If you spend much time on Facebook and are acquainted with some particularly voyeuristic dickbags, you may have become aware of a recent phenomenon called ‘Women Who Eat on Tubes’ (WWEOT). If you haven’t, it’s more or less exactly what it sounds like; people (usually men) take photos of unconsenting, unsuspecting women who dare to eat whilst travelling on the London underground, put said photos onto this Facebook group and invite comment and scrutiny on the display. Which most of the time proves to be fairly degrading, if not outright abusive. At time of writing, this group is about 20,000 members strong. A quick look at the 2011 census tells me that is about the same as the population of Amersham. Now, I don’t know where Amersham is, but I’m pretty sure that’s still a hell of a lot of people.
Why is it significant that it is only women that are targeted in this self-declared ‘art project’? Well as we all know, whatever a woman’s achievements, values or interests, it is most important, above all else, that she is thin, beautiful and decorative. Food is something she should feel guilty about, and hunger a sensation she should deny. She should also be modest, coquettish and compliant. By deviating from this and appearing apparently ‘unladylike’ in eating on the tube, she is transgressing these social boundaries, and she must be shamed. Obviously.
But, women are fighting back against this public ridicule, and they are doing it brilliantly. New groups have been set up, including ‘Women Eating on the Tube: A Circle Line Lunch Party’, ‘Women Who Eat Wherever the Fuck They Want’, and my personal favourite, ‘Men Who Post on “Women Who Eat on Tubes”’ (MWPOWWEOT). This latter group turns the tables on the men who take photos of women doing something as completely inoffensive and normal as EATING to shame them for it – it uses photos taken from these men’s Facebook profiles and provides equally enlightening, artistic commentary.
Some of the reactions from the subjects of MWPOWWEOT are truly something. Even beyond the usual misogyny and homophobia of ‘you all just need a shag’, ‘you’re all fucking lesbians’ and everyone’s favourite, ‘you just can’t take a joke’, the level of entitlement demonstrated is staggering.
‘If women don’t want to be seen eating on the tube, they shouldn’t eat on the tube’ (victim blaming)
‘Some of the women secretly want it. I’ve spoken to women who deliberately eat on the tube and are disappointed they’re not photographed.’ (‘I didn’t ask and she didn’t consent but I know she wanted it!’)
And the altogether sinister call for the women who post in MWPOWWEOT to ‘stop playing the victim. One day you will be a victim and no-one will believe you.’ (Thinly veiled threats, the bastion of any anthropological art project)
But isn’t a reaction group just as bad? Isn’t it exactly the same thing? Well, no. For one thing because these are all photos that they have consensually made public anyway. For another because men aren’t subject to the same systematic oppression as women in wider society generally, and these groups don’t exist in a vacuum. But most importantly because it only targets those specific men who have indicated they think public shaming of complete strangers is acceptable. If it’s for a laugh. Or something. I’m not quite sure. I’ll mull it over with a packet of Quavers on the district line.