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.


Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.