It was the billboard that launched 15,000 pageviews.

That’s how many looks our story about the patriarchal billboard on Business 40 received at as of Monday evening, since intern Joel Sronce broke the story on Feb. 21. Pictures of the punctuation-challenged slogan — “Real men provide Real women appreciate it” — made it on the TV news as far away as Los Angeles and found outrage at the Huffington Post and several Reddit threads. A group in downtown Winston-Salem protested the billboards with a local campaign and fundraising effort for a billboard of their own.

And this weekend the offending piece of copy came down, to be replaced with a new one that bears a more snarky and verbose response:

“Much Ado About Nothing A social experiment that brought forth those so immersed in their own insecurity that in the mirror they could only see an angry victim of their incorrect interpretation of a silly billboard — Bless their hearts”

The person or group behind the billboard has chosen to remain in anonymity, but it’s safe to assume that none of them are English teachers.

And none of them, it seems, are students of history.

The notion itself is a gender-loaded value statement: The role of a man is to provide and the role of his woman is to simply sit back and appreciate it. It ignores the thousands of women who provide, the thousands of men who appreciate it, the single moms, the same-sex couples or any other paradigm that the America family takes on. It is exclusionary on its face.

In and of itself, most of us would be able to shrug off the sentiment like we would something uttered at a family gathering by an elderly relative who hasn’t left the house in two decades.

But up on a billboard on the most-traveled thoroughfare between our two largest cities, unattributed and unattributable to any source, these words rise to the level of propaganda, a false narrative designed to delegitimize any who don’t conform.

It’s offensive, even among people who don’t offend easily, a kind of air pollution.[pullquote]The group behind the billboard has chosen to remain in anonymity, but it’s safe to assume that none of them are English teachers.[/pullquote]

We don’t deny the billboard’s originators the right to their free speech. Nor do we take issue with Whiteheart Outdoor Advertising, the billboard company owned by former Forsyth County Commissioner Bill Whiteheart, for taking their money.

But the consequences of free speech are in the hands of those who respond to the message, and the feedback loop cannot be denied. Nor can the cowardice of the billboard’s author(s), who hide(s) behind anonymity because they lack the courage to stand behind their words.

It doesn’t seem like something a real man or a real woman would do. But bless their hearts anyway.

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