In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, some neanderthal posted an article about how to talk to women who are wearing headphones. And the internet exploded.
And then I came across this tweet:
brb, framing this pic.twitter.com/fItPCaUpal
— Mel Gillman @ SPX (@melgillman) September 1, 2016
The target of this note, a cartoonist named Melanie Gillman, was drawing with their headphones on, and a guy “aggressively” tried to get them to stop and pay attention to him. (And yes, this happened after the headphones article blew up.)
I’m no artist, but I am a writer. I like to work in cafés. I like to work on park benches. I like to work at the library. I like having people around me while I’m trying to give life to my characters. And people do this crap to me all the time.
And yes, they’re usually men. But not always. Sexism is a factor, but it’s also a problem of obliviousness and entitlement, and that can affect any gender. There’s an assumption that you are more important than whatever else is holding that person’s focus at that time. And, sorry, but you’re probably not.
One instance from years ago still bugs me to this day.
Picture a young woman sitting alone at a table, papers spread out across the entire surface. Her lunch is half finished on a plate, and she clearly hasn’t touched it in a while. She’s scribbling furiously into a notebook and cross-referencing pages from her manuscript as she goes. She’s in the zone.
And then Joe Coworker, who has never spoken to her before, sits down across from her. He doesn’t acknowledge that she’s working on something. Doesn’t even ask about it. He just introduces himself and starts up some general office small talk.
It took a few minutes for my glare to get through to him, but eventually he left.
Was this horribly offensive? No. Did he insult me? No. But it still annoys me, four years later, because it was selfish and entitled and just rude. But I don’t think he meant for it to be any of those things. He was just completely unaware of what he was doing, or what I wanted.
The thing about the headphones is that it’s not really about headphones.
It’s about assuming that you have the right to someone’s attention when they don’t even know you and they’re clearly giving off signals that they don’t want to be bothered.
It’s the artists who can’t sketch anything without some stranger looking over their shoulder. The readers trying to finish the last few chapters of a book. And the writers who just want to get their ideas down on paper before they slip away forever. It’s the business professional filling out paperwork, and the teachers getting some grading done.
And the assholes who come up and bother them anyway.
Please don’t be that asshole.