Ita Buttrose. Photo: Stefan Postles
The email came from the address of a fancy private boys school.
It asked me to come and talk to a group of boys who were "very committed to advancing gender equality and we highly commend them for their unwavering efforts".
The email was certainly polite. "Can you please let me know if you are available? The boys and their guests would love it."
Tracey Spicer. Photo: James Brickwood
I get so many requests like this. Most are from what I'd usually describe as traditional non-profits working for equality, unions, women's groups. Occasionally from a law firm, a big conference. This is good. Getting the feminist message out there is worth doing and I'm getting better at doing it.
Very occasionally, I ask for a fee. Not for me but to go to 1 800 RESPECT. I figure that organisations and companies which can pay, should pay.
So I wrote back to the person who issued the invitation from the school and said I would be happy to come so long as the school donated the equivalent of a small speaker's fee to a hotline for sexual assault victims. She said she would check. A week later, I received an email telling me the event had been cancelled.*
The men I know never get asked to do something for nothing. Never. They will get the odd request which says, sorry the fee is so low. Or, apologies, we know this isn't the market rate.
And because of that, those very good men will do the occasional gig for free. David Morrison, Australian of the Year, contributes some of his time for nothing. He's spoken to endless women's conferences, both corporate and for non-profit organisations, taking his message out there, if he believes in the cause.
But he can also charge $15000 and more for delivering a keynote. He's worth it. Worth every cent.
But the women I know struggle – even the ones I think should be able to charge a fortune. A couple of weeks back, a very senior woman was offered a derisory $2500 for a keynote speech for an internal conference at a firm in the financial services sector. Yes, that's quite a bit of money if you think it's for one hour's worth of work. But keynote speeches are very different to that.
Winston Broadbent, managing director of Saxton Speakers Bureau, one of Australia's biggest agents for speakers, says: "With a speaker you are not buying 40 minutes you are buying 40 years, you are buying the wisdom of the ages."
He says many keynote speakers do some work for free and charge for others. Broadbent cites Ita Buttrose, who he considers as the premier speaker in Australia, particularly for her work on ageing. He won't disclose what she charges but it's more than $15000, for companies which can afford it.
The woman who was offered $2500 knocked back the fee. She said that the company which offered it made a record profit of nearly $100 million in 2014 which itself was an increase on the year before. The keynote speech was part of a diversity and support program within the organisation and when she challenged the fee, she was told that was a problem with the budget for that program. That's where part of the problem lies.
Broadbent challenges the idea that men and women are paid differently. He says it's not the case at Saxton's and in his organisation, there is not much difference.
"I am a great lover of women speakers and they have lot to offer and this is not a function of whether female or male, it is about how good you are," he claims.
But Tracey Spicer, keynote speaker, ABC personality and expert educator, disagrees:
"I've noticed in the past six months that male Champions of Change are being paid at least twice, sometimes three times, the amount on the speaking circuit as feminists who've been fighting for equality for decades.
"It proves that gender inequality, and the pay gap, are deeply embedded in society. Frankly, it's gobsmacking. And insulting."
Katie Roiphe, author and academic, wrote this week of how she felt when she discovered in a conversation with a male colleague, that he earned much more than her.
He asked her: "Didn't you ask for more money when you got your job offer?"
She wrote: "It turns out that when not only he, but some other male colleagues, received their initial job offers from our university, they negotiated for more money and benefits, and are all making 10‑15% more than me. None is more qualified. None works harder."
She felt what so many women feel when they start talking about money, that it's somehow grasping, not worthy.
I think that it's also about what we are being offered, how society imagines the worth of women. As my friend who knocked back the $2500 gig did, we need to start doing it to be treated as equals.
By the way, I discovered the *talk to the boys wasn't cancelled at all. What was cancelled was the concept of spending a few hundred dollars on a rape crisis line.
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