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.


New Year, New Direction

I haven’t written here for a while now – in fact it’s been well over a year since I last blogged regularly. The longer I’m absent, the harder it becomes to return; it feels as though the first blog post after a long break has to be a reintroduction of sorts, that I can’t just pick back up where I left off without providing an explanation and apology for my absence.

So here is that explanation-apology-reintroduction post. It doesn’t say much, really, but it gives me the freedom to talk about anything I like in my next post.

2017 was a busy year for me. On paper, it looks like a year full of success and achievements. But the final few months, in particular, were some of the busiest months of my life (perhaps excluding the time spent writing my PhD thesis, which I don’t find at all comparable to regular busyness). In the middle of the year, when I knew my life was already full to capacity with work and home life and study and volunteer activities, along came a new opportunity that I just couldn’t say no to. And instead of making room by dropping something else from my long list of commitments, I just added it to the mix and hoped for the best.

I got through the last few months only with the support of family, with too many days in bed recovering, and with asking too much of my husband while he’s trying to finish his PhD. So in 2018 I’m refocusing towards a slower pace of life. I’m not sure yet exactly how this year is going to pan out; I’m still not good at letting go of the things that I know aren’t as important to make more time for the things that are. But I want to be at home more to support my husband. I want to give myself more space to think and breathe and be. I want to enjoy life every day, not just look towards a future where I might finally have everything I want.

All this might mean I have more time to write. But then again, it might not. Slowing down is about choosing to do less, and choosing to prioritise the things that are most important to me right now. And as much as I love writing, it still falls fairly low on my list of priorities – below supporting my husband at home, below looking after my health and well-being, below spending time with my family and friends, below choosing sustainable but time-consuming options over convenient but wasteful ones. And, as much as I love blogging and reading other people’s blogs, the last thing I want to do after spending a long day sitting in front of a computer at work is to spend my evenings and weekends sitting in front of a computer screen writing and reading.

So all this is to say: I hope to see you again soon this year, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t quite happen.

Local Treasures

I love walking around my local neighbourhood and discovering all sorts of quirky little gems tucked away on verges, fences and front yards. The kinds of things you miss when travelling by car because you’re driving too fast to spot them.

Here are a few of the local treasures I’ve stumbled across on my perambulations.

green roof 3

A garage with a green roof. (The neighbouring roof was also rather green – covered with moss and lichen!)

Painted wooden bird


I thought these were baby pears, but when I went back later to check on the fruit it was all gone.


Stairs to nowhere


Perhaps most exciting of all, this beauty was parked up in my neighbourhood for weeks.

gypsy caravan

The caravan was sitting outside a house I’ve privately nicknamed “the urban homestead”. Many mornings on my way work I see hens roaming around the front yard and rabbits nibbling the long grass. It’s a delightful scene, and certainly improves my morning commute. The addition of a gypsy caravan just made the whole scene even more magical.

peter rabbit

Not one of the urban homestead’s rabbits. I actually snapped this photo in Beatrix Potter’s garden in the Lakes District – a descendant of Peter Rabbit?

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:

Mining Trees

Last year while wedding planning, I spent a lot of time thinking about what type of wedding ring I wanted. A wedding ring is the physical symbol of marriage, and one of the few tangible results of wedding planning that sticks around after the wedding itself is over, so it was important to me to choose a ring that I was comfortable with ethically as well as aesthetically.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a (sparkly) rock for years, I’m pretty sure you’ll already know about the ethical concerns surrounding diamond mining. A less-discussed but still very real set of issues also surround gold mining. Gold is relatively rare and can require a significant amount of processing to extract and purify — a Forest & Bird article from last years states that “several tonnes of toxic waste is created to produce enough gold for a single ring.” What’s more, the largest use of gold is for making jewellery. Knowing all this, I was adamant that I didn’t want a brand new gold wedding ring.*

I knew that second-hand was an option, but some beautiful wooden rings had also caught my eye. The wood used to make a single ring has a much smaller environmental footprint than the same amount of precious metal and stones, making a wooden ring a great option for the environmentally conscious bride-to-be. I was also delighted to discover some makers of wooden rings even offered the option of using swamp kauri from here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

At the time my main concern was that a wooden ring would never have the longevity of a metal ring — and I’d be counting on my wedding ring to last “til death do us part”! But I was seriously considering a wooden wedding ring. Then my grandmother offered to give me her own mother’s wedding ring, which was perfect in so many ways, and — feeling exceedingly grateful — I never looked back.

Fast-forward half a year or so, and I am now oh-so-glad I didn’t choose that swamp kauri ring. Several recent blog posts and news articles have described the mining and illegal exporting of ancient swamp kauri from our wetlands. Unlike wood harvested from sustainably grown forests, swamp kauri is a finite resource, and excavating swamp kauri from ecologically significant wetlands is a destructive activity akin to open-cast mining. Adding insult to injury, it appears much of the swamp kauri that gets shipped overseas may be being exported illegally.

So what I thought of as a sustainable and ethical choice — a wooden wedding ring — turned out to be a terribly destructive, unsustainable option. While this obviously doesn’t hold true for all types of wood, it’s ultimately a reminder to think carefully about what we buy: How are the materials sourced? How is it made? And do I truly need to buy it at all?

*I also flat out refused to have an engagement ring, both because of the ecological and ethical concerns associated with gold and diamond mining, and because the typical gender distribution of engagement rings is inherently unfair.

What Next?


It’s been a while, more than two months since I last posted here. In that time I got married then escaped with my brand new husband to Te Wai Pounamu, the South Island of New Zealand, for a much-needed break. (Just one year ago, that word—”husband”—and equally “wife”—used to sound disconcertingly more grown-up than I could claim to feel myself. At some point during the past twelve months, without even realising how it happened, it appears I have finally started to feel like an adult [of sorts]. Should I blame all the wedding and marriage preparations, the 10–6 professional job, the hordes of friends buying their first homes? Or, more likely, a myriad of moments too enmeshed to tease out a single one. Still, it will take some time before “my husband” no longer feels deliciously alien in my mouth.)

As I start an exciting new chapter in my life, it feels like a good moment to take stock: I’ve accomplished a lot in the past year. Not only did I get married to a wonderful man, I also completed my thesis, graduated with my PhD, and finished my first year of professional full-time work!

So, what next?


Many people warned me towards the end of writing my thesis that I would feel lost and desperate for something to do once I finished. At the time I scoffed, “Don’t be silly, I’m going to enjoy relaxing at the beach with a pile of good books!” As it turned out, I got engaged instead… And, the day after the wedding I (briefly) found myself feeling lost and wondering what I would do with my time! The answer was, of course, immediately obvious — I should enjoy relaxing. Full-time work means I can’t sit at the beach with a pile of books, but I can certainly give myself time to settle into the rhythm and routine of a regular working life without taking on any new big projects.

And after that?

The world awaits