June 25, 2009 in Washington Voices

At checkout, womanhood requires inequitable outlay

Cindy Hval Correspondent

Recently, Lilly Ledbetter visited Eastern Washington University. The 71-year-old former line manager for Goodyear Tire spoke about her struggle to receive compensation from Goodyear after she discovered she’d been paid less than her male coworkers for nearly 20 years. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became the first act of Congress signed by President Barack Obama.

Ledbetter is a role model for many, and her stand against inequity benefits all women. However, I’ve recently experienced the lighter side of gender discrimination. I’ve just returned from swimsuit shopping.

I don’t know any women who look forward to shopping for a bathing suit. I’d worn my previous suit until it was so threadbare it bordered on obscene. When I told my husband I was going shopping for a new one, he said, “Could you pick one up for me while you’re out?”

That’s right. Men don’t need to try on bathing suits, or anything else for that matter. For many men swimsuit shopping consists of plopping down $20 at Costco. If you’re a married man, your wife can buy your new suit when she picks up a case of toilet paper.

When you’re a woman, however, swimsuit shopping often involves visiting several stores and trying on dozens of suits. I tried on 35 before finding one that covered my faulty assets and revealed my finer attributes. It might be too revealing. My husband loved it, but my teenage son shook his head and said, “That could cause a flirtation situation.” He’s still mortified because he observed a gas station attendant exhibit what he called “overfriendliness to Mom.”

He’s been busy crafting the perfect response to this awkward situation. So far he’s come up with yelling, “Dude! Don’t flirt with my mom!” really loud.

Finding suitable swimwear is not only more difficult for women, it’s more expensive. My suit cost three times as much as my husband’s and contains less fabric. How is that equitable?

Speaking of skimpy fabric, women also have to pay more for undergarments. A three-pack of Hanes will set my husband back less than $10. My favorite Victoria’s Secret undies – three for $30. Does this seem fair?

And please do not write to me about the savings that can be achieved by buying underwear in bulk at discount stores. A woman’s got to have some kind of standards. And even if I did buy my panties by the ton, men’s briefs would still be cheaper.

Being a woman is just darn expensive. Women often pay more for dry cleaning, haircuts and health insurance. Frances Cerra Whittelsey wrote a book about it: “Why Women Pay More: How to Avoid Marketplace Perils.”

So we’re spending more money and what do we get? Long lines at public bathrooms, that’s what we get. How many sporting events or concerts have you attended and seen a line snaking out of the women’s restroom while there’s no waiting in the men’s room?

I end up studying the programs at these events, strategizing when would be the most opportune time to use the restroom. Does this seem fair?

Lilly Ledbetter has inspired me. I’m looking for sponsors for my own piece of legislation. Soon, you may read about the Cindy Swimsuit Equal Cost Law or perhaps the Hval Fair Price Undergarment Act.

You can sign my petition at the next Spokane Indians game. It won’t be hard to find me. I’ll be waiting in line at the ladies’ room.

Contact correspondent Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/ columnists.

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