When Burger King made a major misfire on International Women’s Day this week, tweeting the phrase “women belong in the kitchen,” social media lit up with furious women.
The actual tweet, by Burger King U.K., was part of a campaign meant to promote scholarships for culinary education for women, and it was only in subsequent tweets that the intended meaning was explained. But the incandescent reaction serves only to highlight that the issue of women's household roles is a tinder box.
Warning signs were already there. In January, a coronavirus-themed digital campaign by the U.K. government also provoked fury. The social media ad, with the tagline "Stay home, save lives," shown here by The Guardian, featured an illustration of four small houses. In three of them, female stick figures were depicted homeschooling, cleaning and ironing. In the other house, a man was pictured sitting on a sofa with a woman and child. The image went viral and was later pulled amid complaints of misogyny.
Women around the world are expressing rage and frustration after months in a pandemic that has threatened to derail their progress and has sparked the so-called “she-cession,” a term coined by C. Nicole Mason, president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). “Women are at this boiling point with how they’ve been treated,” says Berlin Cameron President Jennifer DaSilva, who recently worked on campaign for beauty brand No7 addressing the issue.
Reversing decades of progress
With families locked down at home, and schools closed in many parts of the world, not to mention restaurants, much of the burden of cooking, cleaning and childcare has fallen on women. According to a report published last week by organizations including the International Development Research Centre and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the pandemic is threatening to reverse decades of women’s economic progress, with women on average now spending more than 30 hours a week looking after children. Another study, from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics, shows that during the pandemic, women have been more likely to be furloughed, have spent significantly less time working from home and have spent more time on unpaid household work and childcare.
While the so-called “gender chore gap” is just one aspect of the she-cession, it’s one that a number of advertisers are choosing to focus on. Procter & Gamble, for instance, ran a campaign for Dawn and Swiffer in the Super Bowl pre-game encouraging Americans to close the “chore gap” so family members share household work equitably. The company also launched a website, closethechoregap.com, which offers tips on chore sharing, including information on partner S’moresUp, a mobile app that aims to democratize household chores.