A recent article offering men advice about how to proposition a woman wearing headphones—encouraging them to block her path to prevent her from ignoring them—rightfully provoked a major backlash. But the backlash also brought a certain phenomenon to wider public attention: the fact that women sometimes wear headphones as a way to avoid unwanted approaches in public.
The public conversation on violence against women tends to focus on sexual assault and domestic abuse. We talk less about the routine intrusions women experience from men in their everyday lives, even though this is the most common form of sexual violence.
My recent research looked at how women navigate interruptions, intrusions, and harassment from unknown men in public. What was most surprising was how all 50 of the women I interviewed significantly underestimated the amount of work they were putting in to avoid intrusions by men in the street, and the impact this had on them. They recognized that they were making certain decisions about routes home, or where to sit on public transport. They spoke about using sunglasses or headphones in order to create a shield—a way to give the impression that they didn’t hear that man making a sexual comment, or didn’t see that other man touching himself as he walked behind them.
Many categorized their clothes in relation to safety. Scarves were seen as safe—handy for covering your chest. The color red was, for some, seen as unsafe—too bright, too obvious, too visible. Some even adopted particular facial expressions, trying to balance “looking tough” against the desire to not be told to “cheer up” by a man they’d never met before.
The women I spoke to knew they were doing some of these things, but other behaviors were less conscious. They hadn’t really reflected on how much energy went into avoiding unwanted contact below the surface, and how their freedom was affected.
The short moments when women are alone in public space, away from commitments at home or at work—the only moments many people have to themselves—are disrupted. It’s not just the overt approaches from men making comments about what they’re wearing and asking where they are going or what they’re doing. It’s that women are routinely pulled out of their own thoughts in order to evaluate their environment. They are less free to think about the things they want to think about because of the extra effort they have to put in to feel safe.
Read more about it here: http://bit.ly/2dSdKuu