So, you may have seen this blog post that went viral about a month ago from a guy purporting to be how-to guide on approaching women wearing headphones.
It was basically a checklist of ways of attracting the attention of a woman who is happily minding her own business walking down the street listening to music. We’re not sure what was so off-key about it (we are sure, it was all of it) but as a woman I’m here to tell you – if you want to approach a woman on the street who’s wearing headphones, don’t. She’s wearing headphones for a reason. She certainly doesn’t need some dudebro getting all up in her personal space.
The hapless guy writing the blog suggests waving at the woman and miming for her to take her headphones off. Personally, if they’re my AirPods then you’ll have to prise them from my cold, dead ears, but let’s move on.
In most cases, you won’t have to go to that extreme, but some girls are shy and will be hesitant to take the headphones off right away because they are feeling a lot of nervousness and excitement about what is happening.
I’m not going to drive traffic to this utter pile of dross, suffice to say that he goes on to paint a picture of a delighted stranger who is absolutely loving having her valuable time and personal space invaded by an absolute joker. Or, as this journalist more eloquently put it:
In his scenario, Jessica has just been waiting her whole life to be blessed with the attention of a complete stranger who mistakes hunched shoulders, darting eyes and rictus for laughing and smiling. Here’s how it plays out in real life. Trust me, I’ve been it, seen it and spoken to the survivors:
Him: I see you don’t want to be talked to but I find you physically attractive and I’m making that your problem.
Her: Please leave me alone.
Him: F*** YOU, YOU STUCK UP B****, I DIDN’T FANCY YOU ANYWAY.
So. What’s this got to do with us, I hear you cry? Well. I’m going to school you in how to approach a woman on the digital highway.
How to talk to women online.
When women gather online…they are not uncommonly the target of negative attention from individuals, mostly men, who feel threatened by or otherwise uncomfortable… (Herring et al., 2002, p. 373)
Women are constantly subjected to verbal abuse. Unsolicited penis imagery. The undermining of their knowledge and professional credentials. If you aren’t immediately delighted by randomers questioning your authority or assuming you want to date them, then woe betide you. So what can YOU personally do to counteract that? Basically, be an ally.
Check your privilege.
Men have a far easier time online than women. Sorry, guys; you don’t realise it, because you don’t have to deal with half the bull that a woman does. Double, triple, quadruple that if it’s women of colour. Women have been doxxed, threatened with rape, had the lives of their children threatened. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg.
“When you’re in real life you decipher what is a real threat and what is not. Should I cross to the other side of the street, or should I tell this person to f*ck off? You can make informed decisions in that moment. You can’t do that online because you don’t know where or who that person is. Is this person a real threat or is this person a 12 year old? You have no clue.”
I mean, when even the AIs you use to search for stuff are sexist, you know you’ve got problems.
Don’t speak for women
With the best will in the world, you cannot possibly understand the lived experience of the average woman. Most women wouldn’t expect you to. We’re just out here living our best lives and YOLO-ing all over the shop (does anyone even YOLO anymore?).
You can’t tell us that the harassment we face on the reg isn’t real, or it should be perceived differently. You can support us, but as Radiohead so eloquently put it “they don’t speak for us”.
A while ago on Twitter some absolute legend decided to argue what the correct terminology was for the vulva. With women, including an eminent female gynaecologist. Even better, when he was accused of mansplaining he then went on to argue the definition of the term mansplaining. I mean, come on. Does this not embarrass you guys?
If someone has Doctor in their Twitter handle, then they probably know a bit more about historiated initials in medieval manuscripts. Or how to build a nuclear reactor.
Similarly, if that account you follow of the piercer on Instagram is run by a woman then you can be fairly sure she knows the best piece of jewellery to insert into a daith. Do you even know what a daith is, Gary?
Basically, just be nice.
Be respectful. A woman’s online space is just as important to her as her personal one. Don’t be mansplaining in her Twitter mentions. Don’t get your arse out if she doesn’t reply, or contradicts you on something if it’s her field of expertise. Just don’t be sticking your hands (metaphorically and physically) into her damned face.