It was the bake sale to end all sales.
The product was cupcakes. The premise was to bring awareness of privilege, be it gender, sexuality, race or being able-bodied. The location was the University of Queensland. The occasion was Feminist Week.
The reaction? Death and rape threats.
Organised by the Women’s Collective on Tuesday, the cupcake sale was intended to highlight gender pay inequality (in addition to other inequalities) by charging customers based on their level of privilege in society.
White, heterosexual males with no disabilities were charged the full price of $1, with a range of discounts for women, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities and the disabled.
Student union women’s officer Madeline Price said she had no idea the bake sale would become so controversial.
“It was definitely not meant to be as big as it was,” she told The New Daily on Wednesday.
“We had the Tuesday free, so we thought, ‘why not’? It was just a supplementary event to all the other events that we have happening this week.”
The sale was announced about three weeks ago, but it wasn’t until people began commenting on the university’s social media page that a torrent of abuse was unleashed.
“We got a lot of personal attacks as organisers, as well as other women who were commenting,” Ms Price said.
The most offensive online posts have since been deleted. Many of the milder criticisms argued the sale was illegal because it discriminated against men.
“UQU, which is meant to represent all students, is engaging in conduct that’s blatantly discriminatory against men to try and make some asinine political points,” student Ashley Millsteed wrote.
Other men outright denied the existence of a gender pay gap, with one saying: “it’s been disproved countless times”.
“Every statistic they use doesn’t account for hours worked, how hazardous the work environment is, what position the person in that field is in. It’s just average weekly wage,” James Williams wrote.
For Will Sawyer, the “irony” of the bake sale is that “like the actual wage gap, [it is] a product of people’s individual economic choices”.
A sad reality
Gender expert Dr Lauren Rosewarne is no stranger to the vitriol directed at women who dare to comment on gender inequality.
After publishing an opinion piece about the cupcake sale on Monday, her comments section – not to mention Facebook and Twitter – has been inundated with mainly angry men decrying the evils of feminism.
“The misogynists shut down women by threatening them with violence and then insulting their appearance – this is the default,” she told The New Daily.
“No matter what a woman says – whether it’s daring to bake cupcakes and price them a certain way or talking about sexual stereotypes – men who don’t like feminism default to the techniques of sexual violence and appearance-based insults.”
She added: “I mean, you’re getting threats about cupcakes now.”
Some tricky calculations
The idea for the sale was not new. Universities across the world have held variations of the sale, such as giving out portions of cupcakes to the privileged, according to Ms Price. But it did have a distinctly local flavour.
Ms Price said the prices were based on data from the Workplace Gender and Equality Agency, which last month estimated that Australian women earn an average of $277.70 less than men per week.
“It’s hard to work out who the most marginalised person was … but we did have one woman come up who is a trans-gendered queer woman with a disability, studying science,” she said.
“That’s a lot of interaction to take into consideration, so she was down to 40 cents per cupcake.”
The online backlash has since calmed down.