DiDi's Gendered Usage Policy Sparks Backlash
In the summer of 2018, two brutal murders of female customers of DiDi’s Hitch service shocked China. Public outrage ultimately forced the company to shut down the service. Hitch was essentially a carpooling platform allowed regular people list their trips in advance, making it a particularly profitable business line. I took it once to the Great Wall and had fun chatting with a Dongbei family who was bummed they couldn’t use their Russian with me.
Last week, after “careful consideration” DiDi announced they were planning to bring back the platform. Operating hours for men were planned from 5am to 11pm, but women wouldn’t be able to hail rides past 8pm.
Online backlash has been swift. The anonymous author ‘Playwright’, who describes himself as “a forever to be regarded as female straight guy,” [一个永远被人做女人的直男] and whose recent article garnered 50,000 views, stands in for broader sentiment.
Initially, ‘Playwright’ was willing to give DiDi the benefit of the doubt.
“What impressed me most was that after the [murders], when the initial fear and anger gradually subsided, one interested perspective emerged: DiDi is a platform, and there's nothing inherently good or bad about it. It could do better, of course, but it's not fair to put all the blame on it alone.”
But after hearing the announcement, DiDi lost all sympathy in Playwright’s eyes.
How can I describe my shock when I saw it? Let's just say that no one who has graduated middle school can come up with something like this. But, shockingly, a well-known large company formally announced this new rule. China stopped binding feet a century ago, but it seems nowadays some people are binding their brains.
Sexism has been around for a long time, but it is really rare to see it written down in the rules.
Good services don't say no to customers. Bad services say "eh, that's your problem." I don't have to tell you which DiDi is. Oh and by the way, remember that last Hitch murder? Turns out it didn't happen at night.
Angry Chinese consumers usually get press in the West only when announcing boycotts of foreign brands. But consumer activism on the mainland for causes other than nationalism is alive and well.
Said another commenter:
Today you can think this policy isn’t a big deal. But what about tomorrow when women can’t take regular taxis, the day after tomorrow when women can’t take buses, the day after that when women don’t have the right to education, and the following day when women aren’t allowed to leave the house since there’s a risk of harassment…countless revolutionary blood and tears were spent to get to where we are today, and we shouldn’t move backwards.
But not all commenters took issue with DiDi’s policy. In fact, most liked comment under this article went as follows:
“This article is a little too extreme. No one is forced to use DiDi. They can just take a regular cab, a public bus, or subway. It’s like if you want to buy some red clothes, but the store doesn’t have any, so you start a fight, saying “what do you mean you don’t have any, I want some red clothes!” No one in society today is forcing you to use DiDi.”
By most media accounts, the summer of 2018 was a seminal moment for the firm. Huge public backlash, from my perspective exceeding the #deleteuber campaign in its intensity, led DiDi’s leadership to declare their commitment to social responsibility. The firm rolled out changes to its platform like facial recognition for its drivers and automatic audio recordings of most rides. But apparently it didn’t sink to anyone in the multiple levels of management that surely had to sign off to this policy that sexist service terms would be a bad look.
If DiDi’s corporate culture hasn’t changed, at least someone inside the firm reads social media. Two days after the initial announcement, DiDi put out a message on Weibo saying that “after hearing opinions from all sides, we’ll be stopping Hitch service to all users after 8pm.”
Playright’s article was published last Tuesday and is translated below in full.
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Author ‘Playwright’ on the channel “Futeetee,” which focuses on gender issues 傅踢踢 傅踢踢 November 6th
If you could sum up DiDi Hitch in three words, what would you say?
Here's a wild guess: convenient, dangerous, not over yet?
When it comes to hailing a ride, some things can never be forgotten.
The harassment and killing of female passengers on DiDi Hitch express became a nationwide topic and ultimately lead to the service's removal.
What impressed me most was that after the incident, when the initial fear and anger gradually subsided, one interested perspective emerged: DiDi is a platform, and there's nothing inherently good or bad about it. It could do better, of course, but it's not fair to put all the blame on it alone.
This reaction shows how understanding and reasonable people can be.
Today, DiDi announced a new pilot operation plan for Hitch rides. Starting November 20th, the service will be tested in seven cities.
Their official line said stuff like "out of respect, we’re starting anew" and "through careful consideration".
However, the results of “respect” and “careful consideration” produced the following:
Service hours: 5:00 -- 23:00. (female 5:00 -- 20:00).
How can I describe my shock when I saw it? Let's just say that no one who has graduated middle school can come up with something like this.
But shockingly, a well-known large company formally announced this new rule.
China stopped binding feet 100 years ago, but it seems nowadays some people are binding their brains.
Because it's not safe for women to ride at night, women aren't allowed to?
What logic is this? The weak pay for the strong? Males commit crimes, so the females are victims? We can't guarantee safety, so you can all fuck off?
Sexism has been around for a long time, and it is really rare to see it written down in the rules.
All that said, there are those who say that companies can't take responsibility for the safety of society as a whole and that treating men and women differently is inevitable. At this level of intelligence, don't pretend to be rational, neutral and objective, okay?
Yes, incidents on Hitch aren't entirely DiDi's responsibiliy, but that doesn't mean they're totally innocent. The whole point of the reform, in DiDi’s words, is to allow "Hitch ride to create value for everyone's trips."
Aren't women part of the public? Are women inferior to men? Or is it DiDi’s corporate culture to create value differently?
If not, if it's only because it's riskier for women to travel at night, then let's keep it real: DiDi can't protect female passengers because it lacks the capacity to. Then, we shouldn't allow systematic problems to fall on the company's shoulder.
[They could've just said:] I'm sorry, we only do business during the day time. After 8pm, no matter the passenger's gender, we'll go offline. That's at least one theory.
That's fine, we'll make some money, do some business, and have given up this burden [of keeping women safe at night].
[But if you're] Banning women from taking cars after 20:00, block the road where women take free rides at night, and otherwise have nothing to do with DiDi. This is your so-called social responsibility? Is a company that provides a public service unwilling to take even the slightest security risk the sort of firm that covers up evidence of their wrongdoing really doing their duty?
Now I’d like to teach those who don’t take responsibility what 'benfen' [本分the concept of playing one's part, doing your duty] really means 本分:
Taxis are the company's main business, so the benfen is to make taxis convenient. Not being able to fulfill users' demand for night rides is straight incompetence.
The business of providing public services is to enable the public to enjoy more and better services. Instead of being treated differently and restricted, it is selfish to sugarcoat our own incompetence.
Incompetence is incompetence, selfishness is selfishness, but can you at least just keep it real?
No, “out of respect” we have to "carefully consider" this.
Can we vet the drivers more closely? No can do, after all, DiDi's just a company. If they vet too tightly, who will be a driver.
Can't in-car monitoring be enhanced? No can do, after all, DiDi's just a company. What if the user sues us for violating their privacy?
Is it not possible to focus on handling complaints or even reports and establish a driver's credit rating? No can do, after all, DiDi's just a company.
Saving time, that's a company's benfen. Do those who want to make excuses for DiDi really have no shame?
Don't do stupid sexist things under the guise of protecting women.
If women are banned from taking rides after 20pm, they'll still need a car if they leaving a party or working late. What this policy does is simply excuse yourself and push women to take other risks.
If every service organization followed this philosophy, schools wouldn't start classes at night, restaurants wouldn't open at night, movie theaters wouldn't have midnight showing, karaoke wouldn't open at noon. Sounds great! All the good guys would get home before 20:00, and after 20:00, there were only bad guys left in the street.
So this is what DiDi and its supporters call social responsibility?
We get it, this sort of thing isn't easy. Just say sorry, wait until there is an appropriate way to launch the service, and no one is going to blame DiDi for everything.
In order to bring the business back on line as soon as possible, they’ll just pull a dirty trick, obviously not using their brains, as if their dream was to bring back the Qing Dynasty.
Changes involving the use of profile pictures and keeping genders offline are good, but there are risks for other passers who use real people's profile pictures. But if you take the perspective that "hey, if you think it's dangerous than just don't use it," you might as well see these moves as little more than useless symbolic changes.
The intention of DiDi's profile picture and permanent gender offline is good, but there are still risks for other passengers who use real people's profile pictures. And the "if there's a risk, don't sit down" gesture simply clears the other symbolic adjustments.
Good services don't say no to customers. Bad services say "eh, that's your problem." I don't have to tell you which DiDi is.
Oh and by the way, remember that last Hitch murder? Turns out it didn't happen at night.