By Tom Allon
Dear Gov. Cuomo,
Like you, we are the parents of three daughters. Walking the streets of New York, they tell us they are catcalled, leered at and objectified. Last year, one of them was groped by a stranger on the street. In high school and college, they are highly likely to experience unwanted sexual advances.
But the last place we imagined our daughters would be objectified would be while riding the New York City subway to school. There are three ads currently on display from Doctor’s Plastic Surgery—one more offensive than the other.
In one of these ads, a young woman making a sad face holds two oranges in front of her breasts. Next to her stands the same woman, but this time she is beaming ear to ear. Why? She is now holding two grapefruits in front of her breasts; she is the happy recipient of breast augmentation surgery by the crass medical group that paid for this public ad seen by millions of subway riders.
Would you and the MTA allow an ad with a young man making a sad face while holding a pickle in front of his penis next to the same man making a happy face while holding a large banana there?
We think not.
I doubt we are the only parents in New York whose blood boils every time we’re standing in a cramped subway car in front of sexist “breast augmentation” ads. Most men in New York either have daughters or nieces or sisters or wives or girlfriends whose daily commute is subject to this body-shaming image.
Gov. Cuomo, we know this situation has upset you in the past. In April 2014, your former aide, Howard Glazer, sent a pointed note to MTA Chairman Tom Prendergrast on your behalf objecting to a similar ad. “Made in New York” (which was emblazoned across a woman’s oversized breasts) was another augmentation ad that featured oversized cleavage as a desirable outcome.
Your aide’s letter to the MTA read: “In response to a query from our office, the MTA advised that such ads fall within the MTA’s written standards for advertising. With all due respect, we suggest those standards need to be revisited… Tens of thousands of children ride the subway every day to get to school… The public has a right to expect that the MTA will strive for a family-friendly environment.”
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said then that the agency would look into the governor’s request.
“The MTA understands the concerns that Gov. Cuomo and others have raised about this advertisement and about maintaining a family-friendly environment on our trains and buses. We will revisit our standards and our process for reviewing them.”
That was almost two years ago.
When we recently wrote to the MTA to complain about the offensive “breast augmentation” ads, an MTA employee wrote back that “because of the First Amendment” the state agency cannot make guidelines to reject ads that are offensive or demeaning unless it would “imminently incite or provoke violence.”
Gov. Cuomo, you have the power to change this clearly mistaken MTA policy.
If an ad demeaning to men was posted in New York City subway or bus, we have no doubt that it would wisely be rejected by the MTA.
Why are ads demeaning to women any different?
Your instinct two years ago, when you had one of your aides question this sexist ad campaign, was absolutely correct. We are not sure why you backed down so quickly.
We know that in 2014 you were busy running for re-election and starting the Women’s Equality Party, which delivered more than 50,000 votes in your victorious campaign.
Now it is time to stay true to your beliefs and do the right thing. Tear down those sexist ads on the subway.
We know you can do it, Governor. If nothing else, do it for your daughters. And ours.
Tom Allon and