When students at the University of Queensland dared to use a bake sale to highlight pay gaps, the backlash was swift and horrible. The same sort of backlash women face whenever the patriarchy is questioned, writes Lauren Rosewarne.
Because there’s no relationship more special, more sacred, more time-honoured, than the one between a white boy and his cupcake. Threaten this and there’ll be consequences. Boy oh boy will there be consequences.
So the University of Queensland – pilfering an idea that drummed up attention in places like the University of Washington in 2003 or Bucknell University in 2009 – have organised an affirmative action bake sale.
Simply put, sugary delicious carby delights are priced according to the presumed earning power of the customer: Mr Whitey McWhitey for example, will pay premium for his red velvet cupcake because his earning capacity will – statistically – be better than Charlotte’s or Abdul’s.
Had this shop been a permanent campus store, sure, I’d have a problem. It’s not fair and nor is it legal to charge different demographics different prices. (Unless, say, you’re talking about pink vs blue-handled razors, and then apparently a whole other set of rules applies).
The key difference here, however, is that the bake sale is a one off. It’s about peddling cakes, sure, but more importantly it’s a protest and a piece of performance art happening on a university campus during Feminist Week.
Pricing cakes differently makes a simple but thought-provoking comment about earning capacity being impacted on by factors – like genitals – which shouldn’t be relevant yet remain so.
More interesting for me than all the math that went into those price tags though, is the inevitable bake sale backlash serving as its own piece of protest art: what better illustration is there for the ongoing need for feminism than to have a statement about inequality getting shouted down by those holding the very privilege that’s being spotlighted?
As every feminist knows of course, daring to do your politics anywhere, but especially publicly, comes at cost. Very few of us have any actual interest in man-hating, but – shock horror – that’s never mattered.
Whether you’ve written about sexual violence or media discrimination or, as transpired when I dared innocuously mention my lack of enthusiasm for Mad Max in this very space, a penalty gets paid. Your argument – hell, generally speaking, keyboard warriors won’t read more than your headline – gets interpreted as just another bollocking, and a penalty is doled out. And that penalty is, unsurprisingly, always gendered and always serves as testimony to women’s vulnerability in public space. It doesn’t matter whether that space is alone at a train station at midnight or in publishing an opinion piece online.
These men are so outraged to have the secret of their swag of privilege exposed, that they’ll use the very underpinnings of their power – threats of violence, insults based on f–kability – to launch an attack. Seemingly none of them did debating in high school and missed the lessons on arguing ideas rather than making personal attacks, and retaliation ensues. No effort is channeled into stating an opposing case or proving you wrong. Instead, it’s all about calling you a fat ugly slut and suggesting that the appropriate punishment for your words of detraction is rape.
Dare question patriarchy and patriarchy in all of its threatening, violent misogynist ugliness will loom large.
For equality to happen, those with the power need to give up some. For many of the privileged though, this is a fundamentally grotesque assertion and one that needs to be policed. Policed through the tactics of abuse and through threats that remind us of our vulnerability, of the cost of doing our politics and, ironically, of the grave necessity for our feminism.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne is a senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne.