It bothered me too much. I had driven through this town several times. So I parked the car, gathered my composure and went into the restaurant. No, I would not need to be seated for a meal. I asked to speak with the owner or manager.
It was the large outdoor sign of the restaurant that bothered me so much. The sign depicted a nicely dressed woman holding forth a serving tray—only the woman was headless. What did I see? Degradation. Here was a public symbol of a woman deprived of all abilities to think, see, hear, speak, smell, and taste the God-given goodness of life. She was rendered sense-less in her headless personification. What heartless motivation could be behind such a sign?
In the conversation that followed, I was told that the sign had a fascinating history originating in a pub from a European country and that it posed no problem for local people nor other people. After listening to what in no way lessened my anguish, I replied that to me this sign spoke only of violence toward women in a world too full of violence. The words printed above the headless woman, which spoke of being silenced, were not “just words.” “Words bespeak reality,” I insisted “and in this case, a reality of oppression that needs to be persistently addressed, not ignored nor made light of.” My only consolation was that I had at least raised my objection.
Some months later, what should appear? A new name and a new sign graced the establishment! Yes, indeed I went in and asked to speak to the owner—a new owner. I thanked her for the inviting change and told her how distraught I had been for years over the previous sign. We visited cordially over pie and coffee. One can only wonder how many persistent voices had been heard to give a new owner the courage to change something that had been so acceptable for so long in this town.
Now, a few years later, there is again new ownership. The old name and sign are back! Upon seeing it, once again I went in to speak to the owner. Her first word to me was, “I am a successful business woman.” She continued to say how she intends to honor the illustrious history of the establishment. Again, this owner also said that words were “only words.” Again, I had to reply, “Words speak a reality and that the reality of violence is never tolerable.” She conceded nothing of what I said, only thanked me for expressing my opinion.
As we finished and turned toward the window, she smiled and said, “Oh, see there’s someone taking a picture of the sign!”I only hope that person will use the photo to join all persistent voices speaking against all that degrades the preciousness of human life—life that comes only from God. Since God never gives up on us, let us never give up or grow weary as long as we have a voice to raise.
Afterword: The Sunday after writing this article, after worship at my church I was sharing this experience with our coffee roundtable. It evoked very strong emotions. One woman, who works in a man’s world, as she puts it, as a delivery truck driver, was ready to organize a church road trip to tear down the sign! I urged them instead to go inside and voice their objection to this depiction of violence toward women whenever they are going through that town. We need to exercise a holy persistent pestering.