By Lydia Burdorf
Early December of 2022 in the middle of the night, I walked the 10 miles from Baker’s Beach to my apartment in The Mission District of San Francisco. It was a full moon and the clouds had just poured rain throughout the city. The moonlight reflected off the wet pavement and danced along the glassy storefronts. I cried to the moon like she was my mother and painted my name like a trail of breadcrumbs on mailboxes and streetlamp posts. I watched as the self driving cars repeatedly circled a block in the Haight. I bled my broken heart out into a pond in Golden Gate Park and patched it up with mud from Hippy Hill. A stranger handed me a can of spraypaint. I watched people drunkenly walk from club to club in the Castro. I finally found my street at 4 am.
A year ago I would have never dreamed of doing this. Last year I was trapped inside my house with a fear that lasted a couple months, I only went out to go to work. Taking a walk around my block was a nightmare of men staring at my body and telling me what they thought of it. Everyday that I have walked down a city block since I was twelve years old I have experienced some type of harassment. Every woman I know would tell you the same. We are yelled at in the street, we are followed home, we are grabbed, we are exposed to stranger’s bodies. I am unable to exist in public without being reminded that I am an object for sex.
It seems like there are only a couple of options for women. One is to lock ourselves away, never to enter the commons without a chaperone, only going out alone to places with a fee to enter and taking a taxi home. This option is giving in to male dominance by submitting to a man for protection. It is giving in to consumerism as an escape from a world that degrades women openly in public, instead accepting degradation in a more private yet totally twisted way.
I lived my life this way for a long time, wishing I could walk to the corner store to get a cold soda on a hot summer night or giving into advances from men because I knew they were my ticket into the public sphere.
I believe that the world is this way for women because of the way we left the domestic sphere. It was not just scarily recent but also through work. We started leaving our houses because men in positions of power saw us as a means to make themselves more money. Women did not leave their position as the head of the home out of a newfound respect men had for women, but because we were seen as a commodity. So now everyday I walk down the street I am being consumed.
I think the way to remedy this is to create an enitrely different position for ourselves outside of our homes.
One day after my many months of self afflicted isolation, I walked into the Long Haul Infoshop. I was not met with arms wide open or by a community of women or anything simple or easy. I met a ton of neurotic anarchists who were almost entirely men many years my senior. I walked into Thrillhouse Records and met a ton of angry chainsmoking punks. I walked into Adobe Books and met painstakingly secretive graffiti artists and pretentious noise musicians.
Its a strange thing, being known and knowing people is very different than being their friends. But I have learned that meeting a group of people at one of these community spaces and learning their names, asking about their lives; you will suddenly be invited to all of their projects, shows, or art parties. Artists and people who work in mutual aid need people to support them and also to help them do cool shit. Say yes and show up, be courteous, don’t cause drama and these people will love you and want to support you because you supported them.
Walking around in public is suddenly a bit less scary when there is a chance of seeing a familiar face. Coming home late at night and seeing my friends scribbles on all the bus stops feels like a reminder that I am cared for and can be protected. Knowing that I have a place I can go to escape the chaos of the outside world for just a second gives me the courage to take it on.
Leaving my house and doing the scary, yet oh so simple thing of speaking to a couple of strangers gave me the ability to become an active community member. This gives me a place in public where I am respected, have my own power, and can be unafraid. And when I am treated terribly by men in these spaces, I have people who back me up. When you find spaces outside of your or your friends homes that empower you, eventually you will get to a place where you simply are empowered everywhere you go.
Yes all of these places are crawling with older men, I totally can’t stand it half of the time. But, the dream of a girl gang that slits the throats of men who dare to look at us the wrong way isn’t coming true fast enough (and has so much potential for terfdom). Surprisingly, I have found, being the youngest person and also the only woman in the room I am able to hold quite a bit of power. So I am asking you, reader, if you are currently locking yourself away from the outside world out of fear of harassment please come outside. Find communities to be a part of that will offer you the respect and empowerment you deserve. The more of you who answer my call the less space older entitled men will have at these places. It is hard work to turn a strange place into a known one but I promise it is worth it.
I hope to see you sometime! Maybe at a record store, the library, or maybe just walking down the street.