Under His (or Her) Eye


Upskirting has been in the news recently, with the House of Commons making it an offence to record images beneath someone’s clothing. Quite rightly, it’s an action that has been condemned for being invasive. But what about all the other invasions of privacy that seem to go unchallenged?

Sitting in a café last weekend, there was a man sitting at the table in front of me, happily chatting away. What’s the issue here? His phone was raised to head-height, which meant that the person on the other end was not only getting a good view of the person he was speaking to, but also the background behind him. Which meant that some stranger was getting a good view of me. This made me feel uncomfortable and I didn’t feel that I could challenge him on it. I mean, who cares, right? Well, I did. But there didn’t feel that there was anything I could do without looking like some sort of paranoid weirdo, so I just drank my coffee and scuttled off.

Later, when I got home I started to think about it. How many times have I unknowingly featured on someone else’s screen? There are whole feeds on the internet filled with embarrassing photos of people going about their everyday lives, completely oblivious to the fact that strangers are commenting on their actions on the internet. As a society, sometimes it feels like we’re under constant surveillance and have to be on our best behaviour at all times, just in case a stranger feels we’re doing something they could get a few hits on social media for posting about.

In 2014, there was a piece in the Independent where journalist Sophie Wilkinson exposed the sinister world of shaming strangers on social media and the terrifying existence of Facebook groups such as ‘Women Who Eat on Tubes’, which is still going four years later, with nearly 40,000 members. Let’s take a second to think about this. That’s 40,000 people taking photographs of unsuspecting women in ONE CITY. A quick google search brings up opinion pieces on this story, which means it’s not going wholly under the radar, but the real fun begins when you scroll to the messageboards, where most of the comments (usually from men) don’t really see what the fuss is about.

Wilkinson wrote an article for Grazia Daily about the whole experience, describing how “Facebook kindly removed both images, but soon, another member drew a cartoon version of the photo, and another called on every other member to follow me about so that I could be photographed whenever I ate. My Twitter @ column was aglow with potatoey men and their allies telling me things so revolting I had to surrender my Twitter account to a friend so he could block all those calling me a cunt, a dyke, and worse.”

This is absolutely shocking, especially the call to stalk a female journalist to photograph her eating simply because she called men out on their behaviour. When did it become acceptable to feel entitled to invade others’ private lives?

It’s also alarming in its sexist undertones, given the BBC’s latest piece on how women applying makeup on public transport is commuters’ pet peeve. Some of the comments are warranted – I mean, cutting your toenails in public is so obviously unhygienic, but the vitriol levelled at some of these women is astonishing. I don’t really wear much makeup and my commute is miniscule so I’ve never felt the need to do this, but there were women on the metro applying their makeup when I lived in Madrid. Apart from them barging past me to grab a vacant seat so they could start their toilette, it never bothered me. It certainly didn’t bother me as much as the ‘manspreading’ most male commuters were guilty of, forcing me to squirm uncomfortably in my seat to avoid skin contact with strangers.

Let’s hope the House of Lords passes the legislation without delay. But let’s also have the courage to call out those privacy invaders who think our daily lives are fodder for their social media accounts. Take a moment to sign Level Up’s petition to force facebook to take this page down. Together, we can reclaim our commutes.


Published by nicolaheaney

I'm a poet based in Bristol via Derry, St Andrews and Madrid. When I'm not writing or performing my own poetry, I'm reading or trotting about with my camera. There is sometimes drink taken.

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Wood Bee Poet

Poems, thoughts...etc.

The Pledge

Fired! Irish Women Poets and the Canon

Nicola Heaney

Writer & Poet


'She would say to discover / the true depth of a well, / drop a stone, / start counting.' - Andrew Greig

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