These Women Are Fighting A Sexist Billboard With Messages Of Inclusivity

Update: Hundreds of people came out to protest the sexist billboard in North Carolina yesterday. Susan Koger, the founder of ModCloth, joined in, and started a fundraiser to purchase a nearby billboard with an inclusive message. (Examples: "Real men are equal partners." "Real men aren't afraid of women.")

The organizers asked attendees to bring bedsheets, on which they painted more inclusive messages to then hang from their porches, roofs, and businesses. The winning slogan will be displayed on the new billboard. Given that 40% of households in Forsyth County, North Carolina, are run by a single parent, it's an important message to send that women "provide" just as much as men do.

And considering the misogyny and hatred being spewed on the organizers' Facebook page toward those who oppose the billboard, we think it's time to "go high" and counter these messages with love and inclusivity.

This story was originally published on February 23, 2017, at 2:10 p.m.

A billboard on the highway between Greensboro and Winston-Salem in North Carolina has stirred up a lively discussion on sexism in the community.

It reads, "Real men provide, real women appreciate it."

Triad City Beat reports that the sign belongs to Whiteheart Outdoor Advertising. President Bill Whiteheart said his company did not sponsor the message.

"The message is a paid message," Whiteheart told Triad City Beat. "We understand very well, I’m sure as you do, the Constitution of the United States, and it is a 'freedom of speech'-type message where the parties that have paid for that advertising are conveying a heartfelt message to the public."

Whiteheart added that the group behind the billboard told him it plans to eventually disclose its identity. He said his company doesn't accept advertising that's in "poor taste," and that this is within the limits.

Local resident Micheal Smith pointed out on Facebook that there is a similar billboard a few miles away with the message that real men don't leave their babies. "I wonder if this is just a poor (very poor) execution of some organization trying to raise awareness for responsible parenting?" she wrote.

Regardless of its intent, the sign has upset many residents in the tri-city area, who perceive its message to be outdated and sexist. A group is planning to protest the billboard this Sunday, February 26, at an as-of-yet undisclosed location.

Molly Grace, the owner of Kleur boutique in Winston-Salem, created a Facebook event for the protest.

"We are not protesting that the sign is capable of existing, or the people who put it up, or the ad agency, or the right to put it up," the event page reads. "We are protesting patriarchy and sexism, and that this antiquated way of thinking about women exists at all. We are protesting the implied demand that women be silent and appreciate, regardless of whatever circumstances, their role as non-providers."

The Facebook page has attracted spirited discussion, both from local residents who feel the billboard is sexist and those who don't mind it.

"Uh, provide what?" wrote Eva Sargent. "I think the dueling billboard would be something like, 'Real men support equality. Real women appreciate it.'"

But others saw the sign as harmless.

Sharon Pratt
argued that it actually speaks to equality: "It lets women who choose to be stay-at-home wives and moms, who have [husbands] they appreciate who work to support them so they CAN stay home and raise their children by choice...who believe women ALREADY have equal rights...but have been shamed and put down by women's rights activists... This billboard [gives] these women validation....why do you oppose it?"

It's great that this billboard has launched a conversation about gender roles in the community. But we agree with the protest organizers: The issue is that a statement on what "real" men and "real" women do invalidates a whole host of groups. This includes the growing number of single mothers who are the sole providers for their families (real women who provide), women who outearn their partners, same-sex couples, and people who identify as transgender. Together, these groups constitute a large part of the U.S. in 2017.

To review: No, there is nothing wrong with a man providing for the family and a woman choosing to stay at home. Yes, there is something wrong with perpetuating stereotypes that paint women as subservient — in fact, it can be viewed as a microaggression.

And while the first amendment grants a company the right to buy any billboard it wants and slap it up over the highway, it also gives people the right to speak out against it.
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