Women Who Eat on Tubes: feminists stage picnic protest on the Circle Line

The protest  was in response to the Women Who Eat on Tubes Facebook page which was accused of being sexist last week

Swapping banners for bananas, and plaques for pasta pots, feminists staged a protest on the London Underground’s Circle Line on Monday against the controversial Women Who Eat on Tubes Facebook page.

Started in 2011, the site made headlines last week after journalist Sophie Wilkinson wrote a story describing how she felt "hurt and humiliated" after a man took her photo while she ate her lunch on the tube, and posted it on the Women Who Eat on Tubes Facebook page.

"I'd like to know the name of her finishing school," read a comment under her image. "I was the butt of a joke without my knowledge, in front of thousands of strangers. I'd been 'stranger-shamed'" she wrote.

In less than a week, 21-year-old Goldsmiths students Lucy Brisbane McKay and Alexis Calvas had planned Monday's protest, which had garnered almost 500 attendees on the Facebook event.

Armed with a wicker picnic basket and a vintage suitcase filled with bananas, the pair passed out the fruit to protesters, both female and male, in the tube carriage.

While some munched on humble sandwiches and steadied themselves by holding onto the carriage poles, other hungry activists sat with full-spreads of sushi with signs reading "I eat on the tube" propped up against them. At each station, people would join the group with their lunch in hand.

A woman taking part in a 'Lunch Party' organised as a counter-offensive against the Facebook page 'Women Who Eat on Tubes'. A woman taking part in a 'Lunch Party' organised as a counter-offensive against the Facebook page 'Women Who Eat on Tubes'.
Read more: ' Women Who Eat on Tubes' is not high art, it's harassment

"I'm not for censorships. We want to turn the conversation around and take tension off the [Women Who Eat on Tubes] page and make something positive," Ms Calvas told The Independent before she handed out multi-coloured napkins decorated with lollipops to protesters who had gathered near the barriers of High Street Kensington station in west London.

Asked what the aim of the protest was, Ms Calvas explained: "We plan to try and stay on the tube, we'll just be having our lunch," alluding to the jovial nature of the event.

She added: "We hope to bring to together opinionated people and feminists and start some good conversations.  We want people to come and talk to strangers, not just hide behind their computers arguing."

"Of course you can take pictures of people on the tube, but we wanted people to come and talk about why you would do that, and if it's really OK," added Ms McKay.

Pointing to her t-shirt given to her by the founder of 50:50 Parliament, a group campaigning for the equal representation of women in Parliament who met the students for the first time at the protest, Ms Calvas said: "That's why we are wearing these shirts. The [Women Who Eat on Tubes] page is a part of bigger problems in society."

Women taking part in a 'Lunch Party' on the circle line underground tube in London, April 14th, 2014. The event was organised as a counter-offensive against the Facebook website 'Women Who Eat on Tubes'. Women taking part in a 'Lunch Party' on the circle line underground tube in London, April 14th, 2014. The event was organised as a counter-offensive against the Facebook website 'Women Who Eat on Tubes'.
"People say it's not about gender. If it was just people eating on the tube you could bring in the question of privacy, but it's not, it's just women. You can't ignore that."

On the event's Facebook page, organisers encouraged feminists across the country who could not made the protest to use the #ieatontubes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to raise awareness of the cause.

While the sense of solidarity as protesters chomped, laughed and networked in the packed tube carriage was clear, busy commuters and members of the public looked a little bewildered.

33-year-old architect Sho Das was unaware of the Facebook page, and confused by why people would want to take photos of women eating on the tube. "Who has time to do this?" he asked.

Tucking into a packet of Worcester sauce flavour crisps, 24-year-old activist Zoltán Jászai said she disagreed with claims that the protest was against a trivial matter, and explained she hoped to raise awareness of how women's bodies and behaviour are constantly policed.

"Everyday prejudice against women is as important as 'real' problems like jobs.

"Every time women meet together and talk about their views it contributes to a wider movement," she said.

"Everyone had fun, that's the point," said Ms McKay an hour later as the train once again neared High Street Kensington, and protesters had returned to work having finished their lunches, adding: "we hope to carry on the movement in May, when we've finished our dissertations."

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