Earlier this month, graphic designer Elana Schlenker made headlines for her pop-up store 76<100 where women pay less than men for everything on the shelves. Specifically, they pay 24% less, highlighting the pay gap in Pennsylvania where women make just 76 cents to every man's dollar.
"The pricing structure is intended to be tongue-in-cheek, to grab the community's attention and then foster dialogue around the issue," Schlenker told The Huffington Post.
Schlenker was inspired to launch her “<100” project after reading about a 1960s feminist writer who charged men more for her books than she did women. Her non-profit, which is stocked with wares from female artists, sends 100% of the proceeds to the creators, and she intends to take the pop-up to other cities.
In fact, the 76<100 store wraps up its run today. The project heads next to New Orleans, where women will get an even steeper discount on the same items. It’s a bittersweet steal: women in Louisiana are paid on average 66 cents to every man's dollar.
For Schlenker, the traveling store isn’t intended to be retribution for a specific slight, but simply a way to facilitate discussion (and hopefully action) about workplace inequality and the wage gap that still exists across the nation. But in stoking that discussion, she’s inspired a different question: is the store legal?
Clearly, not all of the conversation that’s occurred online has been productive. Instead of talking about how we can get to a place of more equal footing, some commenters have instead focused on whether or not the two-tiered pricing at Schlenker’s store is discriminatory against men. The problem is, they might have a case. mental_floss spoke to a few lawyers who expressed concern that detractors could bring a discrimination suit on the precedent of a series of cases in previous decades that struck down Ladies Nights (where restaurants and bars offered discounted liquor prices to women as a promotion to get people in the door). According to the lawyers, the fact that Schlenker’s project is done in the name of art wouldn’t really protect it. They pointed us to a student named Dennis Koire who took his complaint about male discrimination all the way to the California Supreme Court in 1985 and won, with California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird insisting that “the legality of sex-based price discounts cannot depend on subjective value judgments about which types of sex-based distinctions are important or harmful.”
In other words, even if <100 is a great idea, it might not withstand legal scrutiny. But the discussion may be moot. If the pricing structure is indeed “tongue-in-cheek,” as Schlenker has noted, and more something to generate buzz than something that’s actually acted on, Schlenker’s stores should be in the clear. And even if a lawsuit does occur, we’re guessing it will only put more of a spotlight on an issue that could use a bigger one.
If you’re in Pittsburgh today, be sure to visit Schlenker’s store before it closes. And check out her Lessthan100.org site if you want to learn more about the effort.