Metro D.C. Transit Takes Sexist Turn With Ridiculous Ad

The offending Metro ad. Photo: Lucy Westcott via TwitterDoesn't it seem that women can’t ever stop blabbing annoyingly about shoes? Yeah, well, the folks behind a new marketing campaign for Washington, D.C.’s Metro system totally agree, and have predicated one of their poster designs on the idea just to prove it.  

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The ad features a photo of two women conversing. One notes, “A Metrobus travels about 8,260 miles between breakdowns. Didn’t know that, did you?” The other’s response is, “Can’t we just talk about shoes?”

Student journalist Lucy Westcott, of the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service, first spotted the poster on Tuesday, in the Metro Center station. She tweeted a photo of it, noting, “Nice bit of early morning sexism on the DC Metro. Oh my god, shoes.” The dcist blog picked up news of the ad, calling it a “horrifying but not at all shocking bit of casual sexism.”

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Shaunna Thomas, cofounder of the city’s antisexism group UltraViolet, quickly weighed in, telling the Daily Caller, “These new ads by Metro Forward are not edgy, they are sexist, stupid and offensive. The PR failure shows just how little Metro Forward thinks of its everyday passenger, and highlights how out of touch the system is with the DC-area residents that they serve.”

According to Metro’s website, the tone-deaf ad is part of the transit system’s new Metro Forward campaign, which touts $5 billion of improvements through a series of 4,000 posters displayed throughout its subways, buses and transit stations.

Metro did not return a call requesting comment from Yahoo Shine but released a statement to other news outlets: “The point is to get people talking about Metro's massive rebuilding effort by juxtaposing technical facts with a variety of light responses and conversation between friends. Some of the ads contain men, some contain women.” A similar ad, for example, contains men, with one saying, “Can’t we just talk about sports?”

That doesn’t make up for the offensive women’s version, though, according to author and media expert Jean Kilbourne, whose educational film “Killing Us Softly” was a pioneering work regarding sexism in advertising. “It’s not the same, because there isn’t the stereotype of men not being into facts and figures,” she tells Yahoo Shine. The one featuring women, however, is “Sexism 101,” she says, because it’s “the typical stereotype of women being into clothes and fashion and that’s all, and not understanding science or technology or facts and figures.”

Tweets on the matter, predictably, have been split between the horrified and can’t-you-take-a-joke camps. Those offended have noted that the ad is a “giant step backward,” “really lazy” and “incredibly sexist.” Bloggers have also been critical, with the Gloss calling it “a stunted throwback to the era of the blatantly infuriating sexist world that Don Draper and his cohorts inhabited.” The Cut notes, “To be fair to all humans everywhere, talking about bus mileage is not exactly compelling. To be fair to women, women never say ‘Can we just talk about shoes?’” A local WJLA reporter spoke to a handful of local commuters, all of whom found the ad offensive.

Others have had fun with the situation, creating amusing parodies of the ad: replacing the shoe-obsessed women with the face of Metro’s general manager, adding pink ribbons and a tiara to the women’s heads, and changing the conversation to one revolving around which shoes are best for when the transit system breaks down. But one Twitter user complained that people are “so damn sensitive.”

It’s worth holding Metro accountable for the ad though, Kilbourne says. “It’s part of a much bigger picture and becomes part of a whole cultural climate, with a cumulative impact that does women harm,” she explains. “Yes, it’s an ironic commentary. But of course people always say that when they’re trying to get away with something.”

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