The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago Lowers Ticket Prices for Those Impacted by Gender Pay Gap

Starting next month, anyone who believes the gender pay gap has negatively impacted their earning potential can pay a discounted price for museum admissions. The new policy coincides with the opening of a traveling Laurie Simmons exhibition.

Laurie Simmons, Pushing Lipstick (Spotlight), 1979. Photo: © Laurie Simmons, courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.

In the US, the average woman worker makes around 81 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterparts. (The gap is even more drastic for Black and Latina women.) In an effort to call out this disparity, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is lowering its price of admission for anyone who believes the gender pay gap has negatively impacted their earning potential.

Starting February 24th, visitors will have the option to pay $12 for tickets — 81% of the full price of $15. The new admissions policy coincides with the opening of Laurie Simmons: Big Camera/Little Camera, a traveling retrospective of the renowned feminist photographer’s work. MCA director Madeleine Grynsztejn proposed the idea for discounted tickets, and curator Naomi Beckwith announced the new policy at a preview for Simmons’s exhibition. This admission policy will apply during the run of the Laurie Simmons exhibition, from February 23 through May 5, 2019, in honor of the artist.

The MCA joins a long list of institutions with pricing structures that reflect wage disparities between genders. In 2017, Handsome Her, a Melbourne cafe “where women reign supreme,” announced it would charge men an 18% premium “to reflect the gender pay gap.” On a single Tuesday night in 2015, The Way Station, a Doctor Who-themed bar in Brooklyn, charged women 77% of their bar tab. Other businesses with similar policies include the Ontario restaurant Morrissey House and the travel insurance company Travel with Jane. On “Equal Pay Day” in 2017, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization launched a one-day campaign called #20PercentCounts, in which more than 300 businesses in 25 cities offered 20% discounts in an effort to “highlight the unfairness of the gender pay gap.”

Such efforts do more to draw attention to systemic sexism than to provide meaningful financial assistance to underpaid women, of course, and often read as corporate feminist publicity stunts. While it’s unclear whether these gestures contribute to real progress in the fight for equal pay, they certainly contribute to social media uproar — in some cases, men have claimed that being charged more than women amounts to a violation of their human rights.

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