Cupcakes Stir Controversy: Students Outraged Over Bake Sale Priced by Gender

Students, upset by the scaled pricing, threatened organizers with rape and sexual violence.
(Photo: Clare K./Flickr)
Apr 5, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

School-run bake sales have long served as a popular way to raise money while supplying the community with sweet treats. A special fund-raiser at the University of Queensland in Australia not only provided students with a sugar fix but also raised awareness about the gender pay gap.

“Each baked good will only cost you the proportion of $1.00 that you earn comparative to men (or, if you identify as a man, all baked goods [will] cost you $1.00!),” reads a description of the Gender Pay Gap Bake Sale, held on Tuesday.

The fund-raiser, at which students paid according to their gender and ethnicity, was hosted by two campus organizations: the Women’s Collective and the women’s department of the student union. It was one of several events, including a seminar on women in law, an “ask a feminist” picnic, and a screening of the Kathleen Hanna documentary The Punk Singer, all scheduled for Feminist Week, which the school holds every semester.

While the event was meant to generate discussion in a fun way about Australia’s wage gap, the controversy surrounding the scaled pricing quickly became aggressive.

“A lot of the negative responses have been threats...rather than actual discussion over the merits of the wage gap,” Madeline Price, vice president of gender and sexuality at the University of Queensland Student Union, wrote in an email to TakePart.

The event’s organizers hoped to put the real issue of pay inequality in the spotlight. In Australia, women make 17.3 percent less than their male peers for the same work, according to figures from the country’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency. That figure is smaller than the gender wage gap in the U.S., where women make 22 percent less than men for the same work.

The organizers considered whether patrons were people of color, were indigenous, identified as having a disability, or identified as LGBT in an attempt to make cookie and cupcake prices as accurate as possible.

“For example, if you are a woman of color in the legal profession, a baked good at the stall will only cost you 55 cents,” the description continues. Proceeds from the event will support women’s charity Share the Dignity.

After the bake sale was announced, several students took to the Facebook group UQ StalkerSpace to encourage students to complain to the school’s officials, calling the gender-based pricing a form of reverse sexism and a violation of the university’s policies about gender equality. While many incensed commenters denied the existence of the pay gap or white male privilege, others took the opportunity to wistfully comment on the “good ole days” when you could “beat a woman with a stick.” Others threatened organizers and female Facebook commenters with death, rape, and sexual violence, according to Price.

“I think these responses highlight why we still need feminism and how far the fight for equality has to go,” Price said. “These negative responses have allowed wider discussions to start about the cyberbullying of women, the silencing of women…in online spaces, the use of sexual violence and threats against women, and other issues of gender inequality.”

Nearly 75 percent of women online have experienced some form of cyberbullying, according to a September report from the United Nations Broadband Commission. The report recommends increased oversight and action by local governments to protect women from cyber violence, as harassment can intimidate women into silence or prevent them from using the internet altogether.

The violent comments wound up having a silver lining for Price and her colleagues.

“We have had a number of students contact us stating, ‘I didn’t believe feminism was still relevant until I started reading all the comments,’ ” she said.

At the bake sale itself, there was nary a protester in sight. “The keyboard warriors very rarely leave their keyboards,” Price wrote. “All responses to the bake sale were positive and uplifting.”