House Rules at Handsome Her weren’t popular with everybody, but they weren’t meant to be.
House Rules at Handsome Her weren’t popular with everybody, but they weren’t meant to be.

Vegan cafe closes after ‘man tax’

A VEGAN cafe in Melbourne's north, which "became the punching bag of Melbourne" after introducing an 18 per cent "man tax", is closing down so its owner can pursue some "hands-on" work.

Handsome Her opened in 2017 and made international headlines with a bold approach to making a difference in closing the gender pay gap.

The owners of the Brunswick venture asked men to pay an 18 per cent premium one week a month and advertised ruled on a chalkboard out front that included "women have priority seating" and "respect goes both ways".

The "tax" paid by male diners went to Elizabeth Morgan House Aboriginal Women's Services.

Owner Alexandra O'Brien said in August two years ago that the tax wasn't strictly enforced.

 

Handsome Her in Brunswick is closing after two years.
Handsome Her in Brunswick is closing after two years.

 

"If people aren't comfortable paying it or men don't want to pay it, we're not going to kick them out the door. It's just a good opportunity to do some good," Ms O'Brien said.

Owners revealed the cafe's imminent closure in a post on Facebook, saying they had expected "to make a stir" but received more than their share of negative feedback, even from their own community.

"We were just one little tiny shop on Sydney Rd that was trying to carve out a swathe of space to prioritise women and women's issues, and suddenly we became the punching bag of Melbourne and the internet.

"Yes, we are the evil, discriminatory, man-hating dykes who charge men more when didn't you know the wage gap doesn't even exist!?"

Owners said they tried not to engage with negativity online, but were happy to discuss the policy respectfully in house.

"When we learnt that it wasn't only men's rights activists targeting us, yet people from within our own communities, we encouraged respectful and robust debate," they wrote.

 

Handsome Her owner Alexandra O'Brien and chef May Tang. Picture Rebecca Michael
Handsome Her owner Alexandra O'Brien and chef May Tang. Picture Rebecca Michael

"We encouraged a range of diverse opinions from all intersections of society and insisted that people critique their inner fear of conflict with inquisitiveness and openness, rather than hostility. We do not believe in the age-old practice of silencing women as a way of stifling debate and avoiding conflict.

"We embrace conflict and leaning into the discomfort and think the world would be a better place if people would stop apportioning blame to others and start taking responsibility for their own contributions. If only we approach difficult discussions with a commitment to seek to understand rather than just being understood."

The cafe's last day is April 28. Supporters expressed sadness online after owners announced the closure.

"I'm so sad to hear that you are closing but am so grateful to have been able to visit you," Carly Whiskin wrote on the cafe's Facebook page.

 

Pretty straightforward. Picture: Facebook
Pretty straightforward. Picture: Facebook

 

"Congratulations on the amazing work you have done for women's communities," Astrid Wolger Ryan wrote.

"You will be missed and not forgotten."

Kristin Dresden said the cafe was run by "beautiful people" in a "beautiful space".

"Thank you for all you have done and will continue to do," she wrote. "As a vegan activist who went blindly and it turns out very naively into that role having no idea how much I would offend people by simply trying to make the world a better place I feel your frustration, your determination, and your resilience. Much love and gratitude."

According to the Federal Government's own statistics, the gender pay gap for Australia's full time workers is 14.1 per cent. Women earn on average $239.80 per week less than men.

The gender pay gap is lowest in Victoria (9.3 per cent) and highest in Western Australia (23.1 per cent).

Continue the conversation: rohan.smith1@news.com.au | @ro_smith


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