A blog about how to talk to women wearing headphones has been making the rounds online. The article, entitled How to Talk to a Woman Who is Wearing Headphones, written by Dan Bacon – a self-styled relationships expert who enjoys his "choice of women" – includes handy and not-remotely-sinister tips such as "stand in front of her" and "wave your hand in her direct line of vision".
Many have, quite rightly, pointed out that pestering women wearing headphones in the street is: a) intimidating; b) based solely on appearances; and c) incredibly creepy. At best, it is naive and annoying, and at worse, it is an invasion of privacy and a potential threat to someone's personal safety. Essentially, our modern man Bacon should note that this kind of advice and behaviour should be avoided at all costs. But what's more, he should note that all women – whether wearing headphones or not – are not ripe targets for street harassment.
I enjoy listening to music when out and about. But for myself and many other women, headphones are the equivalent of a Do Not Disturb sign. I wear them while running to drown out the sound of my lungs failing, and to block out lewd comments about camel toes. I wear headphones on the bus, so I can pretend not to notice the man sitting behind me smelling my hair. I wear them while reading in the park, as a makeshift force field to keep out knuckle-draggers who feign an interest in my book, before shifting the conversation to whether I like sex.
Even though I use headphones as a defence, however, I still find it bothersome that I have to go to the lengths of wearing them simply to avoid people I really don't want to talk to.
Fundamentally, whether or not wearing headphones is a green light for street conversation is largely irrelevant. The problem is that women are treated like a public commodity – to be talked to, commented on, analysed and discussed, whether we like it or not.
Mr Bacon's blog is written no differently to a Which? instruction manual about how to to install a dishwasher or rewire a circuit board. It refers to women as an inanimate whole – a walking and talking object whose only purpose is to serve as a challenge for pick-up "artists". To Bacon, women are empty vessels for men to project their wants and needs on to.
The problem is that most women have been bothered by persistent men who feel they are entitled to our company and more. It has reached a point where it is easier for a woman to wear headphones than not, so she can at least try to ignore unwanted attention without having to enter into a conversation she doesn't want to be a part of.
There is no legitimate justification for invading a woman's personal space in the street, unless she is about to step in front of a bus. If she is wearing headphones, she most probably doesn't want a stranger standing in front of her and waving in her face. She's not wearing headphones? The chances are she still wants to be left alone. Let's err on the side of caution.
Some might claim Bacon's piece is harmless and naive (he does, after all, note that "not all women are open to being approached" – because not all of them are single and looking, God forbid), but it is difficult to defend an author who ultimately has very little respect for women in the article. As he euphemistically explains in sweeping, gendered statements, it is the role of the man to hassle women – and the role of women to accept these propositions.
"Women know that it is the man's role to be confident enough to walk over and talk to a woman he finds attractive," Bacon helpfully explains. "So, don't ever think that you're doing a bad thing by approaching and talking to a woman in a confident, easy-going way."
"If she is single, she will usually be happy to take off her headphones to give you an opportunity to create a spark with her," Bacon writes with confidence. Well, it might be the company I choose to keep, but I only know a handful of women who would respond positively to being baited in the street.
What is equally concerning is Bacon's failure to address a situation in which a man has tried every trick in the book, and a woman has said no. In our society, interrupting someone is considered friendly and "nice" – because women exist merely to be picked up – but politely rebuffing someone is not. Within the constricts of masculinity, there is no room for dismissal and embarrassment. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, try being on the receiving end of the onslaught of abuse from a rejected man.
Sadly, the safer, viable option is to wear headphones and walk on.