“I get a little nervous when I have to tell men about the prices,” Schlenker said while running 76 < 100 one day, “but I have had mostly positive reactions. A lot of the men tell me about women they support in their lives.”
Fred Blauch, a 76 < 100 customer and self-described feminist, said he was raised by a single mother and appreciated the store’s premise. “It’s a wake-up call to men that we do come from a privileged place and we should acknowledge that,” he said.
Another male shopper, Nathan Shaulis, agreed. “If the idea behind it was just to charge differently for something arbitrary, I might be offended,” he said, “but it’s not just a retail store like any other. There is a social activist message.”
The items for sale at 76 < 100 were made by female artists and craftspeople, with about a quarter of the products produced locally.
Schlenker, a Pittsburgh-based freelance graphic designer, said she got the idea for her temporary store from an art project she read about. “The artist had printed copies of a work and charged women $1 and men $2,” she said, explaining that she was reading articles on the wage gap at the time, and the ideas converged.
“A lot of the people, particularly the women, smile when I tell them about the price tags,” she said. “It’s tongue in cheek. I don’t really believe in discrimination. That’s why I am doing this. This is a positive place. It’s not about punishing men.”
According to the Center for American Progress, almost half the wage gap is based on occupational differences between men and women, with women concentrated in industries that offer lower pay and fewer benefits. Women may also take time away from the workforce to raise children, reducing years of experience. However, even when accounting for these disparities, economists found that over 40 percent of the gap is still unexplained.
“Considerable research has shown that women are perceived to be less competent than men who posses the same skills and background,” reads a pamphlet Schlenker produced for the store. The flier cites dismal studies by the Harvard Business School and Yale University and doubles as a giant poster, emblazoned with the words “Women are worth more” in large green letters.
Fair compensation has nudged its way to the forefront of national conversation, with increasing public pressure to raise the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 (where it has remained since 2009), the Fight for $15 campaign (aimed at obtaining higher wages for fast-food employees) and lawsuits targeting unpaid internships.
Mary-Wren Ritchie, a Planned Parenthood employee who attended a panel discussion on the wage gap at 76 < 100, said she was frustrated by the injustice.
“It’s insane that it’s 2015 and we are still fighting to make an equal wage,” she said. “The system was built by men to benefit men, and we work so hard to be on an equal playing ground, but it sucks that we are still fighting.”