Some women wear one, some wear both, and some wear none at all when walking home late at night. Much like keys, deodorant, a whistle and a wide coat, earphones have become an integral part of many women’s safety-kit. Why do women bring earphones and the rest of their ‘kit’ in their handbag when they go out after dark? And what do earphones tell us about our assumptions around violence against women?

Many women wear earphones to signal to possible attackers that they’re on the phone with someone. They call – or pretend to call – a friend or family member, hoping this will deter people with the intention to harm them from doing so. An interesting side note: Some women choose to call a man friend or family member. Does this mean they believe in the idea that men are most able to protect them – even over the phone? In contrast to earphone-users, there are women who only wear one or no earphones, because they want to be able to hear any suspicious sounds.

So, the earphone has become a tool for women to protect themselves – just like many hold a key in their hand to hurt or stab an attacker. At the same time, it has become a tool to blame women who’ve experienced violence on the street. “You weren’t wearing earphones? Not so smart, huh?” Or alternatively: “You shouldn’t have worn earphones, then you would’ve heard them coming.” Yes, that’s a double standard – but nothing new there.

The tragic death of Sarah Everard in London in March 2021 is one example of the undue (and infuriating) blame women get for what they were wearing, for how they looked, for not following the safest route or for being out by themselves in the dark in the first place. Several people tweeted Everard made a poor decision to walk alone through the park with headphones on, even though she followed all the “rules”: She stuck to the main streets, called her partner and covered her body. This shows we must stop blaming women and start talking about how to stop perpetrators from hurting them.