Split the bill? Think about how much it costs to be a woman

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION - Sher­lin Barends

WHO should pay on a first date? Me, him, or do we split the bill?

“He should pay, ob­vi­ously,” is how I would have re­sponded to this question in my late teens. I was brought up in a con­ser­va­tive en­vi­ron­ment, where I was taught it was not only up to men to ask women out, but they were re­spon­si­ble for set­tling the bill.

At 16 I knew ex­actly what to do when a spir­ited waiter put the cheque on the restau­rant ta­ble: “The Reach.” Though I had no in­ten­tion of pay­ing, I reached for my purse. My date, a per­fect gentle­man, stopped me in my tracks.

As pre­dicted, he said some­thing to the ef­fect of, “Don’t worry, tonight is on me.” I put up a mild fight, but fi­nally smiled warmly and ut­tered the four words I had been prac­tis­ing all day: “Okay, if you in­sist”.

Things changed af­ter high school, when I was in­tro­duced to the po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy of fem­i­nism. Since then, bills have been split 50:50. If I be­lieve that men and women are equal, I’ll have to put my money where my mouth is and pay my half of the bill.

Yet, on my last date, ear­lier this month, I let the man pay the bill. At no point did I pre­tend to reach for my purse or put up a fight when he took out his wal­let. I let him pay. All of it.

Why? Be­cause be­ing a woman is ex­pen­sive.

In prepa­ra­tion for this date I shaved my hair and threaded my brows, went for a man­i­cure and a pedi­cure and bought a new dress. So way be­fore the bub­bly, blonde wait­ress handed us the cheque, I had al­ready spent more than the date would ever cost him.

Hair, nails, make-up and clothes chow a big chunk of many fe­males’ salaries each month.

Also, have you no­ticed how fe­males of­ten pay more than males at the su­per­mar­ket for al­most iden­ti­cal groom­ing prod­ucts? Pink tax is real.

So­ci­ety and the me­dia pres­sure women to look a cer­tain way, so they push cer­tain prod­ucts in our di­rec­tion to help us achieve and main­tain that stan­dard.

How­ever, no­body held a gun to my head as I swiped for yet an­other lit­tle black dress. We can choose not to in­dulge in these prod­ucts. We can choose not to keep up with the Kar­dashi­ans, and forgo the lat­est trends.

But women can’t choose whether or not they want to have their pe­ri­ods. San­i­tary prod­ucts like pads and tam­pons are a monthly ex­pense, and they are ex­pen­sive. Sex, on the other hand, is vol­un­tary, yet the gov­ern­ment pro­vides free con­doms.

Tam­pons and pads are a ba­sic ne­ces­sity, but they are treated and taxed as “lux­ury items”. VAT went up to 15% on April 1, which means we’re al­ready pay­ing more for men­strual prod­ucts.

Ac­cord­ing to Cos­mopoli­tan, the av­er­age women men­stru­ates for 40 years. Dur­ing this time she could spend up to R40 000 on her pe­riod. This re­al­ity brought about #Tam­ponTaxMustFall and cre­ated a plat­form to have con­ver­sa­tions around the price of men­stru­a­tion.

A Unesco re­port ap­prox­i­mates that one in 10 girls in Sub-Sa­hara African don’t at­tend school when they are men­stru­at­ing. For some this means miss­ing up to 20% of school a year.

Sta­tis­tics and per­cent­ages can be cold and re­moved. One shouldn’t for­get that these num­bers rep­re­sent real peo­ple.

My col­leagues and I vis­ited Soneike High School a cou­ple of weeks ago. Richard Mabaso’s Im­bumba Foun­da­tion has been pro­vid­ing the school with san­i­tary pads for the last cou­ple of years.

“I had to stay home at some point, be­cause I didn’t have any san­i­tary tow­els. Thanks to this ini­tia­tive, I don’t miss out on any­thing that hap­pens at school,” said one of the ma­tric stu­dents.

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