This is part of an occasional series in which we explain Internet things. We like to call it memesplaining; you might call it meme-ruining. Regardless, if you just chanced upon an image macro, hashtag, app or GIF you don’t understand, we have the answers — insofar as answers can be had.
The meme: How to talk to a woman wearing headphones
What it is
“How to talk to a woman wearing headphones” is a 2013 article by Dan Bacon, an Australian who gets paid to teach other men how to pick up women. It goes wrong right at the premise: Women — or anyone of any gender, for that matter — wearing headphones have already made their choice. They’ve chosen to listen to whatever it is that is playing through their headphones, rather than to the noises of the outside world. A stranger who would like to talk to them for the purposes of getting sex counts as “noises of the outside world,” so you can already start to see the problem here.
While Bacon’s advice is pretty typical for the male pickup-expert world, the specificity of the situation — headphones! — really struck a nerve online over the past day or so, to the point that some still aren’t convinced that the article is for real.
As a hate read, the piece is a perfect stand-in for the entire pickup-artist genre. It includes imagined scenarios where a fictional woman wearing headphones laughs at all of a man’s jokes and is immediately charmed by his “confident” and “friendly” manner. There’s also a step-by-step guide to getting the attention of a woman wearing headphones, which includes waving a hand in the woman’s “direct line of vision” while standing about 3 feet in front of her.
Here is a sample of the advice it gives about “not giving up” too early on a woman wearing headphones who looks like she might be politely ignoring you:
“If you are going to talk to a woman with headphones, just keep in mind that some women will immediately take off their headphones to chat to you, some will make it obvious that they don’t want to be bothered and others might want to talk to you, but first want to see if you will remain confident if she doesn’t immediately begin talking to you.”
Later, Bacon advises, “don’t ever think that you’re doing a bad thing by approaching and talking to a woman in a confident, easy going way.”
The meme, in its simplest form, is to suggest that Bacon’s article could have been much shorter. The answer to “How to talk to a woman wearing headphones” is: Don’t.
It quickly evolved, though, into satirical advice about talking to women wearing headphones:
Where it started
This meme was born and thrived on Twitter, before escaping (as memes tend to do), into a whole bunch of articles about the phenomenon. BuzzFeed published a parody of Bacon’s work advising men on how to talk to a woman “even though she’s a ghost;” Jezebel wrote “How to talk to a woman who is trying to take a dump.”
All those takes haven’t yet killed the Twitter meme, though, at least not yet.
Who started it
Twitter user @YoPhoebs tweeted an image of the article’s headline with a simple response, “You don’t,” on Monday. Her tweet was retweeted more than 6,400 times in a day, beginning wave after wave of outrage and jokes about the premise of the piece. People tracked down the original link, picking apart pretty much every detail of Bacon’s work.
@YoPhoebs, who is from Baltimore but preferred not to be identified by name, told us in a Twitter DM that she found Bacon’s site while scrolling through Facebook. “[I] saw the article in a promoted ad or link,” she wrote. “I thought for sure it was satire, so I clicked it and it wasn’t and I couldn’t believe it.”
“I definitely wasn’t expecting such a huge reaction, as far as ongoing conversations and memes,” she added, noting that all the jokes about the article have also sort of morphed into a “PSA” about how (not) to talk to women.
“One of my favorite shows is ‘The Office’ and in the flurry of notifications, I saw Oscar Nunez actually comment on it and that was pretty cool,” she said.
We also reached out to Bacon by email for comment on all this but did not immediately hear back.
How to use it like you know what you’re doing
1. Be of the opinion that men should not generally try to talk to women they don’t know who are wearing headphones in public.
2. Mock the format and premise of the article advising men on how to do exactly that.
3. Tweet your jokes so that they end up in the direct line of vision of your followers.
A smart observation to make at your next nerdy dinner party
As @YoPhoebs noted to us, this meme is about a bit more than jokes about men trying to talk to women wearing headphones. It’s become an opportunity to express frustration about the entitlement behind the assumption that it’s never a bad idea to approach and try to flirt with a woman who is actively in the process of blocking out the rest of the world’s noises by wearing a device that is clearly visible to the naked eye.
The advice in Bacon’s piece suggests that a woman’s attention is available for the taking by a man anytime she is in public, headphones or no. And sure, Bacon warns his pupils that “not all women are open to being approached,” but he writes that it’s “because not all women are single and looking.”
The reason a woman wearing headphones might not want to talk to a stranger often has nothing to do with who she is or isn’t looking for. She’s already decided where to focus her attention for the time being and is wearing a universally understood symbol that indicates her choice. So perhaps, as the meme says, don’t.
And last but not least, further reading: