‘Tube Crush’: a harmless bit of fun? Sorry, but I don’t think so

Londoners commuting

Surely this is the 'Tube crush' they're referring to, right?

If you count yourself among the substantial portion of Londoners that uses the Tube to get to work every day, you’ll be familiar with the endlessly-frustrating, somewhat soporific routine of wait, push on, breathe in, stop, stop, stop…push off – but if you’re like me and your journey begins at the far, far edges of a line (the Northern), you’ll be one of the blessed few who manage to get a seat, in which case you’ll have to insert ‘scramble, park yourself, arrange bags around feet, put on iPod, get out book, open Metro, look down or up, and studiously refuse to make eye contact with anyone else for the rest of the judderingly long journey’ to the above list. But, even for us lucky seat-hermits, every now and again, something happens that makes us look up from our slumber, and (thank goodness, not a pregnant woman, guy on crutches, or wobbly elderly person, the three people for whom you still have to give up your seat, quite rightly, but you know…) the appearance of a delectably good-looking man in your carriage is the happy visual treat new blog TubeCrush has decided to capitalise upon in its near-daily posts.

TubeCrush has a simple conceit; people take photographs of good-looking guys on the London Underground and Overground (and one assumes, general train) networks, send them in, the blog author writes a suitably witty comment and bored, or especially discerning, people can rate them if they feel such a need. A quick scroll through the photographs reveals a tongue-in-cheek, gently funny collection of posts, which seems an entirely harmless amusement to liven up the dreary A-to-B time that is a fact of life for the many travelling across London.

But is it harmless? Imagine the sexes were reversed. A blog which specialised in men taking cameraphone shots of women without their knowledge, posting them online, making objectifying comments, and then allowing anyone to rate the images?

In one way, I suppose, the above already happens across the Internet. Doubtless there are websites which feature just this shtick, and anyway, taking the idea to its extremes, isn’t the most prevalent content on the net pornography, overwhelmingly, of women for men? The objectification (and often, downright denigration) of women for the pleasure and titillation of men is so common throughout society, and online, in so many ways that it is unquantifiable; ingrained into the history of gender relations, and so ubiquitous that people’s very sexual psyche has been irretrievably changed by its presence. Isn’t TubeCrush, which doesn’t go anywhere near that far, merely poking lightly risqué fun at a few, fully-clothed men in entirely innocuous poses, simply turning the tables, in an ever-so-subtle way, on the gender usually known for taking much-worse photos of the form of the fairer sex? Is this just equality, an unashamed appreciation of the physical attributes of the object of our affections?

Tube Crush - for fun?

Is 'TubeCrush' just a bit of harmless fun?

TubeCrush isn’t sleazy, nor is it overtly sexual. Isn’t it positively Victorian for me to suggest that a woman appreciating a man for his sex appeal shouldn’t do so in this way? After all, of course, it almost goes without saying that women can have sexual urges and desires as much as men. Is TubeCrush, with its irreverent tone and simple humour, in fact showing women in a favourable light, in that the women (and it is mainly women, although clearly I’m not ruling out any submissions by gay men, here) who post these photos can appreciate the men in question without resorting to demeaning pornography or X-rated comments, and simply take a quick photo, swoon, smile and be done with it? Isn’t it just a bit of fun, a far less worrying incident compared to everything else going on in the world?

In a way, yes. Although they share a virtual home with hardcore pornography, the simple fact that TubeCrush’s photos are of individuals online doesn’t automatically make them demeaning. The taking of the images without consent is slightly more problematic, but really, the pictures aren’t rude or obviously sexual, and the man in question is in a public place, so clearly happy to be seen as he is by anyone who happens to be around. It’s not exactly ‘upskirt’ shooting, and is a far cry from pornography.

But it is still objectification of men, and it makes me uncomfortable – because I know that if the genders were turned, it would not be OK. The press would not have reported it the way they did, tongue in cheek, happily pointing out that yes, for all those single (or not, whatever) women or men out there, there could be a hot guy on your tube, and for the next few stops, he might provide some inconsequential but edifying fodder for your next sneaky eye-dart sideways. Despite admitting to chuckling at the posts, I cannot help but think that a blog that showed photos of women on public transport, dressed in often-revealing outfits, taken without consent, for the sole purpose of being distributed online so their looks could be discussed, would attract more negative comment than this website seems to have done, and would at the very least be relegated to some hidden pages of a low-brow lads’ mag. In the words of Guardian writer Sunny Hundal, ‘Erm, is it just me or if this site was about women, people would be getting arrested right about now?’

rainbow flag

Is this issue just the same as gay people reclaiming the word 'queer'?

Such a site would, I suspect, rightly, have far heavier overtones of pornography and objectification without consent, which to me looks like the very thin edge of the wedge towards the condoning of the many typically atrocious crimes committed against women by men across history. Is it because the male gender has a history of subjecting and objectifying women that makes this concept so unpalatable if the tables were turned? Women, still so unequal throughout the world, don’t have this terrible history, so can they afford such token digs and jokes at the small expense of the sex which has oppressed them over long centuries and which has only just begun to release the shackles over mere short decades? Is this the same as black people reclaiming the ‘n’ word, gay people’s pride in the word ‘queer’, or women in America marching to redefine the meanings behind the word ‘slut’ (the latter itself a questionable activity)?

I’m afraid that, despite seeing some of the merits in these arguments, and clearly, having to accept some of them, since TubeCrush is demonstrably deemed largely acceptable by many in the mainstream (view its coverage in usually-respected paper The Evening Standard), I fundamentally disagree with the sum of this concept. Imitation may be seen by some as the sincerest form of flattery, but imitating the poorer, baser, aspects of the male sex is not what feminism should stand for. It seems obvious, but bears repeating: equality shouldn’t bring us down to the lowest common denominator; saying that men’s objectification of women is wrong isn’t to suggest that women should do it, and, once they have the right to, feminists’ job is finished.

Granted, it’s a massive step forward. That women are even free enough, and sexually-liberated enough, to indulge in this kind of playful activity regarding men in general, in a society that allows them unparalleled freedom compared to that permitted a comparatively short time ago, and still prohibited in far too many countries elsewhere, is a long-overdue triumph that should not be dismissed. Although people like Nadine Dorries do their best to spread confusingly regressive ideas about women’s sexuality and their responsibility thereof towards apparently passive men (don’t get me started), not to mention the great strides still left to take when it comes to raging injustices such as, to use that shockingly still-relevant example, the low conviction rates of suspected rapists, the majority of women, especially the young London-resident ones submitting photographs to this website, and in comparison to millions around the world, mostly live as they wish, without much hindrance in terms of dress, manner, or sexual preferences. A fantastic achievement that in no small way owes a debt to the women of first, second and third-wave feminism for their forward thinking and refusal to accept second best.

But such objectification, in the image of the type of potentially offensive behaviour that women fought so hard to overturn among men, is a step backwards. Feminism, and equality, shouldn’t be about women subjecting men to the same injustices, however slight, as those suffered by women. Equality should be about equal respect, the appreciation of either gender because of who they are, the personality, intellectual, creative, analytical, hard-working, or otherwise talents, that they bring to the table, not merely because of the way they look. Any woman with any self-confidence or self-respect wouldn’t appreciate being leered at, or plastered over the Internet for anyone to see without their permission, so what makes it OK for men to be subjected, however innocently, to the same thing? It may be a bit of fun, apparently harmless and lightly comical, but from where I’m standing, it also looks suspiciously like a slippery slope.

I’m not suggesting that men and women shouldn’t have sexual desires, shouldn’t appreciate the way the objects of their affection looks, nor am I denying the simple pleasure (and, often, downright rhapsody) that exists in seeing a man (or woman) you find particularly appealing. Equally, I don’t like to think of myself as someone who can’t take a joke, and although it’s unlikely that I’ll never click back on to TubeCrush ever again of a dragging day at work or a casual email-checking session at home, it won’t be without a nagging feeling that, for all the witty comments, and undeniably pleasing array of commuters on show, that this seemingly inoffensive activity is doing a disservice not only to the men unwittingly caught on camera, but also, to the women for whom they are offered up as titillation.

Because, for men and women to appreciate each other in a mutually respectful way, in a society in which far more explicit pictures of both sexes still creep into the sexual mindset of young, and not-so-young, men and women, in a culture that is increasingly uneasy with the blurred boundaries set by the encroachment of the Internet into all recesses of our lives, in a world in which the gender balance is still so institutionally, culturally and socially unequal in so many places, such websites can’t get away with passing themselves off as a simple bit of fun.

A guilty pleasure maybe, for those with the sexual maturity to dismiss it for the harmless joke it is seemingly intended to be, but for others who might be more impressionable, and for the implications to the cultural tone of society as a whole, an uncomfortable nod to the possible acceptance of far worse, and a small step backwards for gender relations, and indeed, social relations as a whole. I’m not even going to attempt to deal with those (shown in Hundal’s article) who suggest that it’s all OK until you’re labelled as unattractive by one of these sites. Please, give me strength.

After all, as a woman (or indeed, as a rational human being), when I get on that soon-to-be-packed Northern line tube carriage tomorrow morning, I fully expect to be able to complete my journey secure in the knowledge that I won’t be unwittingly papped by some other passenger with the expressed plan to put the result online for anyone to see, however apparently ‘flattering’ the intention. Is it so humourless of me to suggest that men should be allowed to think the same?

4 thoughts on “‘Tube Crush’: a harmless bit of fun? Sorry, but I don’t think so

  1. Daren says:

    Firstly, I disagree with your suggestion that the tone of their commentary on the photos is not sexual. A quick flick through it revealed comments about the men’s crotches, for example.

    This is a privacy issue, pure and simple. Why should it be ok for women to take photos of men without their knowledge or permission and publish them online to invite rating and comments? The fact that only a minority of women even stop to wonder if this is wrong, and then only are able to get their heads around the notion it might be wrong by switching the genders makes me wonder if women have ANY empathy for men at all.

    Lastly, I find the range of men on their very revealing about what women find attractive. I commute on the tube daily, and I can tell you that there are a LOT more Indian and asian men travelling than represented on that site. Interesting racist trend there? What else does it show about what women are finding attractive? Well it seems to help if you have the massive arms of a personal trainer, tattoos, and stubble.

    All in all I see it as a depressing development in the direction of erosion of personal privacy, and increasing shallowness and looks-obsession of ‘culture’.

  2. Not All Who Wonder Are Lost says:

    Hi, thanks for your comment. You raised some interesting points – I think the issue of privacy is something that I could have expanded on in my article (although it is already pretty long!). I do agree – basically, the lack of consent from the men being photographed is a major issue.

    To answer your point about empathy: just going from anecdotal experience, I do think that many women think that objectifying men like this is a small way to claw back some kind of independence, a bit of ‘get your own back’ or ‘taste of your own medicine’ on a culture which objectifies women from the front cover of magazines, adverts, TV, etc etc, everywhere you look. Not to mention the numbers of women who suffer overt public harassment from men, which is seemingly acceptable (it’s not, of course, but still happens all the time with a frequency that doesn’t seem to happen to men).

    And with the responsibility for problems such as teenage pregnancy and rape still being blamed, however implicitly, on women, a website such as this, which seems to turn the tables a little bit, seems harmless – some might argue you can’t blame women for lacking in a little empathy when the odds have been stacked so far against them for so long. But, as I say above, two wrongs don’t make a right; imitation of male behaviour by women, in the name of ‘feminism’, isn’t always the best path towards real equality.

    Your racism point is also interesting – it’s true that the selection of men doesn’t appear to be very diverse. And while this might point to a stereotypical sense among women of what is ‘attractive’ (e.g. white, ‘ripped’, etc) I would also say that it IS a user-based website, so I guess the blogger can’t argue with whatever gets sent in. I’d say it’s more likely that the narrow selection of men on there represents the (I’m guessing) narrow ethnic background of the contributors more than a general indictment of what women in general do and don’t find attractive?

    And “All in all I see it as a depressing development in the direction of erosion of personal privacy, and increasing shallowness and looks-obsession of ‘culture’.” I agree with you there!

  3. Daren says:

    I think you are on VERY dodgy ground when you start using some theoretical construct to justify unequal treatment of people. Even if you take this theoretical construct to be a ‘given’ way of looking at the world, I could challenge it with numerous ways in which men are ‘objectified’ and devalued. One of the problems with feminist ideology is it takes ANYTHING as support for its thesis (ie it can never be disproved).

    Back in the ’30s it was taken as a ‘given’ by many intellectuals that there were different racial groups within the white European population, some more intelligent and capable than others. It was then an easy step to say that they should be treated differently under the law. And then this inevitably led down the path to Dachau.

    i.e. once you have an ideology that whips up hatred and the desire for revenge against a certain group you can start to get some nasty things happening. What about the feminist-inspired lawyer or judge that has power over some innocent man but sees it as her ‘right’ to get revenge? What about the feminist school-teacher who thinks its fine for her to take out her hate on the young boys she’s supposed to be looking after? And so on.

    So, I agree with you that feminist ideology is definitely stiring up a desire for revenge and can block women feeling any empathy for ordinary men. I just think its an immoral and dangerous game to play.

    (P.S. its only partially a user-based website: its the web-masters who decide which images to display (as well as the titles, commentary and labels applied to each pic). Who is to say that when they are filtering the images they aren’t applying some racist decisions? Interestingly, one of the labels they apply to categorise the boys on the site is ‘twinks’. I did some research on it, basically its a term used on gay porn websites to describe young lads. The origin is a cream-filled junk-food cake called a ‘twinkie’; ie cream being a euphemism for semen.)

  4. Yiannis says:

    I am sorry it took me so long to find this blog but I am glad I have now and I am even more glad it was written by a woman. I was firstly enraged when I heard about this website and the reasons are numerous (objectification of people – not just men or women, borderline stalking, offensive, lack of privacy, demoralising, double standards). I wrote to a couple of newspapers (including the Evening Standard which portrayed it very lightly) but received no response of course.
    Today I read an article on BBC about a page on facebook which encourages people to post pictures of women eating on the tube and how Transport Police are stepping in to take action! This brought back all the rage. Is it ok then to take pictures of men and comment on their appearance, looks, genitals etc. but not ok to post pictures of women and comment on the food they eat? Is this what equal rights mean?
    I am unable to access tubecrush at the moment since I am at work but do you know if it has been taken down yet or not? If not, I am more determined than ever now to bring it down and the Transport Police and BBC will be the first to hear about it.

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