I have a dirty secret to reveal. Except, I didn’t realise it was dirty or needed to be a secret. But apparently I need to stand up in front of the world and say – nay, admit, confess: I am a woman, and I eat on the tube.
I know, horrifying, isn’t it?
Sometimes – if I’ve just been on a train into London for 2 hours, or I’ve been at uni all day, or if I’m, you know, just generally hungry, that function of the human body – and I have somewhere I need to be, I grab some food and take the opportunity of being stationary on the tube, and I eat.
Apparently this is worthy of photographing and publishing on the Internet, entirely without consent, primarily in the Facebook group Women Who Eat on Tubes (WWEOT). There might be a photo of me on there, inhaling my McNuggets and fries like a lion eating a gazelle – I don’t know. I hope not. It has over 20,000 members, so clearly the general public has a real appetite for nonconsensual photographs of women satisfying their hunger. And who can blame them, when it’s just so remarkable for women to be seen eating?
The founders of the group claim that it is ‘observational not judgemental. It doesn’t intimidate nor bully … We celebrate and encourage women eating food on tubes. We do not marginalise them. We always look for the story in the picture.’ Which is presumably why it treats women like animals in a zoo simply because they are performing a natural function in a public place, why it violates their consent and denies them dignity, and why everything on the page is written in an overtly mocking tone. WWEOT gives the women it photographs zero respect at any point in the process, and sends out a very clear message relating to how it expects women to be.
There is no law against eating on the tube, but to place a spotlight on women simply because they are eating on the tube is to say that it is something that they otherwise should not do. Why is that? Because a woman has dared to eat in public. God, how dare she, better photograph her without her consent and post it on the Internet so that people can invariably laugh at her. Because it’s funny when women eat. Because they’re not supposed to.
We are bombarded with this message from all angles. The constant stream of adverts for diet and weight-loss products, almost exclusively aimed at women, serve as a constant reminder that no matter how comfortable we are with our weight or the amount that we eat, we could always be thinner. The prevalence of ideas that can be summed up by Kate Moss’s famous quote ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ hit this home: eating is not attractive, we should not be seen to eat. Society insists that we are always ashamed by how much we eat, and every woman’s magazine in print recommends a multitude of diets to fix us.
Of course WWEOT fits into this. It has made it a trend to photograph women for the simple reason that they are eating. How many women now feel comfortable eating on the tube, with the knowledge that at any moment someone might take a photograph of them and upload it to the Internet? I know I don’t. Many of us never did anyway, either because of the aforementioned constant societal pressure or perhaps because of an eating disorder; if you feel that you should not be eating or that it is bad to eat, doing so when you know people are watching is incredibly difficult. The idea that someone may now make it so that 20,000 more people on the Internet can see you, and are laughing, makes that so, so much worse.
Presumably, though, the thoughts and feelings of the women in the photographs don’t matter. It doesn’t matter that we might not want pictures of us eating, taken without our consent, splashed all over the Internet so that people can laugh. It doesn’t matter that we have to deal with the threat and prospect of physical, verbal and sexual harassment every single time we venture into public spaces, and that being photographed and shamed online simply for eating is definitely an extension of this. In the world in which WWEOT can exist and not be considered bullying or misogyny, women’s bodies are public property and their existence can be used for entertainment.
But no, I don’t want there to be a Men Who Eat on the Tube. I want people to stop shaming people for eating, and for the food that they eat, and I want everyone to be able to make a journey on public transport without being turned into an Internet spectacle.
As it is though, WWEOT is undoubtedly woman-hating. Those who participate in it are happy to force women to go hungry, and to shame them when they dare choose not to. It tells women to take up as little space as possible, and not to perform the same functions as men, at least unless they don’t want their photograph taken. As if the world wasn’t already uninhabitable for women.