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How To Talk To A Woman Who Is Wearing Headphones – Just Don’t

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The Internet routinely churns up sexist bilge, but this week shit hit the fan when a blog post from 2013 titled ‘How To Talk To A Woman Who Is Wearing Headphones’ resurfaced on Twitter.

The piece, written by self-proclaimed “pickup artist” Dan Bacon (who gets paid to teach men how to proposition women), came under fresh Internet fire when Twitter user @YoPhoebs tweeted a screenshot of the article on Monday and condemned it.

Since then, the piece has been widely circulated both on and off Twitter, and has met with severe criticism.

Why Such Unwanted Advances Are Messed Up

The piece goes wrong in it’s very premise—that you need to approach women wearing headphones at all. Women (or a person of any gender for that matter) wearing headphones have already made the choice to listen to whatever it is that is playing through their headphones, rather than pay attention to the outside world. So a stranger wanting to talk to them about sex is something they definitely don’t want to entertain at that moment. Unfortunately, however, the piece assumes the exact opposite —that a woman is asking for male attention, craving for men to approach them, even when they have headphones on. What’s worse, the piece goes on to say that the only women who wouldn’t be open to talking despite having headphones on are those who are already in a relationship. Round of applause, ladies and gentlemen.

Bacon goes on to provide a step-by-step guide to how men can gain the attention (read: invade the privacy) of headphone-wearing women – which ranges from creepy to downright horrifying. At one point he justifies all of it by saying: “don’t ever think that you’re doing a bad thing by approaching and talking to a woman in a confident, easy going way.”

Of course. Approaching a woman when she clearly doesn’t want to be approached and forcing her to pay attention to you is never a bad thing, right? Cue puking noises.

The Internet’s Feminist Response

There’s a lot that’s wrong with Bacon’s article – his creepy, consent-defying suggestions, the sense of male entitlement that makes him think that women are just dying for male attention and much more. But Twitter user @YoPhoebs had summed all of it up in just her one-word reaction. But what she hadn’t foreseen was how popular would become and lead to the creation of one of the best Internet memes of the decade.

In response to @YoPhoebs, a whole host of other Twitter users came forward to criticize the piece—coming up with answers to the question posed by the piece’s title in sarcastic and utterly hilarious ways.

Not just Twitter, but various media outlets and online blogs too started taking notice. While The Guardian took the piece apart by a point-by-point breakdown of everything wrong with the writer’s arguments, even a thoroughly male-oriented platform like Ask Men expressed their horror at the piece—reminding its readers that trying to talk to a woman who’s wearing headphones is actually a bad idea.

This meme, though seemingly about women and headphones, has transformed into a larger conversation. It’s become a way of expressing frustration about male privilege, and the various forms of both direct and indirect harassment women face from similarly entitled men. These tweets are subverting the sexist claims of the article in both a humorous and impactful way.

A Larger Problem?

In a space like the Internet where everything is volatile and temporary, one might wonder why this blog post from three years ago would suddenly become relevant. But this is because of how the issue itself is so relevant and common. Men continue to think that it’s okay to invade a woman’s privacy in the name of ‘flirting’; and if they are capable of ignoring even a forceful “no” from women, what chances do a pair of headphones stand?

Hence, this meme is an extremely important one; and men should be following the various guidelines of this meme instead of the original article’s creepy and disgusting ones.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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