The Facebook group 'Women who eat on Tubes', founded by Tony Burke.

The Facebook group 'Women who eat on Tubes', founded by Tony Burke.

A Facebook page (and blog) titled “Women Who Eat on Tubes” has created a flurry of public outrage and now a protest in London.  This page encourages commuters to, “look out for women eating [on the Tube]. Then take a picture and post it here”.

The group, which was funded by filmmaker and “artist” Tony Burke in 2011, had until recently escaped notoriety. But with a membership base of 21,000 and growing, something that began as a very small “observational study” - as Burke refers to it - has now become a topic of contention in Britain, and, thanks to the internet, around the world.

A quick scroll down the blog, for example, shows pictures of women eating accompanied by charming captions such as “Three little pigs”.

Scroll down further, and you'll also find Burke’s incredibly creepy - and somewhat sociopathic - description of his “artistic project”: “Everywhere I go, I see women eating on Tubes. Like little mice hiding packets of crisps and biscuits in their bags and purses. Slowly, secretly, guiltily raising each bite-sized morsel to their salty lips in the hope that no one’s watching. Well, I’m watching. And I’m photographing, documenting the fascinating world of the Women Who Eat on Tubes.”

Yes, because likening women to animals while linking food and guilt is truly an idea worthy of artistic merit.

Yet according to Burke, taking photos of women eating on the London tube is akin to taking “wildlife photography”.

“At its truest form, it should cherish its subjects in the way a photographer cherishes a kingfisher,” the “artist” told The Telegraph in London.

Burke, who apparently can’t understand what all the fuss is about, believes that taking surreptitious photos of women eating on the London Underground is a perfectly acceptable “observational artistic study of human behaviour".

Unfortunately, what he seems to completely miss is that culture does not exist in a vacuum, and that women of all ages, shapes and ethnicities, whose bodies are already policed by the public, will not exactly be grateful participants in what is essentially a form of bullying and stranger shaming.

Because when you think about it, taking pictures of unsuspecting women not only violates personal privacy, but also places power directly in the hands of the photographer who, by posting the images online, derives pleasure from demeaning his (let’s face it - it’s probably a guy) subject in a largely anonymous space. 

To their credit, the British Transport Police are encouraging women who feel threatened to contact them. The problem is that taking photographs of women in a public space is actually not illegal, something which Burke has tried to use in his defence.

“If they [the women] were at home being photographed, that’s sinister,” he explains to The Telegraph.

“But they’re in a public place, and that’s the risk you take. Let’s not live in this ridiculous nanny state where nothing’s allowed to exist in case it upsets someone. It’s not like people are going to be humiliated or traumatised for years to come.”

Once again, space has become a gender issue, with women told to stay indoors or accept the consequences of transversing into the public (read: male) domain, a conversation that is often had when discussing rape.

Fortunately, women are taking a stand against the page, with hundreds of protesters expected to gather on the London Underground’s Circle Line on Monday.

Lucy Brisbane Mckay, who organised the rally, told Channel 4 News in Britain that the protesters will stage a massive picnic in response to Burke’s “project”.

“This is about responding and celebrating the fact that women eat - but clearly stating that it is their right to celebrate, and not something to capture and monitor without their consent," she says.

What I find so astounding is that Burke, who seemingly "emphasises” with the feminist argument, doesn’t think it’s “relevant in this case”. It obviously suits him to ignore the incredibly obvious sexual comments directed at these women on Facebook, telling them they have "talent" or encouraging them to go “deeper” when they are photographed eating bananas.

The strength of his denial shows that despite what we may think, the world has a long way to go before men stop finding reasons to objectify women, sexually or otherwise, and give their female counterparts the respect and privacy all humans deserve.

But until then,  men like Burke will defend themselves until they're blue in the face, trying to convince the world that men “have a right to take photos of people (read: women) without asking their permission”.