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.
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’