But it wasn’t so obvious to Williams, as she waited on the Gallery Place platform.
“Domestic violence?” she ventured.
When told the grayish object was a backpack and the ad is supposed to tell people not to wear them on crowded trains, she said it seemed strange to evoke images of violence against women to say that it’s rude to wear backpacks.
The ad, which appears on the Metro webpage spelling out rules of conduct for passengers and also on posters and digital screens at rail stations, is also drawing criticism by anti-domestic violence advocates.
“It comes across as confusing and tone-deaf as to how many women get bruises on their face,” said Dawn Dalton, policy director for the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who hadn’t seen the ads until being contacted by a reporter. “It makes it appear like the only place where a woman gets bruises is from riding the Metro, but the reality is far more serious."
She said a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 35% of D.C. women have been the victim of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
And, she said, the ad “only gets worse” by seeming to equate domestic violence with bad manners, as if beating your partner is only a faux pas.
Williams echoed Dalton’s concern. “I don’t think many women get bruises from backpacks,” she said.
Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta said in an email, “The Metro Manners campaign includes messages that riders told us were important to them.” He declined to address concerns about the use of imagery reminiscent of domestic violence.
Still, the message is at best confusing, said several women interviewed recently.
“Domestic violence?” a puzzled-looking Samantha Welch said after she was shown the ad on the platform at Columbia Heights.
“I don’t think I get that message,” she said, when told it was about backpacks.
The ad has also drawn criticism on Twitter.
“This is so offensive. Is this an active @wmata ad?” said a woman who goes by @WeinDC.
“So, using violence against women is now an advertising tool?” she said when told that it was.
The ad is one of several appearing in Metro stations as part of a campaign promoting its rules for conduct.
One shows newspapers left on a seat with the message “WHY IS THE TRAIN SO MESSY?”
In another, a woman is woman-spreading, with a purse and stretched-out legs taking up the seat next to her.
But the messages of those other ads were clearer, Williams said.
She did have one criticism, though.
“Well, it’s usually men who are man-spreading.”