10.27.15 - Letter to MTA and Outfront Media


To Outfront Media, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City:

Your decisions on how female bodies are used to sell products to MTA passengers are glaringly contradictory, and oppressive to women. And now with the news about the THINX ad campaign, you cannot hide the hypocrisy.  Your reactions to THINX’s new ads demonstrate the flagrant double-standard you use when determining which ads are “appropriate” in the New York City subway.

We understand that the THINX campaign is still under review. However, statements made by an Outfront representative in an email to THINX (documented in this Mic article) included the following: Outfront “believes that the proposed ads ‘seem to have a bit too much skin,’ adding that the egg and grapefruit imagery, ‘regardless of context, seems inappropriate.’” Earlier, an Outfront representative “was concerned that children would see the word ‘period’ in the ads and ask their parents what it meant.”

Why do notoriously sexist ads for Protein World and Doctors Plastic Surgery (among many, many others) pass your test for “appropriate” media to be seen by your millions of daily riders, while THINX ads for leak-proof menstruation underwear do not?

Bikini-clad “beach body” women are not showing too much skin? Grapefruit imagery symbolizing breasts with implants is not inappropriate? Children asking about alcohol, condoms, synthetic breasts, unattainable body types, cinematic violence and any other image seen on hundreds of MTA ads is acceptable, but asking about menstruation is not?

Here’s the answer: Large breasts on thin, sexually available women are sexy to men, and menstruation is not. Men can enjoy looking at advertisements of “beach body” women and photos of doctored breasts while maintaining their feelings of superiority by believing – as the ads tell them ¬– that women are spending their time and money trying to please men. 

Moreover, as Redstockings points out, these kinds of sexist ads outright encourage men to harass women by making it appear that we invite and enjoy unsolicited comments from men about our bodies or appearance.  Seeing advertisements of sexualized women gives men a false feeling of superiority over women, and amplifies men's belief that they are entitled to harass us – on the train, on the street, at work, at home, everywhere.  If the MTA is serious about addressing “improper sexual conduct,” as they call it, they would consider the implications of the advertisements they choose to display.

The supposed “obscenity” in the THINX ads is not because of the grapefruit imagery, nor the pantlessness of the models. If it were, Doctors Plastic Surgery and Protein World ads would never plaster subway walls. Rather, THINX ads are “obscene” because they promote a product for women’s menstruation – which has nothing to do with men, and is a biological reproductive process that men don't control, although men are always trying to dictate whether a woman becomes pregnant or has children.  But you can’t talk about periods on the subway.

And the THINX ads, in blunt comparison to the barrage of other MTA-approved ads, do not benefit men. Instead, THINX ads address women.

Outfront Media and the MTA continuously choose ads that objectify women’s bodies and oppress us in the pursuit of profit: the profit of corporations, and the profit of men. We are on to you, and we have had enough.