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When I was told about it I thought my partner had made it up.

But no, as various newspaper stories and a quick search of Facebook confirm, there is a Facebook page dedicated to the posting of pictures of women eating on the tube.

Not people. Women.

I don’t like watching people eat on trains. I often get the late night ‘vomit comet’ out of Fenchurch Street and there’s little worse than the stench of stale beer, warm wine and Burger King on a hot summer’s night.

But this site is not about people. It is about women.

Funnily enough, according to Sara Nelson on the Huffington Post, the page’s creator, Tony Burke, claims that the aspect of gender is purely a coincidence. The site’s profile text says:

‘WWEOT is observational not judgemental. It doesn’t intimidate nor bully.

Subjects are embraced and cherished. We celebrate and encourage women eating food on tubes, we do not marginalise them. We always look for the story in the picture. We don’t swear.’

Really? That’s clearly not how some of the subjects feel. Perhaps the mere fact of posting the picture might be felt by some to be bullying or intimidating. Or do bullying and intimidation only occur if the perpetrator deems it so? Journalist Sophie Wilkinson posted about her experiences in a post entitled ‘Stranger shaming: how one public meal got me 12,000 online haters’:

‘I’m not exactly fond of necking a mayonnaise-sloshed pasta salad on a bumpy Metropolitan line, but I know I’m never going to eat on the tube again. I don’t even want to wear that outfit again – or read the book that the poster commented I was then ‘tucking into’ – because I’m nervous that people from the Facebook group might recognise me. Every time a man I don’t know – because so many of the commenters are men – so much as glances at me on the tube I wonder if he’s in on the joke.’

And it’s all just a joke, right, and Wilkinson should get a sense of humour? Those of us who don’t like it don’t get it and we should just leave them to their quirky little game?

This exchange – chosen at random on a random photograph – is extremely revealing. It is all men. The one woman who offers a counter view is told to take herself off to North Korea. Depressingly, the commentators repeatedly fail to recognise that bullying and harassment doesn’t have to be sexual. In one comment, one Tom Moore attempts to tackle the issue of why the photographs are of women and not men head on:

Because it wouldn’t be funny if it were all people eating on the tube. That doesn’t mean it necessarily has anything to do with it being women – that’s the point you don’t seem to get. It’s funny because it is obtuse, mundane and totally and utterly trivial. There is no hidden misogyny or unspoken sexism and the the fact that you try and force your preconceived notions upon it is so mystifying and frustrating for everyone who actually gets it. No sexist or sexual comments are harboured and no offensive comments are permitted.

Just because it is ‘obtuse, mundane and totally and utterly trivial’ doesn’t mean there is no ‘unspoken sexism’. And why is it funny to laugh at women but not all people? It is also difficult to claim that there isn’t sexism on a site dedicated solely to the presentation of women in ways that make at least some of the subjects feel ashamed. This isn’t some academic exercise in ‘preconceived notions’ and I am sorry that you find it ‘mystifying and frustrating’ that some of us take offence.

Let’s just go over this again.

A woman is photographed eating on a tube train, all without her knowledge or consent. The location is noted and the time. This is then all posted on the Internet without her knowledge or consent for people to ‘celebrate’ and comment on.

And those of us who find that bloody creepy don’t get it?

If you are still not convinced that the main motivator for this is men mocking women, consider the basic gender demography of the group. According to the website womeninbusiness.com, women in the U.S. using Facebook now outnumber men. I can’t imagine that those statistics are far behind in the UK. However, a cursory look at the front page list of members for the Women Who Eat on Tubes page revealed that of the 96 members shown, 77 were men and just 19 were women.

Clearly, women just don’t get the joke like men do.

In The Telegraph, Burke professes to not knowing why women feel threatened.

Perhaps it is because, as a man, he doesn’t face the intrusion into personal space that so many women experience. Because, as a man, he isn’t objectified, judged and defined by size, dress and appearance in the same way as women (unless, of course, he is pretending that the Daily Mail doesn’t exist). Because Tony Burke feels he is entitled to do whatever he likes, regardless of the offence it causes.

Celia Walden, also writing in The Telegraph, tries to portray those who criticise the group as hypocritical, alluding to an apparent contradiction between modern feminism and the use of social media. Her point appears to be about the selfie, though uses the most extraordinary generalisation to justify her critique:

‘ If any one of those “Women Who Eat On Tubes” has ever posted a “selfie” or Tweeted “I’m about to tuck into a lamb korma”, I’m inclined to believe that they have surrendered a right to the privacy of their own image.’

Really? And what about those countless women pictured who haven’t?

And why does an individual’s choice to post a picture of themselves mean they have surrendered a right to the privacy of their own image? The extension of that argument is that posting a selfie of yourself legitimises you as a target for revenge porn. After all, you have surrendered a right to the privacy of your image.

What Burke and Walden fail to appreciate is that this is not just causing outrage amongst groups that self-identify as feminist. It is offensive to many people who do not appreciate seeing women photographed in a way that many find humiliating.

And it is causing hurt.

If you have been humiliated because of your size, if you have been made to feel ashamed for doing something as basic as eating, if you have been the victim of sexual harassment (or have had to put up with the daily comments and jokes, all gender-based but just ‘a bit of fun’ and never intended to hurt), then you may well recognise this for what it is: bullying. And you may well recognise the clever people with their in-jokes for what they are: sad inadequates (predominantly, though not exclusively, men) who dress up their nastiness in buffoonery as they take pleasure in belittling and mocking women.

As men often do when defending the offensive, Burke resorts to reductio ad absurdum, implying that contesting his decision to post these pictures of women eating somehow equates to state censorship: “They’re in a public place. That’s the risk that you take. Let’s not live in this ridiculous nanny state where nothing’s allowed to exist in case it upsets someone.”

Sorry Tony. Just as it is your right to post your pictures regardless of the offence you cause, it is my right to judge you a misogynistic coward, regardless of how that offends you.

I’ve no interest in the state banning your group. I am, however, quite at liberty to lobby a private social media platform to remove content that I find offensive. I am also quite content to see people exercise their free speech to call you and your sad band of devotees out for being distasteful creeps.

I hope they do.

Further reading:

Nell Frizzell (@NellFrizzell) in the Guardian: ‘Women Who Eat On Tubes Sticks In My Throat’

Radhika Sanghani (@radhikasanghani) in The Telegraph: ‘Why this man takes photos of ‘Women Who Eat On Tubes’. He promises he isn’t a ‘weird deviant”

Celia Walden in The Telegraph: ‘There’s no need to be shy about scoffing on the tube’

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There’s nothing quite like commuting on the London Underground to test the patience of most of us. Those who are more creatively-inclined have found an artistic outlet for their stresses. These are shamelessly lifted from Fotoz Up.

All credit to the mischievous travellers who created them – and those that snapped them with a chuckle as they were held at yet another red signal.

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There are plenty of ways to get your opinion out there on the ‘net in this day and age. This generally means throwing your opinions out there for the world to see on Twitter, blogs and Facebook. However, some cunning folks have realised the potential for making more targeted, localised statements, by renaming their WiFi.

I am not sure how I missed this phenomena, but it seems there are even sites given over to helping you name your wifi.

Some of the best can be found on WiFi LOL. My favourite is probably this one. Who knew that flamingos could cause such neighbour strife?

For my part, I think my own network, currently – and poetically – named ‘Requiem’ is about to become ‘getyoursoddingkidsoffmylawnok’.

 

 

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Yeah, I know I am coming to this party a little later than everyone else, but wow.

Just wow. (If you can’t be bothered reading the text, just look at the video at the bottom.)

Mary Hvizda first walked into the Coalition Drum Shop (what an appropriate name!) a few years ago. Surprised that they let her play, employees recorded her the other day.  The results are something else and give hope to all of us who’ve hit 40 and are wondering what the next 25 years hold in prospect.

WKBT(News 8000) in La Crosse reported that 63-year old Mary Hvizda of Onalaska has been drumming since she was 15:

“I was having a lot of fun,” said Hvizda. “I really was.”

Her love for the drums started many years ago at the age of 15, when she was inspired by her brother to pick up a pair of sticks.

“He was a drummer and I thought I’d really love to play and drum, and that was my chance,” said Hvizda.

She joined the Chantells later that year. They were the first all-girl rock band in La Crosse — pioneers in a male-dominated industry.

“It really took a lot of tolerance with the customers, or other male musicians, to hang in there and to just keep going if they laughed at us or made fun of us,” said Hvizda.

She still plays her old cassette tapes from time to time, as a reminder of life on the road.

“It was like every weekend and sometimes it was like five nights a week, and all kind of locally you know, but I loved it,” said Hvizda.

But Chantells was just the beginning. During the next 25 years, she played in nearly a dozen bands, both in rock and country western.

Then, in about 1990, the band On the Road Again broke up. It would be the last group she’d play with.

“I couldn’t find no other bands to play with, and then I did quit,” said Hvizda.

Soon after, Hvizda sold her last drum set, but she never really lost her love for playing.

“I still kind of like to go to the music store and play a drum set, and then that’s it,” said Hvizda. “My music urge has been satisfied.”

Mary doesn’t have a computer and up until a few days ago, she had no idea what YouTube even was.

“It makes me proud to think that people still think I’m somewhat good and still think I’m still something they’re interested in watching,” said Hvizda.

As for the nickname, “Grandma Drummer” she said that may also take a little getting used to.

“It’s different,” said Hvizda. “I can’t get used to being called Grandma. I’ve never had children of my own and I never got married, but I am 63 and that is certainly grandma’s age,” she laughed.

Throughout her career, Hvizda only played at local bars and high school dances around La Crosse County. She said if there was anyone past or present that she’d love to play for, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn or Reba McEntire.

The Coalition Drum Store is giving Mary her very own electronic drum set. It will be delivered this Monday.

Simply brilliant.

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Back in April, Mervyn King announced that Winston Churchill would be replacing Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note.

There is, I imagine, little argument about the significance of Churchill’s contribution to British history, nor his suitability for a place on one of our bank notes. I am sure, too, that this was meant to be swansong gesture designed to fix King in our memories as the man who put Churchill in our pockets. However, he rather runs the risk of being remembered as the man who sought to remove women from the faces of our bank notes.

Thank goodness for the Canadians (more on that in a moment). Principally, though, thank goodness for Caroline Criado-Perez who, on spotting the implications of what the bank was planning, started an online petition through change.org to force the bank to rethink. Her campaign was featured in The Guardian, on the BBC and in The Telegraph.

Her reasoning was simple and right:

“An all-male line-up on our banknotes sends out the damaging message that no woman has done anything important enough to appear. This is patently untrue. Not only have numerous women emerged as leading figures in their fields, they have done so against the historic odds stacked against them which denied women a public voice and relegated them to the private sphere – making their emergence into public life all the more impressive and worthy of celebration.”

And she has pulled it off.

Today, Mark Carney, the Canadian governor of the Bank of England, announced that Jane Austen would be the face of the new ten pound note.

Why does any of this matter?

Because it does.

Because it is not right for an institution as central to the organisation of our economic and political life as the Bank of England to believe it can operate in its own entitled bubble, failing to recognise that this country has been built on the hard work of men and women, the latter often, as Criado-Perez says, with the historic odds against them. I would go further and say that their hard work has often been in the face of hostility from privileged men who have struggled to reconcile themselves to the reality that politics, the workplace and the economy are as much the domains of women as they are of men.

If you think that such attitudes are a thing of the past, take a moment to think how on earth the Bank of England reach a position where no women were to be recognised on its bank notes? In Mervyn King’s own words at the time of the Churchill announcement: “Our banknotes acknowledge the life and work of great Britons.” It is clear from that the pictures are intended as a statement of significance. In 2010 there were around £48 billion pounds’ worth of notes in circulation. That is a lot of pieces of paper.

So why at no point did anyone appear to say to King: “Er, why are they all men?”

How did the design teams, the PR department, senior management and the Governor’s own office, not to mention King himself, let it happen?

It could, of course, be accident. However, most institutions and companies have strict policies and procedures to avoid such obvious idiocies. Or it could, of course, be a sub-concious, corporate mindset that still downplays the contribution of women in our national life in comparison to the contributions of men.

The sad reality is that entitlement and casual discrimination is still a force to be reckoned with, whether it is on our bank notes or, more banally, on our station platforms. Take a look at Everyday Sexism and its twitter feed to see a depressing stream of witless and offensive behaviour that demonstrates how disrespectful we still are to each other as a society.

Society looks to its leading institutions to lead change. When they fail, it takes the active grass roots of society to put pressure on those institutions.

Thank you Caroline Criado-Perez for saving us from looking like idiots.

And thank you Mark Carney for listening. (Now there’s just the little matter of the Canadian banknotes from which he removed women. Perhaps he was attempting to make amends for that as well as King’s faux pas?)

You can read the Bank of England background note on Jane Austen here.

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I have recently rediscovered the joy of Monopoly.

In the days before HMV broke, I spotted a very attractive retro edition, in a wooden box, and I decided that as I couldn’t find my childhood box that I would buy it (my old version was a deluxe edition in a black box that included a locomotive token). After all, what better way could there be to pass the long winter evenings than to accrue a personal property fortune?

I was quickly and rudely reminded that there are no ideological bars to winning. My opponent, no, my enemy, a self-styled ex-Socialist Worker who is more than a little sceptical of my own liberal political values, proved to be the most ruthless and cunning capitalist I have ever come across. There was no mercy shown – she led from the beginning and destroyed me five times. Once or twice and I would put it down to a roll of the die. Five times and I was definitely the victim of the socialist incarnation of Donald Trump. (Personally, I think Monopoly provides a safe environment in which socialists can surrender to base instincts and act like the rest of us. That sound you can hear is the sound of me running for cover.)

Still licking my wounds, you could imagine my shock when Hasbro offered a world wide vote to replace a historic playing piece with a diamond ring, a guitar, a toy robot, a helicopter and a cat. The result of that vote? The iron bought it, securing just 8 percent of the vote, and was replaced with… a cat.

Now, I am a cat fan. I admire their cunning, their cold, calculating capacity for dissembling, their ruthless survival instincts and the juxtaposition between the lean, mean killing machine that most of them think they are and the fact that they are often the animal kingdom equivalent of Norman Wisdom, exhibiting a tremendous propensity for slapstick. I would say I own one, but I am pretty sure he owns me.

What a cat isn’t – or what it shouldn’t be – is a Monopoly playing token. To my mind, the iron was one of the more elegantly designed pieces. The cat that replaces it is pug ugly.

Monopoly_casts_aside_the_iron_in_favour_of_the_catI indicated earlier that I can understand the general sentiment towards cats. We also live in a world in which we take refuge in cute things and fluffiness, and perhaps moreso amongst the social demographic that is likely to be taking part in online votes on game tokens. However, applying the same logic to the piece that was rejected, what does it say about the younger generation’s relationship with the iron? Judging from the crumpled trousers I see hanging off the backsides of “cool” types, it says pretty much everything. I wonder if irons are going to go the same way as the cassette tape? In ten years’ time, I can imagine a wide-eyed child pointing at an iron and murmuring incredulously: “Mummy, what is that?”

As it happens, it’s not the first time that pieces have been retired or changed. My retro edition partially recreates the 1935 edition and doesn’t include the wheelbarrow, introduced in 1937.  However, it also doesn’t include three other tokens that were retired in the 1950s: the purse, the rocking horse and the lantern (the wheelbarrow already introduced, the 1950s saw the introduction of the man on horse and the dog). Other retired tokens include the sack of money (which existed in the 1999-2007 editions, having won a contest over a piggy bank and a bi-plane), a man on horseback and a Howitzer (!).

In the end it is probably that I am just not good at change. So I’ll just hanker after this classic set, knowing that if only I could have the lantern I’d win every time…

Tokkens web monopoly photos T6

 

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Street artists have a unique eye for taking things that most of us walk past, or regard as ugly or broken, and making them into something very different. Funny, surreal, thought-provoking and sometimes just beautiful, there is a tremendous variety of street art out there around the world.

It can provoke passionate discussion, with some dismissing it as merely an excuse for graffiti. Somehow, though, I think it is more than that, saying something about the urban areas in which we live, and giving value back to things that have lost their value and (sometimes purpose) through decay, damage and vandalism.

One of my favourites is OakoAk, described on his own website as a “French artist who likes to play with urban elements”. His work is simpler than some, often eschewing perspective illusions and instead going for the comic,  occasionally tugging a heart-string.

Here’s a selection of some of his most recent, courtesy of Bored Panda:

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