Tiffany Barry

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Women Belong. Period. – A Whopper of a Mistake for the BK Franchise

Burger King International Women's Day Tweet

Sexist Jokes are not Subverting Expectations

Can you think of a better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than making a sexist joke that alludes to a reference that women have been struggling against for decades? Apparently, everyone can besides Burger King who tweeted “Women belong in the kitchen” as the first tagline for their culinary scholarship opportunity. Their well-intended, supposedly ironic, message overshadowed the good intentions when people all over social media responded with shock, confusion, and outrage. 

As one user, Kendall Brown (@kendallybrown) stated on Twitter:

Eventually, Burger King UK did remove the tweet, but this wasn’t until hours later. They were convinced that what they had done was being blown out of proportion. More than anything they felt it was a misunderstanding between them and the public. 

This type of thinking hints at a much bigger issue: women are still being forced to fight outdated traditional concepts and thoughts, and we’re expected to be polite about it. 

Our response to that? Hell no.

Dear Burger King, You Can’t Always Have it Your Way

On a day meant to be a call to action that accelerates gender parity and celebrates the achievements and contributions of women all over the world, Burger King’s UK Twitter account tweeted, “Women belong in the kitchen”. The original thought behind this was to promote their culinary scholarship while empowering women to take the phrase back, but it was a swing and a miss. 

It took several hours to come to the decision to remove the offensive tweet, as they made futile attempts to justify their actions. At the initial proposal to delete the tweet, Burger King UK declined, stating in a follow-up tweet quoted in The Washington Post, “Why would we delete a tweet that’s drawing attention to a huge lack of female representation in our industry, we thought you’d be on board with this as well?” It continued, “We’ve launched a scholarship to help give more of our female employees the chance to pursue a culinary career.”

Great, but what you said was wrong, and the only thing you drew attention to was how bad you are at making decisions as a company. Having good intentions does not justify shitty behavior; sexist jokes are not subverting expectations. 

Many wondered what they were thinking posting something like that, especially on International Women’s Day. It could have been a result of the printed ad posted in The New York Times,  which did start with the same line of ‘Women belong in the kitchen’ but followed up with,

“Fine dining kitchens, food truck kitchens, award-winning kitchens, casual dining kitchens, ghost kitchens, Burger King kitchens. If there’s a professional kitchen, women belong there.” the ad continues on to say, “But can you guess who’s leading those kitchens these days? Exactly. Only 24% of chef positions in America are occupied by women. Want to talk head chefs? The number drops to fewer than 7%”

The controversy actually started here, but since the ad was in print, the reaction was not as immediate. Perhaps the original pitch felt right, but seeing the ad at a glance, the main idea is clear:

Keep in mind that although the initial tweet was posted from Burger King’s UK account, the ad in The New York Times was approved by Burger King US. The only reason the US Twitter didn’t post the same tweet was because they knew they royally screwed up. Women Belong. Period. 

With such small text under a large header, a sentence that has caused fury in women across the world was the first sentence that some women saw on a day that was meant to empower them in both print and in social media. 

After receiving a stream of negative feedback from their followers and readers, Burger King UK then decided they should follow their apology up with what essentially boiled down to ‘stop picking on us for being insensitive’:

It seems that they forgot their roots. If the customer is not having it their way, then the business, Burger King, is at fault.

Good Intentions, Bad Delivery

Certainly, there were good intentions behind their words. They saw an underrepresented population in culinary careers and decided to offer their help, however, both the announcement and the scholarship offer felt more like a cheap gift laced with clickbait and the hopes for publicity. 

The H.E.R. (Helping Equalize Restaurants) scholarship included the low representation of women in chef and head chef roles across the industry and would award two female Burger King employees a $25,000 scholarship towards building a culinary career. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable deal when you consider that the average cost of culinary school is about $30,000, but some have stated that this scholarship was not the right direction to take to uplift others.

Some alternative they should have considered were:

  • Committing to a living wage for all of their employees so they can pay for culinary school, or any school for that matter, on their own
  • Starting a campaign to encourage larger culinary companies to hire women into leadership roles
  • Providing opportunities to more than just two employees (especially considering that the application was limited to the first 50,000 applicants, meaning there would be 49,998 women who would be left hanging)

The situation is even more baffling when you consider that in 2018, Burger King’s Russia team tweeted an offer of $50,000 and a lifetime supply of Whoppers to “women who get pregnant from world football stars” so the country could inherit “the best football genes.”(The Washington Post) – obviously, this was another tweet that they had to delete and apologize for. 

The backlash that the restaurant chain has faced since posting what they assumed was a humorous, cheeky, statement will forever be another blemish on their already charred reputation. Having the best of intentions means nothing when your actions hurt others; apologizing and removing the tweet was the right thing to do, but because of their hesitation, defense, and ultimately awful reaction this is a slight that won’t soon be forgotten. 

The bottom-line is, they used a cheap statement to get attention for something that could have been looked at with positivity, and worse, they expected women around the world to say, ‘Thank you for reminding us of everything we’ve been told that we can’t do on a day when we’re supposed to be reminded of our strength.’

Was it necessary? No. 

Was it intentional? Yes. 

Was it supposed to be funny? Yes. 

To who? Women? We don’t think so.

Any business knows that without their audience, there is no business; and Burger King certainly knows who their audience is, so why did this happen? 

We have to consider that before this was released as a tweet and published in a newspaper, it went through multiple chains of command where the majority signed their approval. Maybe, if a woman had been in charge of the campaign, or felt empowered enough in her position to confidently speak up, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s proof that there are businesses (big, in-the-public-eye businesses) that still lack a diverse workforce and inclusive marketing strategies.

That is the problem.

Louder for the Ones in the Back: Sexist Jokes are not Subverting Expectations

As consumers, it’s important that we keep these possibilities in mind when choosing who we give our business to. Ask yourself, if your identity was threatened or bullied, would this business care? How do they impact your community and what do they do when it comes time for action?

If the answer makes you uncomfortable, that’s a good sign that this place does not deserve your time or money. 

We live in a time where the word ‘sensitive’ is thrown around a lot, where our feelings of discomfort are maliciously questioned, and where we’re expected to be able to just take a joke.

Joking about gender is not funny, it’s sexist. Period. 

Speaking lightly of someone’s gender identity is a step backwards for the human collective.

People have literally died because they are women going against their traditional roles or because they feel in their hearts that they are and have always been a woman. We know that’s not fair, and every day we should strive to support and protect them, rather than tearing them down with tasteless jokes or low-brow humor.

International Women’s Day is a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8 to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. It is also a focal point in the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women. 

Let’s keep it that way.