I read something interesting online a while ago, but I can’t remember the source material.  The gist of the story was that the pre-recorded automated announcements you hear in train stations — and other public transit hubs and modes — are purposefully driven by subconscious sexual stereotypes.  The female voices you hear provide “information” about the current stop and next stop, while the pre-recorded male voices give you warnings and orders like, “Get out of the way!”

Now, whenever I take mass transit, I am certain to listen for that subliminal sexual discrimination and I hear it every day on the NJ/NY PATH trains.

A recorded female voice always announces the name of the current stop and the next stop coming up, while the male voice always orders us to “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors!”

I wonder what it means that PATH thinks we’re preprogrammed to want women to provide comfort and information, while males are meant to warn us and order us around the train?  Are the NJ PATH going all Oedipal on us?

The self-blinding of the mythical criminal, Oedipus, was simply a mitigated form of the punishment of castration — the only punishment that was adequate for him by the lex talionis. We may try on rationalistic grounds to deny that fears about the eye are derived from the fear of castration, and may argue that it is very natural that so precious an organ as the eye should be guarded by a proportionate dread. Indeed, we might go further and say that the fear of castration itself contains no other significance and no deeper secret than a justifiable dread of this rational kind.

But this view does not account adequately for the substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ which is seen to exist in dreams and myths and phantasies; nor can it dispel the impression that the threat of being castrated in especial excites a peculiarly violent and obscure emotion, and that this emotion is what first gives the idea of losing other organs its intense colouring. All further doubts are removed when we learn the details of their ‘castration complex’ from the analysis of neurotic patients, and realize its immense importance in their mental life.

Please let us know in the comments if you have noticed a similar subliminal sexual discrimination in your daily public transit commute.  Do the recorded male voices push you around while the female voices tease you with information?  Are you bothered by the clear and obvious division of these informational tasks by gender?

12 Comments

  1. Here are some messages I have heard on the F train.

    Female : This is a Manhattan bound F train. The next station stop is Roosevelt Island.”

    Male : No matter how crowded the train, unwanted contact is never okay. (Paraphrased)

    Male : If there is an elderly, pregnant, or handicapped person on the train, offer them your seat. Stand up for what’s right. Courtesy is contagious and it starts with you.

    It has never bothered me before but I have never thought of it that way!

      1. Hardly. It’s gender trait identification but not discrimination. A pleasant female voice is proven to lower stress and draw attention and a stern male voice to draw a different form of attention and increase the likelihood of compliance.

        Also, the deeper tones of the male voice carry better in crowd situations and that is more important in warning messages.

          1. There’s no bias inherent in identifying basic physical traits and how people instinctively – or possibly culturally – respond to them.

            Accepting differences isn’t the same thing as discrimination unless it also contains an overall value judgement on the people involved.

          2. I think you’re skipping on dangerous ground, jonolan. Using your argument:

            There’s no bias inherent in identifying basic physical traits and how people instinctively – or possibly culturally – respond to them.

            Sounds an awfully lot like an argument that favors the bad old Jim Crow days:

            Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that whites were the Chosen people, blacks were cursed to be servants, and God supported racial segregation. Craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, and Social Darwinists, at every educational level, buttressed the belief that blacks were innately intellectually and culturally inferior to whites. Pro-segregation politicians gave eloquent speeches on the great danger of integration: the mongrelization of the white race.

            http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/what.htm

          3. I don’t see the parallel since Jim Crow laws included a quite explicit overall value judgement upon the individuals in question.

            Although, on a sad side note, the science of today indicates, though it doesn’t prove, that there is, and so presumably was, some basis for those earlier scientists’ conclusions though the causes cited in the old days were wrong and the results exaggerated.

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