Brett Lyman isn’t timid about calling himself a feminist. He’s openly identified as one since “always,” he says.
“Who wouldn’t be [a feminist]?” Lyman says. “That’s beyond Square One. That’s like going up to somebody and saying, ‘Hey, I’m not a jerk.'”
So for Lyman — a former D.C. resident I’ve known since 2004, who’s played in D.C. bands Chain & the Gang and Measles Mumps Rubella — it’s a no-brainer that his Portland, Oregon, record label, M’Lady’s Records, would decide to give women customers a 23 percent discount based on their statistically unequal rate of pay compared to men.
“Mailorder for women living in America will now be 77% of the listed price, the current wage gap according to the Bureau of Labor Dept of Statistics [sic],” Lyman wrote via M’Lady’s mailing list Friday. (That percentage applies to annual earnings sized up in a 2011 report from the Census Bureau, and the gap is even bigger for many women of color.)
In the email blast, Lyman explains how his label’s discount will work: “1. You order things from us. 2. We refund you 23% of the pre-shipping price. 3. Everyone goes home happy. 4. Dudebros that grouse about this will have to pay double.”
An eight-year-old DIY label with about 20 albums and 30 punk-skewing singles in its catalog, M’Lady’s doesn’t wield much influence on a national scale. But Lyman views the discount as his way of chipping away — even just symbolically — at what he considers an overlooked problem.
“There’s been a lot of talk in the past 12 months about civil rights, and human rights, and all sorts of rights. And [the wage gap] always kind of keeps getting swept back under the rug,” Lyman says.
As NPR points out, M’Lady’s isn’t the only entity giving women this kind of discount: A pop-up shop in Pittsburgh did it recently, and so did a bar in Brooklyn. But women-only discounts can be illegal, depending on the circumstances and the court.
Take the tradition of ladies’ nights at bars and clubs, usually instituted in order to attract more women customers. Those have been banned in several states, based on the reasoning that they violate gender discrimination laws. But sometimes, lady discounts are fine — like in the case of a Los Angeles golf course sued by a men’s rights activist over its promotion for women during breast-cancer awareness month. The court sided with the golf course, as Law360 reports, because it determined the discount “was warranted by a compelling societal interest.”
“There’s been a lot of talk in the past 12 months about civil rights, and human rights, and all sorts of rights. And [the wage gap] always kind of keeps getting swept back under the rug.” — Brett Lyman of M’Lady’s Records
An article about unequal pay for women in Travis County, Texas, quotes advocate Freda Bryson as saying, “When I go to buy food or groceries, I don’t get a woman’s discount, I pay the same thing as a male pays. So why shouldn’t my wages be the same?”
Because Lyman can’t change what women earn at their jobs — not singlehandedly, anyway — he suggests that giving his female customers a discount is the next best thing.
“It’s the kind of problem that seems like no one individual or company could ever have any agency over, so nobody ever does anything about it,” Lyman says. “And obviously, this sort of theatrical gesture we’re doing is not going to do anything to change that, but like everything else, you just have to start talking about it.”
Lyman acknowledges that some customers could pretend to be women in order to get the discount, but he’s not sweating it.
“If somebody wants to go through all that trouble of creating a fake identity and getting a fake credit card so they can save $2 or $3 on a record, they’ve totally earned it,” he says.
So far, response to M’Lady’s wage-gap discount has been encouraging. “I got a couple hundred emails yesterday that were all really, really stoked,” Lyman says.
He’s also heard from a few angry folks. “Perhaps coincidentally,” Lyman says, “they were all male.”
What’s their beef? “[They’re] saying that this is discriminatory,” he says, “when really, the only reason we’re doing it is to use the rhetoric and apply the values of discrimination in order to highlight discrimination.”
Their arguments haven’t swayed Lyman. “If I hadn’t taken a logic and reasoning class in high school, I probably would see their side of it a little bit better,” he says.
His detractors have told him, “‘You’re part of the problem!'” Lyman says. “But it’s like, how could I possibly be part of the problem?”
Photo by Flickr user Peter Organisciak used under a Creative Commons license.