Melbourne cafe Handsome Her introduces 18 per cent ‘gender pay gap’ surcharge for males

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The owners of Victorian cafe, Handsome Her, have found themselves at the centre of a polarising debate after its introduction of an 18 per cent “gender surcharge” for its male customers.

The vegan cafe in Melbourne’s inner west suburb of Brunswick, which labels itself as a cafe “by women, for women” stipulates three anti-patriarchal “house rules,” including priority seating for women, a premium charge for males and respect for both genders.

“House Rules, Rule #1: women have priority seating. Rule #2: men will be charged an 18% premium to reflect the gender pay gap (2016) which is donated to a women’s service. Rule #3 respect goes both ways,” the chalkboard reads in the cafe.

While Handsome Her’s main goal is to help give back to women’s charities, according to Broadsheet Melbourne who spoke to owner Alexandra O’Brien, it also hopes that the initiative that runs for one week every month will help spark conversations about the gender pay gap.

The first round of money raised from the optional “man tax” of 70 cents – a figure that originates from a 2016 report published by Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency that found women on a full-time salary faced a pay gap of 17.7 per cent – is being donated to the Elizabeth Morgan House. A Victoria-based service that specialises in support for Indigenous women and children who have endured family violence.

“I do want people to think about it, because we’ve had this [pay discrepancy] for decades and decades and we’re bringing it to the forefront of people’s minds. I like that it is making men stop and question their privilege a little bit,” owner O’Brien told the publication.

Pictures of the sign were shared on social media. Many praised the initiative, while others labelled it reverse gender discrimination.

“I think if you want to fight for equality then surely treating everyone the same is the way to go,” wrote one Twitter user.

Others showed their solidarity with the cafe, saying it was a fair move considering the inequality face in many facets of society.

“As a man- no problem with it at all. No reason women shouldn’t have their own spaces and be able to dictate what the rules are in them,” wrote Twitter user Josh Elliott.

O’Brien took to Facebook this week to address what has been “a hectic couple of days.” She stated that the surcharge was “voluntary,” and put in place to encourage people to think about the fight for equality. It is against the law to discriminate on gender identity.

“I had a woman bring her daughters in today and when she came up to the till and saw our gorgeous vulva stones and our period sticker packs she beamed, thanked us for what we were doing and said “what a beautiful place to take my daughters”… I swelled with pride,” the cafe wrote in the Facebook post.

“We’ve had men travel across town to visit us and pay “the man tax” and throw some extra in the donation jar. It’s not every day that your boss pulls you into her fire-pit of feminism and you have to quickly become warriors and defend where you work and what you do on a level that others never do.”

The team at Handsome Cafe are not the first to address gender disparity with a divisive price structure. Students at the University of Queensland last year gave women discounts at a bake sale during Feminist Week.

“Specific to each faculty, each baked good will only cost you the proportion of $1 that you earn comparative to men (or, if you identify as a man, all baked goods will cost you $1),” reported ABC at the time.

Fairfax media reached out for a comment, however could not reach Handsome Her at the time of publication.

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