ICYMI: Burger King, International Women’s Day, Twitter beef, and social media gambits gone awry

Burger King flag on exterior of restaurant
Photo: Edward Berthelot (Getty Images)

It brings us no pleasure to have to summarize the events of the last 24 hours, but I’m afraid we must, because sometimes a story clings to the news cycle like a gum wrapper in a lint trap. We’ll make this as quick as possible. Yesterday, March 8, was International Women’s Day, and Burger King had the idea to use the holiday to announce its new scholarship program for aspiring female chefs, one with the goal of remedying the gender inequality in restaurant kitchens (roughly 75% of American chef positions are held by men). The manner in which the Burger King UK Twitter account chose to announce this, however, was a masterclass in missing the mark. The now-deleted thread contained three tweets, quoted below (with space breaks indicating separate tweets):

Women belong in the kitchen.

If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio in the restaurant industry by empowering female employees with the opportunity to pursue a culinary career.

We are proud to be launching a new scholarship programme which will help female Burger King employees pursue their culinary dreams!

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As you can see, the first tweet, “Women belong in the kitchen,” is intentionally brief and provocative, leaning on the sexist attitudes of yesteryear that forcibly confined women’s influence to their role as homemakers. And this wasn’t just some unfortunate decision on the part of a Burger King UK social media director—this was a coordinated message that aligned with Burger King’s full-page ad in The New York Times, which had the phrase “women belong in the kitchen” featured in massive font above the finer print explaining the scholarship program.

As you can imagine, the first tweet was retweeted thousands of times with reactions ranging from “What the hell?” to “Has Burger King been hacked?” The tweet thread had its defenders, many of whom insisted that the tweet didn’t say women only belong in the kitchen, while others smugly proclaimed that it’s designed to reward careful readers who click through to the full thread. Even so, other Twitter users pointed out that the decision to “use sexism as clickbait” only reinforces the damage historically wrought by that sexism.

Naturally, other brands were soon tweeting at Burger King about the gaffe, too, trying to gain cool points with the same bratty lay-ups that give each of these Twitter accounts traction and followers in matters of everyday fast food happenings. KFC Gaming—an account solely dedicated to KFC’s gaming arm, its crucial pipeline to The Youths—tweeted a meme at Burger King that seemed to function as half-clapback, half-well-intentioned warning about playing with fire. “The best time to delete this post was immediately after posting it,” the meme says. “The second best time is now.”

After a few hours of attempts to play along with the outrage and reply with sentiments like “the real outrage is the inequality in restaurant kitchens,” the Burger King UK Twitter account eventually acknowledged the kerfuffle in a new thread:

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“We hear you,” the tweet reads. “We got our initial tweet wrong and we’re sorry. Our aim was to draw attention to the fact that only 20% of professional chefs in UK kitchens are women and to help change that by awarding culinary scholarships. We will do better next time.” A follow-up tweet says, “We decided to delete the original tweet after our apology. It was brought to our attention that there were abusive comments in the thread and we don’t want to leave the space open for that.”

There are a number of postmortems written on the topic of yesterday’s tweets, some of which can be found here, here, and here. The takeaway in most cases is this: When readers are deliberately misled by loaded, goading rhetoric (misogynist or otherwise), they’re not exactly going to be delighted to find out that they were being played. Especially by a burger joint interested in selling burgers.

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Okay. So now you’re caught up with the events of Monday morning and Monday afternoon. Who knows what the rest of this week will bring?

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

DISCUSSION

biscuittin
BiscuitTin

Something absolutely needs to be done about gender disparity in commercial kitchens, however, as the kids say, this ain’t it chief.