over in Frisco could do far worse.

Objectification Theory: Does Being Ogled Make Us Less Smart?

Laurie and Debbie say:

When a blatantly silly or misogynist evolutionary psychology study turns out to have a sample size of 16 or 30, it’s easy to discard not only the study but the whole idea. For once, however, we’ve run into a study with too small a sample size (25 people) that we would love to see done on a statistically useful scale:

Study participants — 25 women ages 18 to 35 — were told they were recruited to provide information on “the impressions people form about others solely based on their carriage and style of dress.”

Each was videotaped for two minutes — first from the front, then from behind — while they walked up and down a hall. To capture the experience of having their bodies evaluated while their faces (which presumably provide a better reflection of their individual personalities) were ignored, they were filmed exclusively from the neck down.

For half the participants, the person doing the filming was male; for the other half, the camera was held by a woman. After the filming, each woman watched her video, reinforcing the experience in her mind. She then filled out questionnaires measuring her levels of Trait Self-Objectification (her overall propensity to view herself through the lens of others) and State Self-Objectification (her tendency to view herself through the lens of others when triggered by a specific event, such as being stared at).

To test their cognitive skills, the women were shown a series of random letters or numbers and instructed to reorder them (putting them in alphabetical order for the letters, in ascending order for the numbers). They completed 21 such tasks, which were presented in increasing order of difficulty.

The results: When women with a tendency toward viewing themselves through the lens of others were placed in a situation where they were objectified (that is, they were videotaped by a man), they made a greater number of mistakes on the cognitive test. They did just as well as other women on the easy initial tasks, but had trouble when the difficulty level went up.

We like the idea of using the objectification scales to analyze the cognitive data, because the underlying assumption is (gasp!) that women are not all the same and don’t all have the same reactions. We like the study design, though we’d look for see more analysis (rather than assumptions) about the difference between being filmed by a man and filmed by a woman. We would, of course, also look for an acknowledgment that gender is not binary … though we’re not likely to get that from this kind of work.

We both have the gut sense that the results could easily be accurate, that a full-scale study could bear this one out.

Here’s the reason we can’t believe it yet: with 25 women being studied, only 20% (that’s five women) “have a strong propensity toward self-objectification.” Actually, if that result were to be borne out by a larger study, that would be great news! If only 20% of women are high on the self-objectification scale, something good is happening. At the same time, this means that all the results in the article are based on five subjects’ results on one test. This isn’t even remotely enough to be useful.

According to the article, the researchers are recommending “a campaign of awareness and education.” We recommend some repeatable large-scale studies, and if the results repeat, then we’ll jump on the awareness and education bandwagon with the greatest of pleasure.

Thanks to Firecat for the pointer.