Handsome Her, a vegan café in Melbourne, Australia, designed as a place “by women for women,” opened earlier this month with an 18 percent tax for male customers — a move designed to raise awareness of Australia’s proven gender pay gap.
Revenue from the shop’s “man tax” — which technically is a suggested donation since gender-based discrimination is illegal — is going toward charitable causes that fall in line with the women’s empowerment mission of the shop. The first recipient is the Elizabeth Morgan House, which provides a range of services to Aboriginal women.
Naturally, the “man tax” caused headlines, which were followed by a smattering of critical and some hateful social media outbursts from strangers thousands of miles from Melbourne. Yet, according to shop owner Alex O’Brien, the response to the suggested donation has been overwhelmingly positive, with coffee lovers traveling out of their way to support the shop, and many new patrons even donating well above the 18 percent suggestion. One male employee has pledged to donate 18 percent of his income to the charitable effort.
“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,” O’Brien told Broadsheet Australia, whose feature on the shop’s tax initiative led to dozens more headlines from around the world. “I like that it is making men stop and question their privilege a little bit.”
CNBC has run with the Handsome Her story and calculated that a similar tax in a United States shop would actually be higher, reflecting an approximately 20 percent pay gap between full-time, year round men and women workers.
The headline-grabbing tax isn’t the only progressive concept leading Handsome Her out of the gates. The shop also offers voluntary priority seating to women guests, it features beautiful women-inspired artwork throughout, and it does not serve drinks in takeaway cups, in order to minimize waste. Instead the shop offers an “emergency mug” wall, allowing patrons to cheaply rent a mug should they have forgotten their reusable mug for a to-go order, while in-house orders are served in the shop’s normal wares at the espresso counter.