There's an absurd D.C. Metro ad in the Metro Center station, which depicts a well-dressed and presumably intelligent D.C. woman wanting to talk about shoes instead of the city's public transportation. This can't be a more unfair depiction of D.C. women, because, in addition to being sexist, if you ever looked at the Jerry Seinfeld sneaker and skirt suit uniform many D.C. women wear, it's clear shoes are the last thing on their minds.
The ad in question shows one woman who can't be bothered to talk about Washington's very efficient metro system:
Some see the ad as offensive. After all, it perpetuates the idea that women don't want to talk about serious, "smart" things like infrastructure and public transportation. It also incorrectly presumes that women are only capable of shallow conversations that revolve around footwear. (A Washington Metro spokesman told DCist that the "point of the ad is to get people talking about Metro's massive rebuilding effort by juxtaposing technical facts with a variety of light responses in conversation between friends.")
But there's something that's as equally offensive as the sexism on display. At the heart of it, it's an organization that is so out of touch with the people its meant to serve. A conversation like this between two women would never happen in D.C., because D.C. women have exhibited a historic disregard of the rules of fashion and footwear decorum.
In many other metropolitan cities there exists a fundamental rule (which applies to both sexes) that you cannot pair cross-trainers with suits. And there's no major metropolitan city in America that ignores this rule as much as our nation's capital. There is photographic evidence:
This is a young woman wearing sneakers with a respectable dress. Young people are supposed to care about fashion more than any other people other around. She is defying human nature because she lives in D.C. where wearing sneakers with a formal top is acceptable. And it's also because she's running a Supreme Court decision back to her news agency. Here's another poor unfortunate soul:
One more (this one is even drawing applause despite her footwear):
Female news interns wearing sneakers has become so ubiquitous that BuzzFeed even started a meme:
You might think it's only interns in a high-pressure news environment. But interns are usually young impressionable folk. They learn these habits from their elders who often don the Seinfeld sneakers after a long day at work. Here's an older woman wearing sneakers with an otherwise respectable outfit:
And this phenomenon has been documented extensively too. Clinton Kelly, respected host of The Chew and What Not To Wear, talked to The Washington Post in March about the problem. He said:
I am a big fan of the commuter shoe, it just shouldn’t be a cross-trainer. People don’t even wear those for step class anymore. People don’t even go to step class anymore.
There are so many comfortable shoes out there for women. You could commute in a short wedge, or a short stacked heel or a great flat shoe.
In other words, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority isn't just putting a sexist message out there. It's also showing that it doesn't seem to care about the customers it serves.
I will admit that if you want to give WMATA the benefit of the doubt, you could read the ad as prescriptive too. Perhaps they want to send the message to D.C. women to up their commuter shoe game. But, that's unfair too, especially when you have male offenders roaming around unchecked:
Photos via Associated Press and BuzzFeed.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.