Sunday, January 24, 2016

Gender Tales: Pink Tax in Budapest

Hold on, I will get to the Pink Tax.

When my daughter started first grade in Budapest in 2014 there was a steep learning curve for both of us.  My expectations about the first-day experience were not met and I was I was deeply shocked by what I considered to be profoundly misguided traditions inconsiderate of children's needs when entering the care of a new school and a new teacher.

Over time I developed a love-hate relationship with the system. No school is perfect. But those striving toward perfection earn my respect. I worry about a system that doesn't seem self-aware, self-critical, or open to the changing needs of its population. However, it should be noted there is a growing teacher rebellion against the nationwide reforms imposed three years ago. The movement is worth your attention and support. Teachers are revolting and parents are revolting by turning away from the public system to open independent new schools.

Back to my local school and my kids. I think it is fair to say that a public school is a perfect microcosm of its culture. (And this will lead me to the Pink Tax, pinkie-swear.)

My current analysis of Hungary is that at the center of its cultural identity is this word:  Tradition. My theory about America is that its central word is:  Independence. These words function in ways that are fascinating to explore and tease out from the news and the arts. These identity tags function.

At the center of the Hungarian school is the notion of tradition with a capital T.

One example of this is the required sports class and its requisite uniform. I was instructed at the parent's meeting to purchase for my daughter a "torna ruha," white socks, and gym shoes with white soles. I get the gym shoes requirement, as it keeps the floors clean.

My first task was to understand "torna ruha." It translates to "gym clothes." However, in the Hungarian tradition (Tradition), this means the girls wear a leotard and the boys wear gym shorts and a white t-shirt. In a classroom of thirty kids they all strip down to their Star Wars skivvies and put on the gym uniform. Right away this signals the gym class is not a play class but a workout. Physical fitness is another lesson, as rigorous as math or reading. I have theories about this too. Seriously, how effective can that be? I know my husband learned to skip gym classes as soon as possible when growing up in a Hungarian school system. But let me stay focussed on the Pink Tax. We are getting there.

After much discussion about the gender imbalance related to requiring girls to wear body-revealing leotards while boys wear comfortable sports clothes, I dutifully went to the sports store. I had resigned to buy my daughter the leotard as well as the shorts and t-shirt. I would pack both and let her decide what worked best for her.

I found the display for the gym clothes. And there it was: The Pink Tax. The leotard cost 2,999 forint (about 10 dollars), which is not cheap. The shorts and the t-shirt combined cost 2,789.  A lesson in the marketplace before the first day of school: It is expensive to be a girl and have the "right" outfit! Granted, the price was only slightly more for the girl outfit. But there it is. Not only does the Tradition expect her to wear a body-revealing costume, it expects her to pay more for it (for less material).

It still makes my blood boil, roiling with pink bubbles of indignation.


FYI: More on the pink tax:

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