No, I Won’t Listen – Is That a Problem?

A strange and interesting trend has emerged from my life experiences. I wouldn’t have noticed it unless there were several incidents where a similar uncomfortable event occurred, leaving me feeling desperate, scared and confused. It’s odd and probably doesn’t mean much, except that I have gotten to the point where I am enraged and I want it to stop. What’s the trend? Complete male strangers telling me to take off my earphones, stop listening to whatever I am listening to, so I can hear what they have to say.

It might seem simple and harmless, for all I know, it may be. But perhaps the reason it’s gotten me so fed up is its frequency and its disturbing effects on my sense of safety, and the fact that these men AREN’T my friends. They AREN’T my coworkers, my classmates, or superiors. They are strangers on the train or on the sidewalk who have no place in my life. Do I owe them respect? Sure, as much as they owe me. Do I have to interact with them if I don’t want to? As prissy as it may sound, NO actually, I don’t. Just as much as any stranger on the sidewalk or train can avoid interacting with ME if they don’t feel comfortable.

This morning, in a completely empty traincar, a stranger plopped down next to me and said good morning. Since I had been listening to my ipod, I lowered the volume and returned the greeting. It didn’t take a minute for him to tell me, in an accusatory tone, “You should always have one earbud out, it’s the LAW.” First of all, no it’s not. Second of all, why single me out from all those men and women who wear two earphones on a train? Am I not allowed to enjoy my music in the morning in order to cater to whatever YOU have to say? It’s nice that you said good morning, but why did you say it? To get to know me better, even though I am half your age? To make me feel uncomfortable in an empty traincar by squeezing in next to me? Or was it simply a nice act – if so, why didn’t you repeat it with the next stranger that got on? I got so furious at this that I told him, “Sorry, but I don’t appreciate people telling me what to do.” He paused and said, “OK, but it’s the law, fine if you don’t wanna listen.” Even after seeing my discomfort towards him, he decided to sit right across from me, staring at me and causing me to feel even more uncomfortable.

This is the most recent incident, though this kind of attack has taken place in an even more physical way. I have actually once been physically PUSHED by a man in a library after because he walked away from a computer line, leaving a space open, and I took it. Not knowing he was intending to come back, not even seeing he had been there in the first place, I went next in line. Since I was listening to music, I didn’t hear him say, “YOU STOLE MY SPOT!” as he came back, even though he clearly did not ask anyone to hold it for him. Because I couldn’t hear, he decided pushing me was the answer. Pushing me hard. I could not believe it had happened at first, and did not know why it happened until he said in a very hostile manner, “You had your damn ipod on and you didn’t hear me. I went away and you stole my spot in line.” Obviously, his reasoning made little sense – I would understand anger on his part if he had made any effort in saving his spot in line. But he had not- he had walked away, and expected that nobody else would occupy it. I remember feeling so helpless, like a little child at that point, because he was bigger than me and I obviously wouldn’t win in any physical altercation, not that I wanted to engage in one. I merely told him he needed to learn how to show respect, to which he profoundly responded, “Oh, shut up” in a disgustingly belligerent way.

Then, there are the other incidents. A man was spewing crazy crap about his philosophy of life in the train and, seeing me ignore him, since I was trying to concentrate on studying something in my notebook, screamed that “YOU MUST BE A GOOD STUDENT!”  Since I decided not to respond, he yelled into my face that I need to take those earphones off so I could listen to what he had to say. Another young man pushed me aside to get ahead of me on a sidewalk, fully knowing he could’ve just side-stepped me to get ahead, telling me I need to “PAY ATTENTION!” and make a beeline to allow him to go in front of me.

I rarely see men being approached in this way – being told what to do, what not to listen to, to pay attention by other men or women. Why is that?

I am angry because these men actually expect that I SHOULD, no that I NEED to listen to them, whatever they have to say. That their hostile behavior implies what they have to say is more important than my safety, my comfort, and my personal space. So what if I don’t WANT to speak to you? So what if I don’t HAVE to listen? What if I don’t want you to sit next to me, pushing against me, in a train car that has plenty of available seats? What if I don’t seek your attention in any way, and I don’t want it?

I am sick and tired of being singled out because I am a female who DOESN’T want to be approached on her morning commute. I am sick and tired of not being able to enjoy my music like every other human being on this planet because there are certain men who think what they have to say is of a higher priority.  And I am not saying all men do this—I am saying certain men seem to be prone to doing this, although I don’t have enough experience to say whether or not this happens to men and women alike, or if nobody but me has experienced this (unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case). All I know is that I am furious, and I am glad I finally spoke up to that man on the train today. It was actually one of the first times I said something, and I don’t want it to be my last.

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  1. Posted March 20, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I HEAR YA! (even through my earbuds :) ) I passionately love music and love to wear my iPod (and before that my walkman) when I’m out taking a walk, running errands, or on the subway. I always keep it low enough to not lose awareness of my surroundings, but not necessarily to converse. It never fails how many men seem to demand you remove the headphones and entertain them – I never had any deluded enough to claim it was the law, but I did have one physically yank the earphones off my head (this was in the 90′s when they still made the wire kind you wore over your head instead of stuck in your ears, so at least it didn’t hurt).

    I’ve learned, for the most part, to recognize from body language and expression if the person gesturing me to talk is simply a tourist needing directions, which I’m always happy to help with, or if they just want to waste everyone’s time.

    • Posted March 21, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your comment, Jenny! I had suspected that I was alone in this type of experience but it seems I am really not. I am not sure why people think it’s all right to do that with anyone. I find it hard to differentiate when someone is trying to bother me or ask me something, but usually I always lower the volume to make sure I understand them before jumping to conclusions. I guess I have to train myself more before I catch those signals.

  2. Posted March 21, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    In my own experience, I am generally not approached when wearing earbuds, except walking across my campus, and then usually by parents or prospective students asking for directions, when no one else is around. However, I’ve had similar experiences involving reading books.

    I remember when I was a preteen/teenager, people, most often boys my own age or older, would get upset with me if I was reading a book. Even today people feel at liberty to just approach me and ask me about the book I’m reading, not taking the hint that I’m reading a book because I want to read, not as a conversation starter. I can even remember a group of boys from my childhood yanking the book out of my hands and playing keep away. I was sitting with my friend out on a field (we were at a summer day camp hosted by the middle school I eventually attended). I got it back, but I lost my place, my concentration, and was made to feel uncomfortable and insecure. The boys would also make a game of trying to illicit a reaction from my friend and I as we were reading. She seemed better at ignoring them. I would pretend to, but it’s hard to concentrate when someone is talking right in your face, or putting their hand over the page to force you to pay attention to them. Granted, they were children at the time, but it may provide incite into the attitudes of adult men. The privileged thought that their desires are more important than whatever activity a female bodied person is doing is learned early.

    Come to think of it, these same kids mocked me for trying to write a story, saying if I was ever published, they’d read one page of the book and then rip it up. A couple of them also laughed at me when I dropped the binder containing the pages and they spilled all over the floor. God forbid a girl should have any lofty ambitions.

    I’m sorry people getting in your face over your earbuds is a regular occurrence. You have a right to entertain yourself in a non-obtrusive way while out in public (contrary to what Mr.”It’s illegal” may think). I’m happy that you stood up to the man on the train, and I hope you will have the strength to tell off any others who follow his behavior.

    • Posted March 21, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      Thanks so much for your comment, encouragement and experience! It was so interesting to learn that something similar can happen although in a different form, but I am very sorry you experienced that especially when it comes to something pleasurable and enlightening like reading. I was very much a bookworm too and would be approached by both girls and boys as to why I wasn’t playing with the others being so absorbed in my book. I would also frequently have things I’d written be stolen or read/mocked/circulated which can really damage someone’s sense of safety in being able to express themselves. In the end all these actions, by children and grownups who still act like children seem to say the same thing– “your needs and feelings don’t matter as much as my needs and feelings.” This is very invalidating and I hope we all get more insight into this issue and how to deal with it.

  3. Posted March 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Wow… you just shinned a very bright light on something that has been happening to me at work recently. I never realized why it bothered me until JUST now.

    First off, I adore ALL my coworkers. I am one of three (and the only female) with an office downstairs in the building I work. I enjoy chats, random conversations and bouncing ideas off the male who was the office next to me. However, I listen to music on my headphones to help me concentrate on occasion. It’s not even loud because I’ve got to be able to hear if my supervisor needs something, happenings in the hall and the ever-ringing phone…

    I see him standing in my doorway of my cubical, motioning for me to take my earbuds off. Of course, I rip them out of my ear, drop what I am doing and… listen to him talk about some youtube video. This is the same person I will tip-toe in my heals away from if I think he is busy. I do feel like he is not as misogynist as the men you speak of (Hell, he had a minor in women’s studies in college) but my work and time are devalued just a little.

    I’ve stopped using my earbuds because of this because it is toooo much of a hassle to take them on and off. It’s my place to assert myself, keep putting them back in and give him the hint that I just want to drown myself in my tunes and into my work sometimes.

    • Posted March 22, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your comment! I am very flattered/ happy to hear this article helped you in analyzing your situation more. I wonder if your coworker doesn’t know how much it bothers you, and how inconsiderate it might be. Oftentimes we show the utmost respect to others and expect the same (as we rightly should in my opinion) but on some people this type of extra consideration is often lost. Maybe mentioning to him that you don’t like to be disturbed while having your music on might also help to clear the air. But no matter what, definitely keep on those earbuds and loving your music!!! :D

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