Art and protest converge in response to Triad billboard

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Dozens of people showed up to Winston-Salem’s Merschel Plaza to take part in a response to a new message on a Triad billboard.

The billboard, paid for anonymously and located on westbound Business 40 at the Linville Road exit outside of Winston-Salem, reads, “Real men provide, real women appreciate it.”

Those who have taken offense to the message, including the protest’s organizers, say it promotes patriarchy and misogyny, as well as excludes those outside of the gender binary.

Alexx Andersen, one of the speakers at the Merschel Plaza event, emphasized that the billboard’s message silences the voices of the marginalized.

“The billboard erases gender non-binding folks,” Andersen said. “Instead of degrading women and lifting up men, we should be pushing for equity for all people, regardless of gender.”

One family showed up at the event to show support for the billboard.

Dana Pavlick, her husband and six children came to the event with a sign suggesting that the intersection of feminism and the mainstream media leads to fake morality, outrage, protest and news, as well as a real fear of the complementarity of sexes and of social responsibility.

“Patriarchy is nothing to be ashamed of,” Pavlick said.

When others challenged her understanding of gender, Pavlick responded, “There is no transgender. There are only men and women.

“There are implications to being cool,” she continued. “Like, I get it; this is really trendy, this is really where the money is.”

When confronted again, she elaborated: “You’ve got six corporations who run 90 percent of the media, pushing this stuff. Think about it: It’s in their interest to have you dumb and stupid and paying. Don’t let them get away with it. You know, you say, ‘Oh, I want to be enlightened. I want to open my mind.’ Well then open it to the truth, and not to what “Saturday Night Live” says.”

Unlike Pavlick, the vast majority of the people at the event were offended by the billboard.

Molly Grace, one of the event’s lead organizers, said she wasn’t surprised when she first saw the billboard.

“I was frustrated, immediately, that it was there, but not surprised at all,” she said. “To those of us who are awake and understand these things as issues that do exist and permeate our society, it’s never surprising when you see evidence of it. It’s disappointing and it’s frustrating, but it’s never surprising.”

Grace stressed the importance of continuous work for progress and not letting frustration get in the way.

“If you know something’s not right, don’t stop talking about it to the people who agree with you and to the people who don’t,” she said.

In order to work together as a community and collectively voice their disapproval, organizers had decided to have participants create “billboards” of their own.

A Facebook post of the event’s official details states, “We will be painting alternative slogans on bedsheets that will be spread across the plaza, creating a vast collection of new ‘billboards.’”

Participants brought single-color bedsheets and worked together individually or in groups, creating their own slogans in response to the message on the Business 40 billboard. The event’s organizers provided paint, brushes and other materials.

Grace said the idea for the new slogans and the bedsheets was sort of an organic one.

“It seemed like there were natural reactions to post other slogans,” Grace said, referring to activity on social media sites. “We wanted to create something where we could, without a lot of money, make something that looks like a billboard.”

Throughout Merschel Plaza, individuals, groups of people and families with young kids used rocks and other heavy objects to weigh down the corners of their sheets, then began painting their new slogans.

Two Winston-Salem residents, Danielle, a cake decorator, and Janelle, who works as an art gallery manager in Greensboro, began their creation the night before in order to ensure its clarity and message. The two declined to give their last names.

“For a response to have impact, it has to have a visual impact,” Janelle stressed.

As a cake decorator, Danielle was familiar with the process: “We use art to create something people are celebrating,” she said, hoping their sign would have a similar, celebratory effect. “We chose these colors and fonts for that purpose.”

Ultimately, the Facebook event said, participants would vote on the slogan “that best embodies our cause for human equality and mutual role-sharing and appreciation.”

Organizers have raised money for the winning slogan to be put on a new billboard on Business 40, while the other bedsheet signs will be hung outside businesses and homes around Winston-Salem.

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  • JoseAmerica

    I’m torn between the acceptance that people are going to react to things that are meaningful to them and it’s not my place to tell people what to protest, and the idea that it’s just a dumb billboard that doesn’t make a lot of sense and that even people who are inclined to support it probably can’t figure out what it means.