HOW TO TALK TO A WOMAN WEARING HEADPHONES. That seemingly innocuous subject took the Internet by storm in 2016, when pick-up artist (PUA) Dan Bacon, who styles himself as a “dating and relationship expert,” published a guide to hitting on headphone-clad women. For many web users, Bacon’s article was a condensed nugget that showed just how scary male entitlement is.
It’s worth noting here that Bacon’s how-to guide has been altered numerous times since it first appeared as an ad to sell his PUA-training services in 2013. Its various incarnations are still available to read on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Given that Bacon has lengthened his piece to a considerable degree at this point, this article links to particular versions when necessary.
To be clear, there’s not really much wrong with Bacon’s subject on its face. It’s likely a commonly searched topic, since plenty of us spot attractive folks wearing headphones and want to strike up a conversation. Beyond that, circumstances sometimes necessitate interrupting another person’s listening to get help.
But Bacon’s so-called advice, how he suggests men should engage with women wearing headphones, operates on the assumption that men have an inalienable right of access to women’s time, bodies, and attention.
Women, according to PUA culture, never really deny a man this “right”: if they say no, walk away, tell men to fuck off, or otherwise assert themselves, they just need to be brought out of their shells. Bacon tells men not to worry if their targets are reluctant to remove their earbuds, because “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.”
Ah, yes. The nervousness and excitement. That’s what every woman feels when some strange man stands 3-5 feet in front of her, grinning and waving like a madman, and demands that she take off her headphones, even after she has already shown no indication that she wants to do so.
There is no way for a woman to effectively turn down a PUA, particularly without setting herself up as a target for abuse. Because they have been fed the line that all women are just waiting for their attention, that we “can be approached anywhere,” our rejections, no mater how polite, are internalized as personal failures. Bacon assures men:
Just because she has her headphones in, it doesn’t mean she won’t take them out for you. Women follow the masculine direction of men and if you have an easy-going, but commanding presence about you, she will instantly pull the headphones out of her ears and give her attention to you.
That woman didn’t want to talk to you? You must not have mastered your “masculine direction” — whatever that means — or your “easy-going, but commanding presence.” It’s never about the woman and her autonomy, because she doesn’t have any. Writing for The Guardian, Martha Mills points out that “[n]owhere in his advice does [Bacon] tell his frustrated man-babies how to handle rejection with grace, because the advice is simply not to accept it.”
Bacon’s article had to go viral before he felt compelled to add this caveat: “if you notice that she doesn’t want to take off her headphones and doesn’t seem interested in talking to you at all, just respect that and leave the interaction without trying to talk to her any further.” Yep, it took negative attention from the people of the Internet for this PUA to admit that women might deserve some respect.
But just approaching a woman wearing headphones —barring a scenario in which your life or hers is in jeopardy — breaches the limits of respectful behavior. Bacon never bothers to acknowledge the reasons why women wear headphones: that 1) we have something we want to listen to, and 2) it’s not you. Mills calls headphones “a defence … against the aural onslaught of modern life and especially the leering advances of … throbbing hormone mountains. In short, we wear them because we don’t want to be talked to.”
Attempting to converse with a woman who is wearing headphones ignores the fact that she has things to do and places to be. Bacon’s advice uses basic intimidation tactics — sneaking up on a target who cannot hear you, invading her personal space to block her path, not taking no for an answer — to coerce women into speaking with men who feel entitled to their attention. PUAs know this. It’s their bread and butter.
In a recent update, Bacon waved off notions that he’s training creeps, saying, “the controversy around this article has been due to people imagining a sleazy, creepy or very assertive guy approaching a woman and harassing her[, but t]hat is their issue for imagining that scenario, not mine.”
He doesn’t acknowledge that good guys and bad guys look the same.