Guys, Stop Talking to Women Wearing Headphones

I recently read an article titled “How to Talk to a Woman Who is Wearing Headphones.” Published in The Modern Man by one Dan Bacon. This now-infamous piece essentially reads as a how-to guide on how to force women to speak to you, no matter how reluctant they may be. There have been many conversations about the article in question, as it is, at best, presumptuous and creepy, and at worst, downright horrifying. But, rather than discuss the article itself, I think it’s important to understand exactly why you shouldn’t make any romantic advances towards a woman wearing headphones, or women catching busses, or women just living their everyday lives. 

The first reason is something men should understand regardless; women live in a world where they often do not feel safe. When women see a man they don’t know, their first reaction is threat assessment. Women change the paths they take home from work to avoid being harassed. They change the clothes they wear in hopes of attracting less unwanted attention from men. They travel in groups whenever possible as a preventative measure. So with that, when you approach a woman, she doesn’t see you as a potential suitor, she is forced by survival instinct to see you as a threat first.

That initial reaction may only last a second, but it’s always there, because every woman lives in fear of her worst nightmares coming true. In fact, it’s painfully rare for a woman to not have horror stories of her own experiences. When you understand that, you can easily understand another truth; it is not uncommon for a woman to wear headphones for the express purpose of avoiding conversation with men. It’s a world of constant harassment, and women are fighting an arms race of efforts to avoid that, while men are, as evidenced in the article above, racing to overcome those defenses to participate in that harassment while still viewing themselves as “nice guys.” In this broader context, the action of forcing a woman to respond to you, even in pleasant conversation, is much more sinister than you realize.

But you may be thinking, some women are simply relaxing, listening to music, an audiobook, or podcast, when they wear headphones. So why not strike up a conversation? I’ll answer that with another question: even if you know she’s listening to music, what makes you think you’re more important? You’re not some god bestowing your priceless attention on a desperate person. You’re at best a pleasant interruption, and at worst creepy, discomforting, and/or annoying. Even if you’re “just being nice,” you’d never interrupt a man’s music to compliment him, so ask yourself why you’d do it to anyone. The point here is that even if you’re sure she won’t see you as creepy, even if you’re sure she’s interested, there’s plenty of other opportunities to strike up a conversation. Your whims aren’t more important than her activities, and they’re certainly not more important than her comfort.

The point is, if you want to approach, and talk to a woman in a public space, ask yourself some questions first. “In what way could I be seen as threatening? How can I minimize that? How would I act differently, knowing that she’s probably been harassed in situations exactly like this before? Is my question/compliment/statement more important than what she’s doing?” It’s perfectly reasonable to approach a woman and compliment her, or strike up a conversation, and it’s not hard at all to do so without making her scared, uncomfortable, or disgusted. But it’s also easy to do the opposite if you don’t care about or haven’t considered the broader context. Question yourself, think about what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. Compliments about something she’s chosen to change about her appearance are usually good!  “Compliments” about her body, or statements about something sexual in nature, are simply harassment. And if she’s wearing headphones, please refer to the handy flowchart below.

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