The Woman In The Orange Skirt: San Francisco Days

There is a girl sitting outside my apartment. She is wearing an orange skirt and a sparkly pink jacket. Her hair is filthy and unkempt, her face is bruised. She looks defeated. A tall man is standing over her with his pants sagged fashionably low. He looks as if he has money. Her bags are on the floor along with her. He towers monolithic over this scrap of a young woman, not much more than a girl really. She is almost curled into a ball. Her legs look bruised with abuse. I suspect there is foil and a straw and stuff involved that is the most popular way to die on the streets of San Francisco – illicit fentanyl, who knows the dose, who knows the purity? No one. People do it any way.

She looks to me as if she is being pimped out. She has that wary resigned look about her, and the well dressed man is the image of a pimp. Hawked out like meat on the corner of my street. I can’t go down there and try and help her. He is watching his little bird like a wolf with money on his mind. The deal is clear – she sells her body, he gives her drugs. Except sometimes he won’t. He will feel as if he has to teach her a lesson and then most likely she will be made to suffer, roughed around, beaten just enough to keep her scared, but not so much that she can’t get back out there and sling her body on the streets. This is not empowerment. This is not a choice. This is not fun, nor a career that women can chose and leave when they want to. This is suffering.

Do not judge her. Don’t you dare. Do you know her story? Do you know how she ended up in the early morning on a corner of a bad part of town, outside my apartment, with a man standing over her as she squats resting on the sidewalk wearing a little orange skirt and a sparkly pink jacket? Was she in foster care? Was she abused as a child? Did her parents throw her out? Did she get addicted to drugs and with a lack of safe supply and harm reduction, did things spiral out of control to send her here to this corner in this state?…You have no idea of the pain in her body and her mind that has led her to need to numb her life with powder streaked and blackened down a piece of strong silver foil. You have no idea what she needs.

We do know, however, what she does not need. She does not need a pimp. This is no ‘only fans’ sisters doing it for themselves sex-positive empowerment kick. There is also no shame there. No judgement needed from the religious and the privileged. Women do what they have to do to survive, but this is not survival – what is happening to the girl in the orange skirt is criminal. She is not the criminal, the crime is not selling sex, the crime is her subjugation, the fact that men are not censured for buying another human being’s body, and the fact the she is not free to go. She is not free from anything. She is owned on the streets of San Francisco. She is obligated. She cannot stop anything. The drug she uses will not allow her to stop, there is nothing in place in the City which will help her stop. Methadone and suboxone do not cover the withdrawal of fentanyl addiction, and the addict will still get sick, not only that programs try and cut addicts down in their dose far too fast leaving them craving more, and in pain.

Part of me – the part that likes a quiet life in my little apartment here, does not want to see prostitution on the street outside my apartment. I don’t want the Boy to have to run past that when he goes out for his daily jog. I don’t want to hear the suffering. I don’t want the bad people that it brings to the neighborhood, nor the danger it spells. I do not want to have to be confronted with the suffering on a constant basis. I have got tired, and my desire to help, to fix everyone around me has not let up. Orange skirt girl has my sympathy and outrage on her behalf and my sadness that so many in this City will judge her as lacking or being somehow bad. There is not the judgement for the men who use her body, and pass undetected in society, not having to cope with the peanut throwing hoards with their petty morality that serves only to prove to them that they are better than their neighbors, living a more virtuous and correct life. It makes me sick.

I do not give a single damn about being better than anybody else. I would rather be trash than someone who looks down her nose at those who do things differently, except I can’t help but feel anger at the lack of compassion and the lack of a suitable fix for the situation for so many women on the streets. I am a renegade, and it is too late to change now, and besides, I would not want to. I don’t care for being the same as others, or gaining their approval. I just want to go my own way, and want for others to go their own way too. This woman is not being allowed to go her own way: she is trapped, and I simply cannot go free her. She is not even free from herself. The misery is palpable. My sisters suffer, the streets are so dangerous for women.

There is a dangerous tendency to want our victims uneducated, downtrodden, with no will power or strength, and somehow lacking in themselves. For a victim to be educated, intelligent, powerful, self possessed, with strength and willpower makes the world seem so much more dangerous. After all, if it could happen to such a woman, there is nothing to stop it happening to any woman. This is the Truth. There is nothing to stop any woman apart from good luck and kind family who have resources and generosity of spirit, from ending up on the street, being pimped out to a succession of nasty and mainly old men. The girl in the orange skirt just walked off into a car with a man of at least 70. Nice car. He was overflowing with privilege. She was not. Finishing high school won’t save her. She probably did anyway. Getting a degree won’t save her – it didn’t save me. Being clever won’t save her, but it might keep her alive long enough to escape.

How long before society accepts that women are fully human and deserve the same rights as men to safety? How long before we look out there and see this girl in need, suffering, and we can both censure the pimp and find her meaningful assistance? How long are women’s bodies going to be used and abused? We are abused in huge numbers, we are killed by men in huge numbers, we are pimped out in huge numbers, we suffer as a group and almost worse than that we have little cohesion amongst ourselves. It is divide and conquer. There is a problem with women who have been successful in life, especially in the legal and academic world, and their attitude towards women who have suffered greatly as a result of the patriarchy. It is more of this ‘I did it right, they did it wrong’, self-responsibility shit. It makes people feel great about themselves. They get to compare their choices to others reality and congratulate themselves on a job well done. We all like to feel good about ourselves. The only trouble is bad circumstances are very rarely the fault of the person suffering. The Patriarchy smashes down women, men can and do hide their faults until they have a female fully trapped. There is bad luck, sheer horrible luck, and the vagaries of life that just goes awry. I married a sensible man with a good job, who had not ever hurt me. There is nothing to say he was going to do what he did to me. Every couple bickers upon occasion, and I will still say to anyone who berates me for marrying a Japanese man in Japan, that if that is what they see as a red flag, then perhaps they need to check their racist urges.

I wish some of my more successful, more conventional sisters would be less concerned about ‘doing it right’ and more concerned with not continuing the beat down of their more troubled sisters. I rarely dip my toe into feminist matters any more, as there is always someone to offend, always someone to piss off. I never really feel included. I fell through the cracks and there is no getting back into the hallowed halls of the ‘decently feminist’. Instead I worry at the fringes, admire the hugely beneficial work of my darling Ruthie deep in the trenches of the fight against the Hague Convention on parental child abduction, and stand well back. Perhaps I shouldn’t. Perhaps I should dip a toe back into the waters and have my say.

The man outside is now shouting at what he clearly considers his ‘property’. She is scrabbling in her shopping bags that contain her entire life for something or other. She has just been wiping her nether regions with a baby wipe. My heart is breaking at the horror of life for her. My heart is breaking at the horror of my own life reflected back at me. I am holding onto the bedside table and there are tears falling down my face. I am crying for her. I am crying for myself. I am crying for the fact that we are blamed for our own misfortune and not the men who abuse, rule and violate us. I am crying because I see no end to it, no freedom for females to roam and live their lives unmolested and safe from violent men who see women as nothing more than a receptacle for their various urges and fears and anger.

There is a walking stick leaning up against my wall. I need to use it nowadays so I don’t tumble over. I am not that old. The disease that is eating me up alive is partly caused by genetics, partly caused, or so the scientists think by a constant stream of cortisol released into the body as a stress reaction that then triggers the autoimmune disease. In short, I think the Patriarchy has made me sick. People’s judgement made me sick. Society made me sick, and if that poor young woman outside survives, it will sicken her too in the end. Women deserve better than this, but I see no way out and no way forward. As always some of us will make it through and far too many will not. The very least I can do is raise a salute of solidarity with the woman in the orange skirt and give that towering man the fucking single finger salute of disgust. He is still shouting at her. My body is convulsing at the memory of the noise of a man who is on the edge of violence and who owns me body and soul. We should not have to live this way.

I pulled the curtains open and let the light flood in. I peek through the voile shades and see her there, crouched on the ground, subjugated in the bright privileged sun of a brilliant, but cold uncaring San Franciscan morning.

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