If you’re in the majority of people posting about the original article, then you’ve likely said things like “OMG I thought this was the Onion” or “I came to see satire, left crying for humanity”. In short: you’re snarking and sniping at something you see as potentially transgressive / patriarchal / entitled / creating a dangerous environment / not respecting personal boundaries / etc. I’m willing to accept your truth; the list above are real potential problems.
Here’s the rub: your truth is not the only possible outcome / interpretation when a guy approaches a woman with headphones. As such, the dangers listed above are not universal truth.
That’s right: some women don’t agree that there’s danger. What’s worse: you’re silencing them, and even possibly telling them they aren’t ‘real women’.
“BUT IAN!” you exclaim. “NOBODY on my feed has mentioned that they aren’t bothered in this situation. Doesn’t that mean something?”
The answer is: of course it means something(s)! First, it means you have a vibrant social media community, united in a common interpretation of the issues at hand. It means that you have people you can share things that are important to you with, and (I hope) it means that these same people can be supportive when you find yourself harassed, endangered or otherwise unsettled without recourse. It means that your truth is safe, at least digitally.
It also means you’re in an deafening echo chamber.
Imagine, for a moment, a woman in your social media circle who disagrees with what she’s seeing. Maybe her perspective is “If I’m in public, I’m there to socialize – headphones or not.” Maybe she met her partner because he interrupted a Christina Aguilera track. Maybe she just doesn’t agree with the critique because it doesn’t fit her worldview. Pick your favorite dissent story – there’s a ton of them.
What is she being told in the sea of snark and derision?
Is she being told that she’s a good feminist? Is she being told that she’s going to be accepted for her difference of opinion? Is she going to feel comfortable in her skin when she sees so many people proclaim their unity on a viral bandwagon? Probably not. Chances are your friend is sitting there, right now – uncomfortable for being so different from the signal bleeding loudly all over the internet. Chances are she’s suffering quietly – as women are forced to do to survive in so many facets of life.
Spoiler: you’re probably contributing to that suffering.
There’s a danger in expressing concepts like ‘don’t approach women with headphones – it’s creepy’ as solitary, capital-t TRUTH. We live in a world that is so populous and diverse that it’s unlikely that such experiential homogeneity is possible, let alone so easily distilled. We should be like the best social scientists when we talk about our experience – openly admitting that even if something is ‘true for most people’ that is not equivalent to ‘true for all people’. It’s okay for there to be multiple truths: that’s the core of experience!
Even if we have a world where 90 percent of people agree about one version of the truth, how we treat the truth of the other 10 percent is the greatest arbiter of the progress we will make. This, especially when dealing with people who by no virtue other than the luck of their identity, find themselves already partially muted.Let’s do better.