I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t struggled to write a blog this week. Like many people, the case of Sarah Everard has shaken me to my very core. Harry and Meghan’s interview, Burger King’s Twitter balls up, it’s all been overshadowed for me by the horrifying news of the abduction and murder of this young woman, just walking home from a friend’s.
How, when taking every precaution we are told to take as women, is this still happening? I could spend an age talking about my complete and unfathomable frustration at this whole situation, but I wanted to look at this in a broader perspective, and actually look at it in relation to Burger King’s now infamous International Women’s Day tweet.
“Don’t put yourself in a position of danger!”
From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been told the same things about walking alone. Don’t walk at night. Walk in a well-lit area. Carry keys between your fingers. Don’t walk through parks. Stay away from back streets. Stay on the phone to someone. Cross the road if someone is walking towards you. The list goes on. But why are young girls taught this as if they are the problem, and the solution? As if it’s our fault we’re assaulted, abducted, or murdered.
What’s that, she was wearing a skirt and walking alone? No wonder she was assaulted. Dared to venture out past dark? Well she was asking for it wasn’t she?
These are the narratives that we somehow STILL hear in 2021. Victim blaming, without any regard for the root toxicity and misogyny that has led us to this way of thinking.
I think in part that’s why there was so much of an outcry around Burger King’s ‘women belong in the kitchen’ post this week. In a world where we are constantly battling to change the stereotypes around women in society, for a brand to use such an offensive phrase to gain some traction feels painfully out of place.
On International Women’s Day of all days
Here’s the thing, I get what they were doing. And you could argue that it did exactly what they wanted it to – it drew a massive amount of attention to the brand. Was it poorly executed? Yes. Was the subsequent messaging in the following tweets what should have been emphasized? Of course. But that isn’t the issue here.
The issue is that global brands don’t even think twice about using such an outdated and frankly offensive phrase. Make no mistake, the idea for the tweet won’t have gone through just one person.
Chances are, it’ll have been discussed by a number of members of the team, probably to a chorus of high fives and ‘what a brilliant idea, we’ll pull the old switcheroo and once we’ve got their attention, we’ll hit them with our real message which shows we’re actually the good guys and are supporting women!’ It wasn’t just a tweet either, there are print ads also in circulation (which in fairness do a much better job of getting the message across).
Brands shouldn’t need to use slurs as click bait. It’s cheap, it’s tacky, and it’s completely tone deaf. Women have to deal with derogatory language, often on a daily basis. It doesn’t always come from an intentional place of negativity, sometimes it can be a careless comment, or meant as a joke.
But it does highlight a fundamental flaw in our society that allows throwaway misogyny to become a joke, a laugh a women’s expense. Well, we aren’t laughing. And if you are, be that on your own head. But I for one think as a society we can and should do better than cheap digs for the sake of clicks and views.
We should be pushing to do better, as organisations and as a community
Build your community up by empowering them through positive language, research your audience more effectively to make sure you aren’t so out of touch that you’re referring to locker room humor to get some notoriety, don’t attempt to empower them by first reminding them of years and years of stereotypes and unsavory slurs.
I hope this Burger King situation acts as a lesson going forward that there are so many better ways to attract the attention of your audience and to build genuine bridges and relationships with customers without alienating 50% of the population.
Women struggle every day to navigate the physical world around them without feeling the fear of what may be facing them around the next corner. The least we can do as practitioners is make the online space a little bit safer to navigate.
Sending all my thoughts and love to the family and friends of Sarah Everard.
Until next time,