Fresno Calif. — Fresno’s C.A.F.E. (Collective for Arts Freedom and Ecology) Infoshop hosted its first monthly “Women’s Night” event on Sunday, Nov. 8 from 7:00–9:00 p.m. The event is for all women to discuss personal and community issues in a supportive safe place.
The first meeting, which gathered about 15 women from the Fresno area, blended politics with personal stories, and local issues with global ones.
Throughout the evening what stood out to me most was our discussion about women’s safety here in Fresno, something I worry about on a consistent basis. Nearly everyone present had her own story to share about the lack of respect in downtown Fresno venues and sexist treatment at places in the Tower District.
While it was scary to hear that places I frequent are developing reputations for harassment or having staff that treat women customers poorly, it was comforting knowing we could talk about it, and start to take steps towards solutions.
I have experienced my own share of what I felt were dangerous encounters, both by day and night, simply trying to get to school or work. I shared one experience that I will never forget with the supportive group at the Infoshop. A few years ago I was waiting for a bus to take me to a morning class at Fresno City College and a man sat by me. I was wearing an over-sized hoodie and sunglasses, as I tend to do to avoid any unwanted attention as I’m going about my every day business.
As I sat waiting for the bus with my headphones in, the man stared at me persistently, though I didn’t acknowledge him. The next thing I knew, he moved closer until he was right next to me.
I continued to ignore him when he began talking: not to me, but at me. The difference between the two is respect and the lack thereof. He shouted “Hey! HEY!” until I felt cornered into acknowledging him.
Then he began to pester me: “Whatcha look like under those glasses?” I felt trapped; I didn’t want to talk to him, but it felt like I had no choice. I couldn’t walk away; I had to be in class and was already going to be late as the bus was behind schedule. I hate that trapped feeling, and I know I’m far from alone in having experienced it. I didn’t know what else to do other than quickly respond, “I look like everyone else.”
It didn’t end there. The man proceeded to demand for me to show him my eyes. I was so angry but too afraid to anger him as well, so I quickly flipped my glasses up and down, hoping that he would see that I was not interested. Instead, he chose to get the opposite message. He moved closer to me and kept telling me how pretty my eyes were and how he wanted to see more. At this point, I got up and moved to a different area of the bus stop, hoping to get some distance.
He followed me and informed me that he was angry with me for walking away. I could finally see the bus coming, and as I wished it to come faster, the man shouted names at me and told me how rude I was, and all the while growing more angry.
The bus arrived and I practically flew onto it. He chased me on, yelling, “I’m not done with you yet!” Before he could get to me, the bus driver pulled him to the front and told him he couldn’t stay unless he paid the fare.
It was further upsetting that instead of intervening in an obvious case of sexual harassment, the driver stopped him over a bus ticket. Luckily my harasser transferred his anger from me to the bus driver, who then called the police.
As I shared this story, I felt the strongest sense of community among this group of women. While I found solace in hearing that I was not alone, I felt even more empowered when the group shared ideas for how to make Fresno a safer and more respectful place.
One of our concrete plans was to set a “phone tree” for each other. We all will have access to an online directory and be able to call anyone on that list if we are walking home alone at night or feel unsafe somewhere. That way we have someone to talk to until we get home, or can have someone pick us up if we get into trouble.
Fresno locals Amber Fargano and Sam Retton hosted the first meeting, though the group recognizes no hierarchy and encourages members to actively participate by taking turns leading the monthly meetings.
“The Fresno scene is very cis-male dominated,” says Fargano. “Within this reality is a lack of
space for women — -specifically women of color and transgender women. There have been a lot of feelings of loneliness, alienation, and fear. [There are also] consistent occurrences that range from microaggressions to larger acts of violence towards women. When Sam [Retton] and I talked about bringing this event back, it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Women’s Night seeks to fill a gap in Fresno’s cultural offerings, and “draw new women into our community and give them a space to make art, share knowledge, and meet like-minded people,” says Retton.
I encourage any woman to come to the next meeting and check it out! Bring your friends, your sister, your mom, and your colleagues to this truly amazing group.
C.A.F.E. Infoshop is located at 935 F Street. Check out their Facebook pagefor the latest information about this and other upcoming events.