So, it turns out surreptitiously photographing women eating on the London Underground is something of a misunderstood art, one might say.
The Facebook group Women Who Eat On Tubes (WWEOT) insists documenting a woman eating without her consent or knowledge and then posting it online and inviting comment “does not intimidate or bully”.
It is, we are led to believe, an “observational, not judgemental” project, in which "subjects are embraced and cherished."
Sarah Hardcastle and Stacey Bird want you to join them for lunch next week
Sadly these protestations just don’t wash for those women who would prefer their feeding habits were not clandestinely documented and shared with potential audiences of thousands of strangers.
Hardcastle tells HuffPost UK: “My initial reaction to the original group was probably obvious - why women?
The Women Who Eat On Tubes Facebook group is nearing 20,000 members
“The creator of the group claims he noticed more women eating on the tube than men, what if they had been black or disabled or suffering from weight issues?
“It's such a shame that women are still an easy target for this kind of 'humour'. I agree that eating on the Tube or any enclosed space isn't great etiquette - but in this city where many of us work long hours, sometimes those 20 minutes on the train are the only time you get to eat a sandwich.
“I'm sure women are just as guilty of this kind of discrimination, but no matter what gender you are it shouldn't be okay to secretly take humiliating photos of people then post them proudly on a group to share with strangers.
“On the positive side, we wanted to start our own group to sort of laugh at the whole situation. Is this what we're coming to? Women aren't even allowed to eat in public anymore without being ridiculed? Good grief! We've come under criticism for using the 'F' word (sorry, Mum) and 'taking it too seriously'. Although our own humour seems to have been missed despite the photo depicting a carrot up my nose.”
And there's also a Men Who Post On Women Who Eat On Tubes Facebook group
Bird tells us: “Many beautiful projects have come from photographing strangers and I can fully appreciate the work of documentary photography. And maybe if this idea was being run by someone like Martin Parr and every image was a thoughtful and well executed photograph that represents the solitude of a busy London woman's life we would all feel differently.
“But it's not, it's a cruddy smartphone picture taken by someone who can't wait to get signal again so they can get some social currency on Facebook.
“We have definitely gone into this endeavour with a sense of humour- like Sarah said, look at the photo! As I've said on the account, once the event is done I look forward to digesting my food, pooping it out and getting on with my life because after all it's just a bunch of people eating on the tube.”
Another retaliatory group – going by the name of Men Who Post On Women Who Eat On Tubes (MWPOWWEOT) – has also cropped up – where members seek out men posting on the original site and post their pictures.
The group rules wryly state: “MWPOWWEOT is non-judgemental. All of these photos are public, which makes this observational art, or something, and not at all harassment. Subjects are embraced and cherished.”
Group creator Mimi Kempton-Stewart tells us: "I started MWPOWWEOT because I thought that WWEOT is, as its founder says, a beautiful piece of community art which adores and cherishes its subjects. But I thought it was strange that the women were getting all the attention. 'What about the men?', I thought. 'It's time that someone stood up for the men in society, and says it's okay to cherish them too. Only then will we have true equality.'
"The difference between the two [groups] is that people on Facebook have an option to set their profiles to "private", but women on the Tube don't have the option to say 'don't take a picture of me eating food on the Tube'. So the men in my group had a choice, and chose to bare their beautiful souls to the world. I feel that in a way, this makes my art even more compelling and poignant."
Oh, and by the way, while it is not illegal to take photographs of people in public places, British Transport Police (BTP) is encouraging women who feel threatened by the use of their pictures on Facebook to contact them.
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