Uber has been trying to rehabilitate its image lately — but somehow, the company seems to keep shooting itself in its own foot. Case in point: UberEATS India’s recent “Wife Appreciation Day” ad, which… uh… did not go over well with Twitter users, either in India or globally. Uber has since pulled the ad and apologized, tweeting, “This was totally inappropriate. We've removed it and we apologize”; alas, though, the internet has a long memory, and it probably won’t be forgotten quickly.
Twitter user Asawari Ghatage, whose bio states that she is based in Bangalore, posted a screenshot of the ad on Sept. 16. “Dear Husbands, a gentle reminder — Today is Wife Appreciation Day!”, it read. “Order on UberEATS and let your wife take a day off from the kitchen.” Ghatage’s only comment at the time was “Ewwwwww!” — which, honestly, conveys pretty much all you need to know about the ad: It feels gross.
In case you want a little more commentary, though, another Twitteruser based in Bangalore, Hemanth.HM, also tweeted out a screenshot; his note had a bit more to it, saying, “Sorry @uber but why do you think that only the ‘wife’ needs to be at the kitchen!” He punctuated his message with the “Neutral Face” emoji — which, despite its name, usually looks like it disapproves of something.
From there, it spread like proverbial wildfire across Twitter, with people slamming the ad for perpetuating sexist, regressive gender roles and stereotypes:
When the ad was brought to the attention of Uber’s Chief Brand Officer, Bozoma Saint John, she was quick to respond:
And shortly thereafter, the ad was pulled. Uber also issued an apology:
So, at least there’s that.
For what it’s worth “Wife Appreciation Day” was a pre-existing thing that takes place in many locations across the world; I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it a “holiday,” but it’s listed on a lot of those websites that track every observance, ranging from the major religious ones to the mostly made-up ones that celebrate, say, cheeseburgers or coffee. Wife Appreciation Day is typically “celebrated” on the third Sunday in September, which, in 2017, occurred on Sept. 17.
And to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with showing your spouse you appreciate them. I’d argue that we shouldn’t need to mark specific days where you’re supposed to show that appreciation (why not do it every day, in how you talk to them, treat them, and go about your lives as partners together), but it’s nice to be reminded that you’re valued.
The issue with the ad is the specific wording: “Let your wife take a day off from the kitchen.” It implies so many things: That wives belong in the kitchen; that it’s always their job to take care of the cooking, while husbands never have to; that they’re only able to take a day off from these duties when their spouses permit them to do so; and that the only kinds of relationships that exist in the world are heterosexual ones.
The problem could have been solved by simply wording it as something more like, “Order on UberEATs and treat your wife” (still not perfect, but better than “Let your wife take a day off from the kitchen”) — and making sure that a similar ad ran on Husband Appreciation Day (the third Saturday in April), Spouse’s Day (Jan. 26), and other similar holidays aimed at celebrating your partner.
It’s worth noting that according to the BBC, the UberEATS India ad actually “did not cause much of a stir locally.” Ayesha Perera, who is also a BBC journalist, said to the BBC's Zoe Kleinman, “Most people on Monday did not seem to know about the promo or even the negative impression it is said o have created. It did not create any impression on social media, and the story is missing from the city’s main tabloids and newspapers.” Perera did observe, however, that “if Uber is to be taken seriously, it will have to be careful to avoid carelessly worded messages like this one and come up with something more imaginative.”
Indeed, gender inequality in India remains a huge issue. Women face a frightening amount of violence aimed at them and rates of sexual assault; between 2001 and 2011, rates of crimes against women rose by 59 percent according to one report, while in 2016, 34,651 cases of rape were reported across the country according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Nor is the issue limited to overt, big picture examples like these; seemingly small examples of everyday sexism reveal how the country's patriarchal culture harms people of all genders.
An ad for a food delivery service is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things — but within the larger context, it’s still worth paying attention to. The good news is that speaking up about it can change things — even if it’s just the removal of an ad.