The jewelry store billboard was supposed to be a “fun play on words,” one of its owners said. But for those driving along the interstate in Asheville, N.C., the advertisement left a different impression.

“Sometimes, it’s ok to throw rocks at girls …,” the billboard for Spicer Greene Jewelers stated. A cluster of colorful gemstones surrounded the words.

The outrage was immediate among some local residents and soon spread nationwide as the images of the billboard circulated on the Internet. Many argued the advertisement supported a culture of violence against women. Critics called for the billboard to come down. And a group of about 15 people protested outside the company’s store on Sunday.

“Really?” One sign at the protest read. “You can’t possibly have thought ‘Throwing rocks at girls’ was harmless!”

“Not cool,” one woman, Shannon Page wrote on Facebook. “Normalizing and finding humor in the, ‘He hit you because he likes you’ mentality that we feed to children is not ok.” She added that children in cars driving by would not understand the humor in the billboard, and would simply believe it would be acceptable to throw rocks at girls.

Others called it “tone-deaf,” “misogynistic” and “disgusting.”

On Friday, Chelsea Clinton weighed in, tweeting: “Talking about hitting girls is never funny. Ever.”

In response to the outrage, the jewelry company, Spicer Greene Jewelers, posted an apology to its Facebook page, saying it does “not condone violence of any kind toward any being.”

“We are humble enough to realize when we make a mistake and humble enough to realize the context in which we are speaking,” the statement said. “We did not intend to cause controversy and our billboard communicated something we did not intend. We intended the billboard as a play on words to encourage the loving act of gift giving and are deeply saddened that it offended anyone.”

The company’s co-owner, Eva-Michelle Spicer, told the Asheville Citizen-Times the company is considering taking down its ad. Spicer Greene Jewelers, which has been based in Asheville for 91 years through four generations of family ownership, usually changes the billboard every four weeks. The next ad was planned for next month.

“We certainly didn’t mean harm by it,” Spicer said. “I don’t take offense to it and I didn’t mean offense by it.”

Spicer said the family came up with the idea on Thanksgiving, from Spicer’s 87-year-old grandmother and 60-year-old aunt.

The billboard was intended “to be a nostalgic thought of a childhood teaching,” Spicer said. “That it’s not okay to throw rocks at girls, it’s not okay to throw rocks at anyone …”

Her grandmother laughed about it at the time, as did the rest of the family, Spicer told WLOS.

“We thought, ‘Okay, that’s kinda cute and catchy. We’ll try it out,'” Spicer said. “We definitely didn’t think it would have this kind of backlash.”

The owners said they would donate 10 percent of sales through Sunday to an Asheville domestic violence survivors shelter.

For some, the backlash to the billboard was an overreaction — yet another example of a culture emphasizing political correctness. People wrote comments in support of the ad on the company’s Facebook page.

“The billboard is Genius!!! You can’t buy that kind of FREE Advertising!!!!!!” one person commented.

“I think the ad is clever, don’t take it down, just change the word throw to give, any female would love that type of a rock!!” another person wrote.

Yet others expressed their disapproval that the company had not taken down the billboard, despite the implications of the statement.

“If you don’t take it down immediately, you are condoning the connotation,” one person wrote.

Laura Wright, an English professor at Western Carolina University who specializes in South African literature and gender studies, wrote in a commentary in the Citizen-Times that the billboard was an example of how the jewelry industry is implicated with a “sexist legacy that’s all about commodification and property.”

The billboard, Wright wrote, perpetuates the marketing myth that “women must have diamonds, that men are required to buy them for us, that, most recently, “sometimes it’s ok to throw rocks at girls.”

As the Citizen-Times pointed out, this was not the first time the phrase has been used in jewelry marketing.

The phrase: “Sometimes it’s okay to throw rocks at girls!” became a registered trademark of Sawyer Jewelers, Inc. in Fenton, Mich., in 2016, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Citizen-Times reported.

In 2015, a Calgary business displayed a sign with the same phrase, and changed the advertisement after people complained, the Toronto Metro News reported. The business, Troy Shoppe Jewelers, replaced the message with: “Lighten up YYC. We love women. We aim to make you sparkle the way you deserve.”

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