A billboard put up by the Sanilac County Health Department of Michigan has sparked widespread outrage for its sexist and degrading message.
The billboard advertisement portrays a distraught pregnant woman covering her face on the left, juxtaposed with a smiling, confident young woman dressed in a graduation cap and gown on the right. The copy accompanying the contrasting images simply reads “You can choose…this or this…” with the underlying text stating “Take Control of Your Future.”
The ad clearly sends a dangerous, offensive, and misleading message to impressionable young women everywhere. It seems to clearly imply that one can not navigate motherhood while simultaneously progressing in life, education, or career — an either-or fallacy that couldn’t be more untrue.
Unsurprisingly, the billboard quickly received backlash from pro-lifers unsettled by its message. Women and organizations alike voiced their concerns across social media.
“Is it just us, or does it seem like they’re telling women that we have to choose between being mothers or being successful?!” Protect Life Michigan wrote on the organization’s Facebook page. The page further encouraged women to share graduation pictures with their kids so they can compile a collage along with a caption reading “Watch us do both!”
“Maybe we’ll also email it to the Health Department,” they added.
“How is ‘have a baby or don’t graduate’ female empowerment?” another commenter argued. “This is insulting.”
Other women shared their own stories of mothering children while completing their education in response to the offensive message. Many had even received multiple degrees. One exceptional story came from Iesha Champs, a strong-willed single mom of five who made her way through law school while parenting alone.
“How ironically unfeminist!” wrote another mother who shattered the billboard’s stereotype. “I submitted my master’s thesis the same month I gave birth. I took ‘control of my future’ by rejecting society’s pressure on young women to take one path and in one particular way (and at one particular time in their lives).”
Many also called the number listed on the billboard to file complaints.
“So I just called that number, they apologized and said they are getting a lot of calls about it and did not mean to offend anybody,” said April Shay Kurkowski. “I did ask to be transferred to the PR office, and left a message for their PR person offering guidance about how to empower women and let them know that having my child at 19 did not inhibit my growth, nor was a failure.”
“I am a successful physician now,” she continued. “I offered to help them with guidance for their next campaign. I also thanked them for all the services that they provide as a health department. I would encourage everybody to call.”
After criticism of the billboard went viral late last week, Sanilac County Health Department wrote a response to the disgruntled public on their Facebook page, apologizing for their poor judgment:
“The Sanilac County Health Department would like to acknowledge the outpouring of concern in response to a billboard that has been recently displayed in our county. First and foremost, we appreciate the many members of our community that contacted us with their apprehension for the messaging that is perceived on the billboard. We now realize, and apologize, that our original intent for the billboard was not correctly portrayed by its content. We believe in strengthening the health and wellness of all our community members; women, children, and men, and this billboard did not accurately portray that.
The organization further pleaded for the public to “accept [their] apologies” while promising the billboard would be “taken down as quickly as possible.”