Stevie Wise: 'Why I Had To Start The #SexistSurcharge Petition'

Corinne Redfern

Hate to break it to you, but your leg hair isn't all that different to his facial fluff. So why are we paying 37% more for razors to remove it? We caught up with Sexist Surcharge campaigner Stevie Wise to find out what we can do...

On the off chance you haven't signed this petition to eliminate the #SexistSurcharge (the one that means women pay more than men for pretty-much-exactly-the-same products), you should probably do it now.

Yep, whether you've realised it or not, items targeted towards women tend to cost around 37 per cent more than they do for men.

And now, after a week of campaigning, Boots have put out a statement about the #SexistSurcharge.

'This review has reassured us that the two reported examples, Boots disposable razors and Botanics eye roll on, are indeed exceptional cases which do not completely meet our principles and we have taken action to correct these with immediate effect.'

And while you're staring at your purse in disbelief / screaming 'IS THAT WHY I'M BROKE ALL THE TIME?!' at the pink razor that's currently congealed to the side of your bathtub, we caught up with Stevie Wise, 29, who created the petition last week, to find out what we can do to take things even further...

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO START THE PETITION?

Just over a year ago I had my hair cut very short and I soon noticed that, although my hair was now as short as most men's hair, I was being charged £45 for cuts while men were paying just £20 in the same salon, with the same stylist. I asked if I could be charged at the men's rate and they said no. The reason? Simply because I'm a woman - that's just how it works.

So I wasn't surprised when the Times published research last week showing that women are charged more than men for equivalent goods and services on our high streets, but the sheer scale of this was truly shocking to me - the fact that woman are being charged on average 37% more for the same stuff is an absolute scandal, particularly in a context in which women earn on average 9.4% less than men in similar roles - a pay gap based on gender that is showing little sign of narrowing.

The Fawcett Society called this a "sexist surcharge" and in my view, that's exactly what it is, and combined with the gender pay gap it means that as women, we suffer the double whammy of being paid less and charged more. How that that be right in 2016?

So I started the petition because I wanted to start a conversation about it and hopefully, help to start making a change.

WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN LIKE?

Honestly, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. The petition has a very clear campaign aim in response to an issue which is very clearly wrong - and that seems to have been reflected in the response. There has been some negative feedback; I've received the odd critical tweet - and ignored a couple of sexist ones. Someone I don't know added me on Facebook today and when I looked at his profile, he had just shared my petition and called me a moron! I'm not sure why he thought we'd be good friends!

The main criticism is based solely on razors - "if you don't want to pay more buy the cheaper ones", or even worse "if you're stupid enough to buy the pink ones then you deserve everything you get."

My response to that is two-fold: firstly, many women have no idea that buying "men's products" is even an option, or that they're cheaper - they go straight to the women's products and look straight at those. How would they even know how much the men's ones cost? Worse still, these things are marketed to us as if they contain magical, women-only ingredients or are made of materials that only work on women's skin. For the most part it's just not true, and it's dishonest for companies like Boots to continually allow women to think that's the case, simply to line their own pockets.

Secondly, this is about much more than razors. Selling 8 razors to women for £2.29 and 10 to men for just £1.49 is indeed outrageous - I don't apologise for that message and Boots must know that is wrong - but the critics are fixated on this one example. It makes the issue seem trivial, but it is so far from trivial; it's endemic.

What about the clothing and the hair cuts and the dry cleaning? The moisturiser, the perfume, the underwear? Calvin Klein sell their plain white pants at £12 a pair for men and £18 a pair for women, despite the women's pants using less fabric and having fewer seams. Where are these choices that women are supposed to have? It is wrong that Boots sell razors at a far higher cost to women than to men, but this is not just about razors, and it is disingenuous to dismiss the campaign by saying that it is.

HOW MANY SIGNATURES DO YOU WANT TO GET?

How long is a piece of string?! I woke up on Monday to 4000 signatures and was absolutely delighted - what an achievement for just four days of campaigning. At lunchtime the same day, I almost fell off my chair to discover this had jumped to 14,000 signatures in just a couple of hours. It's now on well over 30,000 and rising all the time. 30,000 people who want to challenge sexist pricing on our high streets is absolutely wonderful - but of course, I'd love to hear from even more people. Every person who signs is another person who will make Simon Roberts and other CEOs listen, and that is a wonderful thing.


HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED IN CAMPAIGNING OR IS THIS YOUR FIRST TIME?

In 2010, as a student at Edinburgh University, I ran a campaign which won two awards from the National Union of Students the following year. We lobbied our local Liberal Democrat MP to vote against increased tuition fees and mobilised 2000 students to write letters to him in just two days. We delivered the letters to his office in huge ring binders - it was hard work but really fun! He eventually did vote against the proposals, which was a huge success for us, even if ultimately it wasn't enough to stop tuition fees increasing.

I now work in a students' union and support students to run their own campaigns - they're currently campaigning to improve the cost and quality of housing in London ahead of the upcoming Mayoral election. I love working with passionate people who care about things enough to do something about them and while I'm nervous about all of the things that come with running a campaign like this - the inevitable twitter bullying and losing a lot of the spare time I used to enjoy - it's absolutely worth it if it means we can start to move closer to equality for women.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT 'CLICKTIVISM' AND ONLINE PETITIONS FOR CHANGE?

The internet has opened up all sorts of doors for people to share information and express their views and I think that's a wonderful thing. It helps us hold politicians to account, understand our world better and ultimately is helping to bring about social change. I think the idea that 'clicktivism' is somehow a lesser form of activism is wrong - we need to know what people think about things and we need to recognise that people want to say what they think in a way that works for them.

30,000 people have told the world that they think sexist pricing is wrong - and many of them have left comments to explain why this is. My favourite so far is "I'm an old man, but I've always been a feminist". I learn something from every single comment, and every single click. It's a conversation - people are telling us that they agree and they want to be heard. If only 1% of the people who have signed this petition join me and my friends in doing something more practical, that's ok, because we know they're behind us.

HOW CAN SUPPORTERS GET INVOLVED - OTHER THAN BY SIGNING THE PETITION?

The first thing is to say a massive thanks to everyone who has signed and shared the petition, with particular thanks to the Fawcett Society for supporting the campaign.

After that... good question! It's all happened so quickly! A group of us are meeting up to discuss what we will do next - of course, the first thing we plan to do is get in touch with Simon Roberts and try to discuss the issue with him directly. If we don't get the answers we want to hear, then we'll start to actively campaign to draw attention to the issue, and would love supporters to help us.

First of all, please follow @sexistsurcharge on twitter and instagram and send us examples of sexist pricing as you come across it - we'll share them and catalogue them. We'll also use these platforms to share campaign updates and provide opportunities for people to get involved. If someone could design us an image for our Twitter profile that would be a really great start!

Marie Claire reached out to Boots for comment: 'At Boots UK, we are committed to offering our customers great value and quality. To help us achieve this all of our products are priced individually based on a range of factors including formulation, ingredients, and market comparison. In addition we provide a wide range of product promotions, and offers linked to our Boots Advantage Card, to give our customers greater flexibility and choice.’ - Boots Spokesperson, 26 January 2016

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