This week’s Problem On The Internet is all about stranger shaming.
At the centre of the debate is a Facebook group where users can post photos of women eating on the tube. It invites comments from the 19,000+ members as long as they “do not swear, do not abuse, affront, aggrieve, bad-mouth, blaspheme, call names, curse, disgrace, dishonour, disrespect, insult, mock, molest, offend, outrage, quip, ridicule, smear, sneer, taunt or tease.”
Google it if you like. I’ll wait here.
And we’re back in the room.
Now, it’s long been noted that Facebook user comments are second only to YouTube user comments in their propensity to make you want to bang your face repeatedly into the nearest wall.
Numerous studies have shown that if you give people a Facebook profile, a keyboard and space to comment, generally even the most intelligent person will lose their ability to capitalise words, use spacing, master punctuation, utilise common sense, or check grammar without offending at least three people and writing the word “lol” in the process.
That’s just how Facebook rolls.
So no matter the original intentions behind your collection of publicly, surreptitiously taken images of women eating food on the tube – whether it’s merely observational, genuine curiosity, an “art movement”, your friends’ pub conversation gone mainstream, or an exercise in misogynistic stranger shaming – if you’re inviting comments, and those words make a person feel cowed, bullied or uncomfortable, then clearly there’s a problem.
And that problem will probably end up being discussed and argued about by the media.
Eventually, your “art movement” will be labelled a “bizarre craze” and reported in papers around the world, as if taking photos of women eating on the tube is something that People Do in London, instead of being something that 19,000 People Do on Facebook.
There are many blogs and feeds that document life on the tube without being creepy.
The brilliant People on the Tube, my long standing favourite Dogs on Trains, and of course Tube Crush to name but three.
And, yes this blog has, on occasion, featured people (but mostly dogs) that I’ve found amusing or interesting, even annoying on my commuting travels – the above image is taken from the She Loves London Facebook page – but usually without showing faces and only ever to demonstrate a wider point which, I hope, hasn’t to date offended, identified or pinpointed one individual person.
(That said, it’s something I’ll be even more conscious of in the future.)
But WWEOTT mainly makes me and a lot of other people uncomfortable for the same reason a female version of Tube Crush would – because reactions to photographs of women on the internet are generally laden with more sinister undertones than that of men.
Just ask the Mail Online.
…let’s also consider that just over the road in Tumblr-land there’s a blog entitled “Men Taking Up Too Much Room on the Train”, where, more often than not, the focus of the photo is a bloke’s crotch (yup, see above) – which, arguably, is just as weird as showing women’s faces, and often shows the mens’ faces too.
Anyway. Wherever you stand on the issue, next week two rebel Facebook groups (including the bluntly named, “Women who eat wherever the f*ck they want”) are hosting a lunch party on the Circle line to, err, encourage women to eat on the tube.
Or, if like me you just think that anyone eating on the tube – male or female – should be banished to the fiery pits of the Northern Line, then you might want to opt for the more gender neutral approach:
Either way, I think the last words on the subject should be given to this article on the Londonist – as I can think of no better way to say it, and I agree wholeheartedly with the final sentiment:
It’s a difficult issue! On the one hand, it’s hard to resist posting a photo accompanied by witty, biting remarks of a woman who takes up 6 seats on a packed train with her shopping, shoes and handbag. In a big sense, you want to shame them and encourage other people to use the luggage racks! But like you, I always do do without posting faces or otherwise identifying the ‘victims’.
But you’re right – too often these things are plain bullying and public shaming, and that’s before you add mysogyny into the mix.
She Loves London says
I think it comes down to what the subject of the photo is: if it’s celebrating a person or behaviour, or you cut the face off, then I think it’s ok. If it’s being nasty about someone and they’re easily identifiable – then that’s different. It also comes down to the audience too. I’d be a lot more aware of my responsibilities as someone publishing photos if my blog got 19,000 people looking at it every day. Alas, we’re not there yet.
Gary Schechter says
Before I eat on the tube I demand, in a loud and authoritative voice, that any fellow passengers who can see me either close their eyes or turn there heads. I further inform them that if I see any of them peeking, or if the insensitive moron sitting next to me asks me not to spill sauce on his pants, I will inform the transit police.
I haven’t done extensive research on the coverage of this issue, but has anyone played the free speech card yet?
She Loves London says
Gary, that’s a blummin’ brilliant way of dealing with it, I commend you for taking the bull by the proverbial horns.
It’s also given me an idea.
Get me a Fruit of the Loom plain white t-shirt and some marker pens, and I’ll see you all at Moorgate Station later.