How Not To Hit On A Woman On The Street

If a creep hits on a woman wearing headphones and she cannot hear it, does he make a sound?

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I moved to New York City two days after graduating high school.

Every weekday, I made the trek down from 92nd street to my internship in SoHo, armed only with my first-generation iPod, loaded with 25 songs I bought using an iTunes gift card.

Even though the city was big and smelled like trash and hot donut air, I remember feeling confident during those twice-daily commutes. As long as I walked fast, looked focused and had my earbuds in, nobody would bug me, right? I mean, they could clearly see that I was going through something while listening to The Postal Service, right?

Wrong. People bugged me all the time. Mostly men, and never to offer me cool stuff, like money or bootleg DVDs. Generally, they preferred to offer me free advice—usually suggestions about what I could do with “that ass.”

This tweet from my friend Sarah perfectly sums up my feelings about being bothered on the street.

This week, the Internet discovered this article by Dan Bacon, an Australian “relationship expert” who runs a dating advice site called The Modern Man.

The piece, entitled “How To Talk To A Woman Who Is Wearing Headphones” is very long, so I’ll sum up the main points for you:

1. Sometimes women wear headphones when they walk around outside.

2. Just because they’re wearing headphones doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk to you, a strange man on the street.

3. Here are some tips to help you intrude upon their privacy by forcing them to interact with you.

I fundamentally disagree with his advice, so I wrote a rebuttal. Here it is:

1. Sometimes women wear headphones when they walk around outside.

2. If they are wearing headphones, it means they don’t want to talk to you.

3. Leave them alone. The end.

Look, obviously there are some exceptions to this rule. If a woman is listening to her headphones and also ON FIRE, maybe tell her. If a woman is watching a video on her phone and also ABOUT TO BE DISEMBOWELED AND SUBSEQUENTLY EATEN BY A BEAR, give her a little heads up. If a woman is reading a book and THE APOCALYPSE HAPPENS AND SHE MISSED IT, feel free to interrupt her. But on the whole, if a woman looks busy or unapproachable, that’s probably because she has taken great pains to BE busy and unapproachable — mainly so you (the strange man) would not approach her.

If a drunk, strange man is chasing you down the street, demanding to know why you “left him hanging” in front of his friends, there’s a problem.

After I left New York, I moved first to Boston and then to Chicago. And in those cities, I learned that men share a pervasive belief that when a woman is alone and outside, they are entitled to her time and attention.

I see this all the time. I see it when I walk down a street and a man approaches me to drunkenly ask for a hug or a high-five—and then gets offended when I don’t acquiesce. If a drunk, strange man is chasing you down the street, demanding to know why you “left him hanging” in front of his friends, there’s a problem.

I have asked male friends and my husband why guys do this. They tell me that the men are looking to make a human connection and that this is a socially acceptable way for them to create intimacy with women.

I disagree with the notion that asking a strange woman on the street for a hug is socially acceptable. A woman on the street is just trying to get somewhere. By asking her to stop and physically acknowledge your existence, you are forcing her to change her plans. You might also be making her feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

I hope that men like Dan Bacon will realize that women have places to go and things to do. And sometimes — most of the time — those places and things don’t involve you.

Again, I’m not saying that NO MAN IS ALLOWED TO ASK A WOMAN TO ENGAGE IN CASUAL PHYSICAL CONTACT EVER. What I’m asking is for men to please read the social cues. If you’re at a bar and you’ve been talking to a woman and she seems into you, by all means, ask her for a high five (but know that she is reconsidering all of her life choices as she gives it to you). If you’re drunk on the street and you see a woman running to catch a bus, feel safe in the knowledge that she does not want to give you a hug — really, you don’t even have to ask.

Like many women, I have a least favorite street to walk down and a least favorite time to walk down it. I will do almost anything to avoid walking down Clark Street in Chicago (i.e. the street that runs parallel to Wrigley Field) after 8:00 pm on a weekend in the winter (or 12:00 pm on a weekend in the summer.) I hope that one day, this will change. I hope that men like Dan Bacon will realize that women have places to go and things to do. And sometimes — most of the time — those places and things don’t involve you.