Women should be able to eat in public without being harassed, right? Not according to the the creepy Facebook group for people to upload secret photos of women eating on the London underground. It started in 2014, and after lots of negative press it was forced to go private. But Facebook never closed it.
The only reason I found out is because my friend Rebecca was targeted last night, and she called me about it today:
“I was on a packed tube, a guy was so obviously and blatantly filming me eating. I asked “what the hell are you doing? Stop filming me!”, then he picked up his phone again to continue. “It made me feel so vulnerable, I had no control over it. He was filming me so blatantly even though I asked him to stop. I didn’t quite understand it until I spoke to a friend who mentioned a Facebook group”
It is not okay to take photos of women without their consent. It’s harassment. The founder of the group ‘Women who eat on Tubes’, Tony Burke, thinks it’s art. But one of the rules of his crowd-sourced art project is that “the subject of the photo must not be known to the photographer”. In other words, this photo must be non-consensual. Not just that, the woman must be unaware their photograph is being taken for a group of 35,000 people to comment on. When a stranger takes a photo of a woman on public transport, the power is entirely in their hands and not hers.
In the group itself, most of the comments underneath photos are mockery or sexual innuendo i.e. “get it in”, or just weird dehumanisation i.e. “I enjoy this picture like this beautiful specimen enjoys crisps”. A common theme is people contesting that the picture is “fake” or “staged” - with members praised for the most bold photos. Complete disrespect of a woman’s boundaries and choices is celebrated.
So why hasn’t Facebook closed the group? The auto-response from Facebook if you report the group says that it doesn’t violate their community standards. But these are non-consensual creep shots of women eating. By not taking this seriously, Facebook is enabling the creeps who do it to continue.
Rebecca has since started a petition to get Facebook to close the group. It’s symbolic of how Facebook does not take harassment as seriously as it claims. Back in 2014, journalist Sophie Wilkinson wrote about how humiliated she felt when her image appeared on the group - and how long she had to battle with the man who started it to try and take it down. In four long years, nothing has changed.
The core of feminism is about women’s right to exist in public spaces without fear or humiliation. Do we really now need a footnote to add that our right to exist in public spaces also includes when we’re eating, or putting on our make up? One of the most jarring things about my friend Rebecca’s experience was when she said how it has made her think twice about eating on the tube again.
Policing women’s eating in public is symptomatic of a bigger attempt to control women’s bodies and what they can do in public space. The fact that the Facebook group states that the subjects of the non-consensual photos must be women, and that hundreds of users comment with sexualised innuendo, demonstrates that it’s underlined by old-fashioned beliefs about women being passive objects of desire and beauty.
Jameela Jamil, who has declared war on body-shaming, has announced her support to get rid of the group. We already live in a society that shames women for their bodies and by association, their eating habits. We also live in a world where we’re more aware than ever before about our right to privacy. Given that Facebook hasn’t had the best press recently in terms of privacy - do they really want to continue providing a platform for people to post non-consensual photos of women online?