Women Who Eat On Tubes 'movement' sparks outrage

UNITED KINGDOM - A new 'movement' known as 'Women Who Eat On Tubes' may seem free of ill-intent, but the fad, with its voyeuristic undertones, has sparked protests online.

'Women Who Eat On Tubes' is a Facebook group, with over 23,000 members (as of April 13, 2014), dedicated to posting pictures of women eating on the London underground. Members are required to caption photos they post with the time the photo was taken, the food she was eating, as well as which tube line she was on.

In the age of smartphones, where basically everyone is equipped with a camera, taking photos of strangers is commonplace. However, whether or not it is acceptable behaviour is another question. Perhaps, especially so when the people in these photos are made easily identifiable and the subject of anonymous, malicious humour in the form of Facebook comments.

The formerly open Facebook group is now closed and only members can view posts. It stated on the page that it is "observational not judgemental" and that "it doesn't intimidate nor bully".

"Women 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."

Following the group's boost in popularity, many journalists have offered their own opinion and thoughts on the matter. The majority of published articles appear to condemn the group and the act it encourages.

Taking pictures of strangers, in what some would consider a compromising position, and then uploading it online for the masses to see, seems to indicate a loss of social decency. Not only does it objectify the subject, it also ridicules and humiliates unnecessarily.

Furthermore, the group implicates the archaic comparison between sex and food, adding to the voyeuristic feel of this phenomenon. As Nell Frizzel of The Guardian writes, "it doesn't take a Freudian to tell you that the act of watching something get pushed into an orifice can have vaguely sexual overtones".

What may be just as upsetting is that there isn't much one can do about having their photos taken and uploaded by strangers. After a friend notified her that a photo of her was uploaded to Women Who Eat on Tubes, Sophie Wilkinson, a journalist, took action. She emailed the photographer, complained to Facebook, as well as approached Transport For London. While the photo was removed by Facebook, the law does not implicate people who take photos of strangers without permission.

However, the British Transport Police (BTP) is encouraging women who feel threatened by the use of their pictures on Facebook to contact them.

jthe@sph.com.sg