The Woman Tax

I’m sick of paying more for things just because I’m a woman. From menstrual products to makeup, from handbags to hair removal, women are expected to spend more money on more things in order to fit in. Add to this the ‘pink tax‘, where products marketed as being for women or girls actually cost more than nearly-identical male or unisex versions, and being a woman suddenly becomes very expensive.

And not only is the cost of living higher for women, we’re also paid less than men (for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into today).

Sometimes, though, the women’s tax is harder to spot. Sometimes, women have to pay more because we simply don’t have as many consumer choices as men do. Let me give you an example…

I’ve been thinking about buying a bike for a long time now, and I finally decided to bite the bullet and get one this summer. I wanted a bike for a few reasons:

  1. Climate change: Walking and cycling are emission-free modes of transport. I already enjoy walking to many places in my neighbourhood, but in Auckland’s low-density suburbs you can only get so far on foot. Cycling seems the perfect way to expand my range and access a wider range of shops, parks and community facilities without using a car.
  2. Peer pressure: Okay, so not actual peer pressure, but almost all my colleagues ride bikes and sometimes my preference for getting around on foot makes me feel like the odd one out.
  3. It’s fun! I have fond memories of cycling as a child and want to recapture that sense of freedom and joy.

I initially wanted to buy a bike secondhand. I know from talking to all those colleagues that the first bicycle I buy as an adult most likely won’t be the bike I end up falling in love with, so it seems silly to spend a lot of money on something that I may only use for a year or so. On the other hand, a cheap new bicycle wouldn’t be as durable and would ultimately go to landfill sooner than a quality bike. So secondhand seemed like the way to go. However, after weeks spent haunting Trade Me and bike shop websites, I realised that bicycles designed for women are few and far between, and finding a secondhand bike that met my criteria was going to take more time and energy than I have right now. In the end, I caved and bought a new bike.

(It makes sense that the market provides less bicycle options for women than men, when two-thirds of cycling trips in New Zealand are made by men. It makes less sense when you discover even the bicycles marketed as having a ‘women-specific design’ are often exactly the same as the men’s bikes except for a lower top bar.)

That’s not the real issue though – the range of women-specific bikes available may be much smaller than those for men, but at least the lower end of the size and price ranges for each type is pretty similar (and, quibbles about anatomical and wardrobe differences aside, there is nothing stopping us women from buying a ‘male’ bike). I’m writing this blog post because of what happened next.

New Zealand has a mandatory helmet law. When I bought my new bicycle, I also needed to buy a helmet to go with it. I tried the cheapest helmet first – after all, I’m not planning on doing any fast or dangerous riding, so I figured a fairly basic helmet should meet my needs. Turns out those cheap helmets are ‘one-size-fits-all’ and – surprise, surprise – they’re ultimately designed to accommodate a larger head and are a poor fit for smaller people like me. The cheapest helmet that offered a range of sizes was more than twice the price of that basic helmet. But I needed a helmet – and I needed one that fit me – so I had little choice but to pay the premium for the smaller size.

It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this problem either. A few years ago I was in the market for a new pair of tramping boots. My last pair had been a $40 purchase from the local big-box shoe store, and lasted me a good ten years. But the soles eventually fell off, and I was planning to do some hiking in the next few months, so I needed a new pair of boots.

Unfortunately, at some point in the preceding decade the shoe warehouse had decided to discontinue their women’s sizes in tramping boots. I obviously can’t tramp in a pair of oversized boots, so I had to buy boots from a more expensive outdoors store; the cheapest options I could find (that weren’t hideous shades of pink or purple) were well over two hundred dollars. Yes, you do get what you pay for, but in this case I didn’t need the higher-quality boots – another cheap pair would have served me just fine for the amount of hiking I do.

What’s more, that cheap pair I’d bought a decade earlier – they were purchased for a school camping trip. So many parents could never afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of shoes just so their daughters can take part in school camp. Is the only other option for those girls now to miss out completely?

I’m all for buying the best quality you can afford, and the reality is that I could afford to buy the more expensive helmet and boots. But as a woman with a petite frame, I’m sick of being forced to spend hundreds of dollars on items for activities I only take part in casually, when the men around me are able to buy perfectly adequate versions for less than $50. It’s just not fair.

Galvanize Me

I’ve been feeling rather at odds with the world in the past couple of weeks. It’s like I’ve reached a tipping point and I’m just so fed up with all that is wrong with the world—the lack of female representation in the media and in my work environment;  the casual disowning by retiring baby-boomers of the myriad issues facing their children and grandchildren; the modern economic lens that frames every decision as ultimately selfish; the way so many people are locked into a consume-and-dispose mindset…

At the same time, I’m surrounded by events that roar with love—close friends getting engaged, another recently married, and the celebration of some big milestones in my own marriage.

And a part of me realises that this slow-burning fury can galvanize me into action, into living as though a better world is possible. After all, surely the point of anger is to help us protect ourselves and those we love most. So, in that spirit (and with an unapologetically cheesy wedding theme), here are a few things that have been inspiring me recently:

Something old: I’ve rediscovered the pop punk anthems of my teen years—and I still love them! I was amused (but somewhat disheartened) to find that the rebellious songs of my youth still feel so applicable, what with all the condescending advice older generations keep spitting in the local media.

Something new: I’ve started using instagram, and it’s bringing me a lot of joy. The combination of artful pictures and simple words packs a powerful punch. I’m even tempted to start posting my own photos, although I’ve always preferred to express myself using words rather than images.

Something borrowed: A wonderful blog post by Ryan Cope on Plastic-Free Tuesday highlights the gossamer-thin line between being either weighed down or motivated to keep fighting by the endless stream of plastic waste humanity is generating.

And some blues: Mahogany L. Browne’s poem, litany, captures some the essence of blues music, as well as some of my own recent feelings of frustration. I’ve written before about my love for blues dancing, but reading litany made me question whether I—as a privileged white woman from halfway around the world—have the right to seek and receive so much pleasure from a music style with deep roots in hardship and struggle. Perhaps the answer is to further educate myself about the history of blues while continuing to appreciate the music and the dance for the joy it brings me and others in my community. After all, it’s times like these we most need shared moments of joy to bring us together and remind us what’s most important in life.

“I don’t like who defined what authority sounds like. I reject it.”

As a young woman working in a male-dominated profession, I often come across (and even seek out) advice to be more confident, more assertive, more vocal; to stop phrasing statements as cautious suggestions; to stop apologising so damn much; to back myself; to lean in as Sheryl Sandberg put it.

This advice all sound sensible. How else will women get equal pay if we don’t demand higher salaries during pay negotiations? How else will women get our voices heard if we don’t speak up in meetings? How else will women get people to take us seriously if we don’t sound confident in our suggestions?

But I had an ‘aha’ moment when I spied these tweets by Marian Call* on my husband’s computer screen last night:

Reading Marian Call’s tweets, I realised all the sensible pieces of advice for women to be more assertive, confident, authoritative, are variations on one troubling theme: Women need to act more like men to get by in this world.

In hindsight, I’ve come across similar concepts before. For example, in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain encourages introverts to work with their strengths instead of trying to conform to the expectations of an extroverted world, and I found a strong parallel between this and the expectations on women in a man’s world — constantly being urged to speak up, make yourself heard, act assertively to make people like and listen to you.

So instead, I encourage you to reject a wholly masculine image of power. The world needs more authority figures who speak gently and with consideration for their fellow human beings. The world needs more men and women who embrace their feelings. The world needs more leaders who apologise when they have made a mistake. The world needs a new definition of what authority sounds like.

*For those who know me well, Marian Call wrote the song my husband and I danced to at our wedding:

Waking Up to Radical Change

Yesterday marked the start of NaBloPoMo (that’s National Blog Posting Month). I intend to take on the challenge of posting daily this month and, having started a day late, I’ll just have to finish one day late too!

I love the way the world throws coincidences at you. This year, at a time when I need to hear it most, I keep stumbling across statements that affirm the importance of self care for activism, like this speech by Scilla Elworthy:

Scilla talks about how self awareness — or “waking up” — is a prerequisite for effectiveness as a pioneering leader when working to create a better world.

She goes on to list ten radical value shifts that will help us survive the crises of the 21st century, beginning with:

“survival of the fittest” being replaced by an awareness that “cooperation is actually more efficient”

and ending with:

“consuming is our right” being replaced by “what we really desire is to satisfy the human longing for meaning and beauty”

I’ll return to discuss some of the value shifts at a later point, but in the meantime make sure you watch the video!

On Beards and Legs

The great endeavour of writing a thesis is often associated with the equally great endeavour of growing a Thesis Beard. A man in full beard is truly a magnificent sight to behold! I would love to take part in this time-honoured tradition while writing my own thesis. Alas, I am female, and cannot grow a beard to save my life.

“Still,” I thought, “there must be a way.” Like our male counterparts, women shave regularly – legs and armpits and whatnot. And so I contemplated a time-saving no-shaving Thesis Leg endeavour.

Trouble is, leg hair on females is not received in quite the same way as facial hair on males. When a man grows out his beard, many people think he’s awesome, and at worst he receives some good-natured teasing. But if a woman doesn’t shave her legs or her pits, the majority of people think it’s gross. I’ve seen this firsthand when brave young women, friends and peers of mine, have worn shorts or skirts with unshaved legs. People stare, faces curled in disgust, muttering to each other, “Ewww, did you see her legs? I can’t believe she doesn’t shave!”

Sometimes I think “Fuck it, I’m writing a thesis, I don’t have time for this shit!” And I go for my walk to the beach in my short shorts with my hairy legs on display.

But then the hair grows a bit longer, and I think “Fuck it, I’m writing at thesis, I don’t need the extra emotional battle that comes from knowing how I’ll be judged.” And so I shave.

At the end of the day my thesis is nearing completion so it’s too late for me to start a Thesis Leg trend. But I’m left wondering: What gives, society? Why such a stigma around female body hair?


You either believe women are people or you don’t. It’s that simple.
— Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon — the genius responsible for, amongst other things, Firefly, Much Ado About Nothing, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog — recently spoke about his hate of the word feminist, and proposed that we instead talk about genderism, analogous to racism:

I must admit I was initially concerned when Joss declared that racism is behind us. As intelligent, compassionate individuals we certainly reject racism, and as a society we have laws declaring that all people are to be treated equally. But racism still does occur — consciously, unconsciously, and systemically. [Edit: On listening again I think that Joss wasn’t saying racism no longer exists, but more that we’ve moved beyond the place where we didn’t recognise its existence at all.]

Gender, like race*, is a social construct that has caused great harm, so I was impressed when Joss proposed using the word genderist to frame the discussion around gender discrimination. What’s more, as Joss said of feminist, we are not born racist or genderist, and there is nothing inevitable about the destructive ways of thinking embodied by these two words.

One of the things I love most about using the word genderist is that it implicitly recognises that restrictive gender roles are harmful to everyone, not just to women. This is something that many modern feminists do seem to understand and care about, but the word feminist is nevertheless inherently one-sided. Of course, historically the fight for women’s rights needed to be one-sided — feminists were struggling against the wide-spread belief that “because you were born female, you are less”. But while deeply ingrained and insidious discrimination still occurs against women in our society on a daily basis, many men and women who do support equal rights are turned off by the negative connotations associated with feminist, and are much more likely to embrace the fight against genderism.

I will still proclaim myself a feminist. But more importantly, I will stand beside Joss and all the other heroes in the fight against genderism. Are you with us?

*For a detailed look at how race is a social construct rather than a biological reality, check out Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature by anthropologist Agustín Fuentes