“Real men provide real women appreciate it” reads in large, black letters on a white billboard outside of Winston-Salem.
Contextualized in a new era of the Trump presidency, it strikes a particularly discordant note in liberal discourse.
The message conveys not only the notion that women are restricted to what men can offer, but a toxic gender binary and assumption of heteronormativity that has been freshly reinforced in political dialogue.
It presents as a new image to point in how recent progress of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights is being undermined, how the nation is seemingly transforming from its prior state of greater tolerance and acceptance.
However, the controversial nature of the billboard is not what draws national attention — it is the unconventional and unprecedented attempt of an individual to sell an ideal rather than a product to people driving on the highway.
Women have always been marginalized and have been rendered dependent on men politically and economically, but the press latches onto the originality of how the age-old concept of the patriarchy is displayed, not the concept of the patriarchy itself.
This principle of the news highlighting pre-existing social issues as they are reborn in new, creative forms of discrimination has essentially defined the 2016 election campaign and subsequently the current political climate from which this billboard was a product.
The monumentality of the billboard can be likened to President Trump’s shocking antics that had simply never before been witnessed on a political stage.
This dynamic rings true for newsworthy instances of social progression. There are moments throughout the last decade that we can reference in arguing that the U.S. has made great strides — the first black president, the first female presidential candidate, the first female person of color on the Supreme Court, the first trans-person of color to win an Emmy.
These victories are not adequate basis for an argument that the recent spur of sexist, racist, homophobic and zenophobic sentiment following the election is a social regression. Rather, the election was a response to a presidency that brought these victories to the forefront of newsworthy content.
The sentiments of sexism, racism, homophobia and zenophobia always existed, but conservative Americans felt silenced by the liberal continuity in the news.
This perceived random proclamation of what constitutes a real man and woman has been biding its time, waiting to surface without facing criticism of political correctness.
The fact of the matter is that it is no surprise this billboard emerged a month after the Women’s March, the largest demonstration in the history of the U.S.
Similarly, it is no surprise that the Women’s March emerged two months after Trump won the presidential election, perhaps the most unprecedented of its kind.
These moments remain consistent with historical pattern of those in power lashing out when their privilege is threatened, a threat that has persistently taken form as people demanding equality.
This billboard is a literal sign that the power structures that propagate systems of oppression are weakening, that this anonymous person’s need to drop $2,000 to convey their misogynistic, grammatically incorrect message, is an indication of true progress.
In their act of plastering “Real men provide real women appreciate it” on the highway, they are acknowledging that this is no longer a given reality, that women can and do provide for themselves in a significant way.
Do not interpret this billboard as a symbol of what is wrong with the world. Interpret the billboard as a symbol of what is changing and what must continue to be changed further.