50-feet Tall on the I-75: Talking Back to Billboards

I am a feminist living in the buckle of the Bible Belt (in Georgia) and one of the things that drives me crazy about this place is the billboards.

Yesterday I was driving downtown and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the latest billboard: a great big red sign (presumably red for blood) with white letters (presumably white for god) that said, “Choice (Abortion) is the #1 cause of death in the United States.*” And underneath: “*Source: Guttmacher Institute.”

What? Not that anyone around here would know, but the Guttmacher Institute is pro-choice. I had to go to the website at the bottom of the billboard to find out the sponsor, which was (no surprise here) the local Catholic church. The website was chock full of diatribes against the “pervasive Culture of Death”–and they are not talking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the hundreds of women murdered each year in this country by the men in their lives.

I had not yet even recovered from the horrendous “black genocide” billboard campaign in Atlanta before coming upon this.

And then there’s the stretch on Interstate I-75 south of Atlanta where billboards alternate between 1) images of enormous fetuses overlaid with condemnations of abortion and 2) images of enormous breasts advertising strip clubs and massage parlors. It’s bizarre. A few years back in my town, the local fundamentalist Baptist church, in order to be hip and draw in young people, sponsored a “Pimp My Ride” contest advertised on billboards all over town. Baptists glorifying pimp culture? I thought I was in the Twilight Zone. But on the other hand, aren’t religious fundamentalism and the sexual exploitation of women really just two sides of the same coin?

And then there are the crisis pregnancy center billboards that always have images of very sexualized young women of color gazing wistfully into the distance, or looking down ashamedly, with the text, “Pregnant? We Can Help.” Yeah, right. They can lie to you, give you false medical information and tell you you’re going to hell if you don’t do exactly what they want you to do.

And don’t even get me going about those billboards with quotations signed by “God.”

So I started to ruminate about what billboard I would put up if I had an extra $1,750 to spend. (Yes, I did look up how much it would cost, and even emailed my friends to see if I could raise the money. I’ve come up with a couple hundred bucks so far).

Here’s what I arrived at (remember I live in a heavily anti-government tea-partying kind of place, so I’m trying to appeal to the people):

Do you want the government making your intimate medical decisions?
Women die when abortion is illegal.
Trust Women. Support Choice.

So tell me, what are the offensive billboards in your life and how would you respond if you had the money to rent the board?

Photo: Billboard image from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rome, GA.

Comments

  1. Re. the billboards signed from "God" (I hate those too!) How about:

    Hey guys,
    Quit putting words in my mouth.
    -God

  2. Enchantress says:

    I like your ideas, and your billboard message is wonderful. As a person who works at a clinic that provides comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortions, I encounter anti-choice rhetoric and protesters on a daily basis. While I am all for free speech and the right to PEACEABLY assemble, many anti-choice protesters/campaigns present false information that is purposely misleading and meant only to incite fear and hatred. One sign frequently in front of our clinic boldly proclaims “abortion causes breast cancer!”, and it never ceases to amaze me.

  3. Why AREN'T there more billboards challenging such ridiculousness? Missouri (where I grew up) has lots of these kinds of billboards. I think one of the more ridiculous ones was in St. Louis, with a picture of a fetus that said, "Stop The War On Me!". I think an American flag may have been behind or beside the fetus or something. There are billboards proclaiming God's wrath towards what amounts to people who support safe health care for women, and billboards that proclaim abortion causes cancer (which, I believe, The American Cancer Society has repeatedly told The Catholic Church it does not. Of course, science and logic generally is ignored by The Church, especially when it comes to misogyny). I've seen billboards stating aborition causes depression, and numerous ridiculous, short-sighted, misleading pseudo-quotes from God. There are various fake pregnancy centers in the Midwest, which lie and knowingly mislead in the name of "helping" or "protecting" women from themselves.

  4. One facet of the abortion issue I feel is nearly always left out is the entire basis of Roe V. Wade: privacy. It isn't about religion, especially as not all religions agree on the issue: it is about privacy. We need to remind America of this, and stand firm. How about a billboard with a woman that says, "No one but her can, should, or will control her reproduction," or "Smart enough to make her own decisions". As opponents are often at least slightly anti-government, how about "Keep government from restricting our medical rights. Keep government from taking our right to privacy."

  5. You could always go the scientific data or medical route, citing how the medical community overwhelmingly believes abortion needs to stay legal. You could cite that women die when abortion is illegal, that illegal abortion does not stop women from obtaining them, that contraception and sex education decrease abortion rates, that the quality of life and well being of women increases when they have control over their reproduction, and of course "The majority of abortion oppenents are men. 100% will never be pregnant."
    As far as the quotes from God go, I've always thought it would be fitting to rent a billboard right next to it, come up with a smart retort, and quote it from "Goddess".I agree, there needs to be calling of the BS of ridiculous anti-abortion folks…why isn't this done??

  6. M. Howard says:

    There were several in Charlotte a couple of years back that I saw a few times when driving through. I can't remember the exact wording, but they were all addressed "Dear Church Trailer Thief" and either listed what was stolen or chastised the thief for stealing from a church. If I could have, I'd have had billboards put up that said "Dear Hypocritical Church, act like Christians, turn the other cheek, and use your billboard money for charity." Not as grand on a social scale as your pro-choice billboard idea, but satisfying to the part of me that seethed every time I had to drive through Charlotte while those billboards were up.

  7. Recall I'm from the same anti-government, tea-partying kind of place that you are! lol. Right-wing Southerners these days seem to be lingeringly patriotic and "freedom"-obsessed. So my billboard would read something like, "Choice: What gives us *freedom*, what makes us *American*. Defend the right to choose safe, confidential abortion as a responsible option to pregnancy."
    As for why there aren't billboards with retorts on them, I think most people are still pro-choice and will remain that way. The offensive pro-life stuff is merely the desperate bleating of the religious-right minority (I've heard them called "sheeple"). I suppose the thought is, Why give credit to these cries by posing a response? It's certainly annoying, though — especially when as the Southern feminists we often feel that *we* are the minority *here*, if not in the US overall. We'd still like to make a difference where we are here and now.

  8. I think the target audience for the pro-life billboards varies between the diminutive young woman who is now pregnant (and supposedly "confused"), and the morally-sensitive (ie. religious) general public. This would also be a consideration if a retort billboard were to be erected.

  9. I used to live in GA and I am all to familiar with the hostile misogynist billboards creeping into our public spaces. I remember on 75S to Macon there being tons of billboards that advertised "truck stops and spas" and had images of overly sexualized asian women on them. It's gross. I once saw a church sign in rural GA that said "Git her done for Jesus." I guess this was an attempt to relate to the kind of people who find Larry the Cable guy funny…I called the church and told them I found it offensive because of it's connotations of sexual violence and they actually apologized and took it down!

    Rather than pay for my own billboard, if the billboards weren't so high, I would love to take a spray paint can and write my own counter message on the billboard! Actually, a lot of people do this with advertising on buses, or posters, or American Apparel store posters, and write "this is offensive to women" in big black letters! I think it's great! Some people take pictures of these acts of protest and post them on feminist blogs.

  10. Melissa C says:

    I saw the "Choice is the #1 cause of death" billboard and also another one from the same church that says something to the effect of "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…" There are many going up I-24 in TN that have pictures of infants and have different messages like "7 months BEFORE I was born I had fingerprints." As Carrie mentioned, this is alternated with billboards for strip clubs and "spas" as well as billboards for pregnancy counseling services (that I suspect are there not to counsel women about all their options but just to make sure they don't have an abortion!). I spend the whole ride up the interstate being offended by one extreme or the other! I can't think of one billboard that I've seen along the interstate that I really felt was empowering to women. Where are these anti-choice groups getting all this money for billboards?! I do wish we had more billboards that were empowering to women and that challenged such outrageous claims. We need a voice on I-75! There are plenty of great pro-choice and pro-woman ad campaigns from groups like Catholics for Choice or Planned Parenthood, they just need to be heard/seen. Especially down here in the Bible Belt.

    • Tracy ODonnell says:

      Recently I read that the anti-abortionist terrorists have been posting the colored photos, addresses and names of doctors who perform abortions.

      I would like to know how they hired and supported their last “hitman” who killed the most recent doctor on their list.

      The guy claimed he did it for the preborn (is that the term they use now?)

      BULL. That guy stalked that doctor like the doctor was an animal and then blew the doctors head off in front of his family.

      He’s a stone-cold hired hitman.

      And how come this country is not investigating these homeland terrorists?

  11. Part 1
    I am against ANYTHING motivated by guilt or fear!

    My husband and I always find it interesting (and we are still seeking to understand) how a *group* of people who say they are so *in favor of and campaigning for* "less govt interference into private lives and business" as well as "exclusion of anyone who thinks, acts, speaks, looks, craps, worships, eats, sings, etc different than them" from getting any govt aid…………can propose that a freedom/liberty/right issue be part of a door that only swings ONE WAY (their way).

    They form protest events and make gigantic noise publically and even waste taxpayer's $ by passing state laws so that they canvisibly carry their Glock on their hip into church, airports, and public parks because "they're PROTECTED by the 2nd Amendment" but yet they refuse to publically recognize the amendment that protects a women's privacy and right to be responsible to/for her own body.
    We are also amazed at some of the people who run with these kinds of crowds publically but whose personal stories and thoughts are drastically different when shared in private.

    See Part 2

  12. Part 2

    I look forward to a day when we are part of a world that will hold all people whole and complete, respecting their rights and encouraging their responsibilities to be fully educated and protective of their choices and actions and how it relates to the human race and planet earth as a whole.

    More than that – - – I look forward to a day when Christians will be recognized by their "love" (as defined in I Corintians:13) and not by their political party or what side of the 'choice' line the stand upon.

  13. Tracy ODonnell says:

    I have just read of several members of congress and even the President being threatened by the anti-abortion terrorists. They are now using "religious beliefs" as a way to try to keep the National Health care act and other funds to block abortions.

    This has nothing to do with "religious" freedom—they are able to choose or not. They are using THEIR beliefs to try to control other persons.

    By the way, who the hell do they think they are….why should they think THEIR religion or beliefs are any better than others?

    That is why the Founding Fathers ensured the separation of church and state. There is nothing more important to one's freedom than the decision to be able to use one's body as one seems fit.

  14. I had mentioned previously that we were praying owing a uncommonly curious intention. God Blessed us answering our request and granted us immeasurably more than we were praying for. These days I caress a deep quick-wittedness of gratitude and timidity realizing that Demiurge in the final analysis did intervene and the outcome was more than expected.

    http://www.smoph.com/images/1/boys-teen-naturist…. boys teen naturist

    Irrevocably, brothers, whatever is sincere, whatever is high-born, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is fetching, whatever is a-—if anything is notable or creditable—ponder forth such things.

  15. Carrie- since we are a Rome clinic we felt obligated to reply to the billboards. I wish we could help financially! But this morning one of our volunteers and I came up with business cards at least that we could hand out. They read " Worried that you may be pregnant? Get a FREE pregnancy test from a REAL medical clinic" Women of W.O.R.T.H., Inc. (706) 232-3408. We ordered 500 cards to pass out in the Rome area!

  16. I've always loved the old bumper sticker "Six billion miracles is enough." Though in really congested metro areas, it might be funny to see a planned parenthood sign that said "If more people practiced birth control, you'd be home by now."

  17. As much as some of the old billboards from God did annoy me, I really did like the one that said: "Don't make me come down there." Maybe the new one could say "Quit acting like a bunch of brats. Play nice, or take your toys and go home."

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