In response to the outcry, a Metro spokesperson explained to DCist:
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.
And for once, the corporate spokesperson’s canned statement actually makes a lot of sense. It seems clear that the intended format for this ad (and presumably the others to follow in the series) is Person 1 says incredibly uninteresting detailed thing about Metro; Person 2 responds as a normal person not fascinated by Metro trivia would, pleading for a change in topic to something fun and frivolous–or at least not Metro trivia.
This perfectly acceptable if not terribly original idea for an ad campaign has been universally panned, the general argument summed up nicely in this line from Refinery29:
It’s beyond infuriating that Metro would green-light an ad that employs the sexist trope of a woman’s love for shoes overtaking her ability to hold an intelligent conversation.
Let’s go back to that ad–has there ever been an intelligent conversation had by anyone anywhere that began with the words “A Metrobus travels about 8,260 miles between breakdowns”? Unless that second woman is a Metro engineer, there’s no reason to expect her to find this factoid particularly interesting.
Yet all of the criticism of the ad begins with the assumption that preferring to discuss fashion, a topic that plenty of men and women find fun and interesting, instead of Metro trivia, a topic that almost no one finds so, is a sign of shallowness and stupidity.
As a friend points out, were this an ad with two men, the second one asking to switch the topic to sports, there would be no controversy. Same if the second woman preferred to talk about something gender neutral like a bar she just discovered or a summer blockbuster.
But the problem here isn’t that the second woman prefers a fun topic to a dull one, nor is it even that she prefers a topic stereotypically associated with women rather than something gender neutral or associated with men.
The problem is that the interests we associate with men–sports, action movies, comic books, etc–are seen for what they are; harmless, frivolous fun that can be indulged without inviting judgment; while those we associate with women–fashion, romantic comedies, personal memoirs–are seen as the preoccupations of people who are vapid and uninteresting.
The posts criticizing this ad have bought into that double standard, treating an interest in shoes as a character flaw, and the association of that interest with women as a grave insult. But they have the causation reversed–women are not belittled by the implication that they have an interest in shoes, romcoms, or anything else. Those things are seen as problematic because they are associated with women.