An article struck a nerve with some, sparking an important conversation.
There's an article making the rounds on social media called, "How to Talk to a Woman Who is Wearing Headphones."
It's written by self-described dating and relationship expert Dan Bacon, and it's equal parts funny, sad, and scary. The truth is that if a woman is wearing headphones, she probably (OK, pretty much definitely) doesn't want to be interrupted for a chat with a stranger.
Leaving someone wearing headphones alone is just one of those unwritten rules of polite society. Headphones are basically a universal sign meaning "Leave me the eff alone."
Twitter users came out in force to respond, letting the author know exactly what they thought of his advice:
Now, reader, if you're wondering to yourself: "Sure, but if I can't (or shouldn't) try to strike up conversation with strangers, how am I supposed to meet new people? What about the future of courtship?" it's worth examining where that concern comes from.
Lindsey M., a board member at Stop Street Harassment, offered some helpful answers to common questions about why this type of interaction isn't welcome.
"This concern presumes, as a default, that it is acceptable to gamble a woman's discomfort or sense of safety against the odds that there's a shot of success," Lindsey wrote in a Twitter direct message. "That willingness to gamble is male privilege: It centers the desire to pick up a woman over the possibility that she wants to be left alone."
Why don't disinterested women just politely say no? For one, in trying to ignore you, she already has said no. Additionally, it's not nearly that simple, as saying "no" has been known to lead to even more aggressive harassment and even physical violence.
"There are plenty of consensual ways to meet and connect with women, and intentionally choosing cold approaches of women whose only act of participation was walking in your line of sight is the ultimate expression of male entitlement," Lindsey added.
Studies have shown that street harassment has a very real, very negative effect on various aspects of its victims' lives.
"The threat of harassment leads women to adjust their schedule, how and when they commute, where they choose to live, what they wear, what social or work functions they attend, how or where they work out, etc.," Lindsey wrote.
It's also important to remember that it's not any single interaction that leads to this feeling, but rather the fact that women are bombarded with unwanted male attention from an early age. It all adds up over time.
There's also the scourge of "pick-up culture," which spawns many of these "how-to" guides to dating that encourage men to use tactics of emotional manipulation and physical intimidation to trick women into engaging with them.
"Street harassment and 'pick up culture' perpetuate the objectification and gamification of women, which carries its own set of costs on women and girls' mental health, self esteem, and social standing," Lindsey explained.
Approaching strangers wearing headphones is different from most other public interactions because, for many, avoiding social interaction is exactly why the headphones are there in the first place.
Martha Mills breaks it down at The Guardian:
"The very reason I and many other women wear headphones isn’t as a trivial obstacle to some throbbing hormone mountain, nor as a challenge for those blessed with an abundance of ego. It’s a defence. ... We fill our ear holes to stop you from getting in."
True story. She continues:
"If you’re in a bar or party, her flirtatious smile may be the come-on you’re looking for, but be prepared to accept that you read it wrong, politely wish her a good evening and toddle back off. ... If you’re looking for a horde of single, eligible women all looking for friendship-maybe-more in one convenient place, try a dating site."
The point isn't that you can never spark up a conversation with a stranger. Rather, it's that men need to respect social cues — not find ways around them.
To review: Remember that you're not entitled to anybody else's time, attention, or space. If someone is wearing headphones, they're probably not up for conversation, and you should respect that.
As artist and author Kate Leth illustrates:
And if you feel like you absolutely must be able to chat up women in headphones, try this first: