The Extra Cost of Being A Woman
By Kileigh Ford
Frankly, I’m sick of getting weird looks from the cashier when I place down a stick of men’s deodorant on the counter at CVS, and I’m tired of girls admitting to using Old Spice deodorant in hushed tones before being relieved when others do too. I’ve loved the smell of Old Spice’s Classic Deodorant since middle school, but as I’ve grown up it’s not just the smell anymore (which I’ve now grown sick of) that gets me, but the cheap, $2 price tag that rings on the shelf. I’m a sucker for Dove’s Cucumber Dry Spray Antiperspirant, but when I’m scooting by with a week until I get paid, the $8+ price tag just isn’t a reality.
Plaguing women of the world for years, the “Pink Tax” refers to the extra cost on women’s items, such as dry cleaning, hygiene supplies and clothing. In addition to the already existent wage gap, the “Pink Tax” aims to create a higher price tag for all things targeted at women, hence the female gender stereotyped color “pink” in its title. With basically the same ingredients in shampoo marketed “for women” as “for men”, the price tag differs significantly, but why? What’s the basis for this difference and why has it been allowed to persist for so long?
The “Pink Tax” occurs everywhere worldwide, but there are pockets of the world where people have taken more notice to it. The United States, for example, is one where citizens and governments alike have taken notice. In 2015 the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs conducted a study in which 800 products sold around New York City, labeled either male or female, were compared at their price points. They found that female products cost more 42% of the time and, on average, were 7% more than the male-targeted equivalents. Added up over an average lifespan, according to axthepinktax.com, women pay an average of $1,351 more than men every year “just for being a woman.”
For just being a woman, the study found that ladies pay 7% more for toys and accessories than men, 4% more for children’s clothing, 8% more for adult clothing, 13% more for personal care items, and 8% more for senior care products.
The color of an item has dictated the price, not the make, not the material used, but the differing color on the same item (see image above). And if that’s not enough, a look through the ingredients of Head & Shoulders shampoos shows that their female-targeted and male-targeted shampoos are made up of the same major ingredients, the minor differences being found at the very bottom of the ingredients list to add their advertised extra moisture or volume. Despite the same make up, the shampoos are branded toward different individuals simply because of the color of their bottle, and consumers see a $1-$2 difference in price because of it. In addition, Head & Shoulders always puts “For Men” across their male-targeted items in bold letters with a deep blue hue but never “For Women” or “For Everyone” on the other bottles although they have them classified into these categories on their website. Just a “Hair You’ll ❤ Guaranteed” in white with a pink background. Hmm interesting.
New York’s First Lady Chirlane McCray, Honorary Chair of the Commission on Gender Equity stated, “This study confirms a sad reality that women are confronted with every day – we pay a high price for our gender. And more expensive toiletries are just a fragment of the problem. It’s harder for us to secure good jobs. When we do get a job, we are generally paid less than men. And when, despite the obstacles, we do succeed, we’re judged for ‘acting too much like a man’ or not taking good enough care of our families. Yes, we have made progress in recent decades. But the fight for equality is far from over. Today I am more proud than ever to live in New York City, where we realize that seven percent inequality is seven percent too much.” Because Yes, seven percent is seven percent too much, especially when the wage gap rages on at women making eighty cents to every dollar men make.
Luckily some companies are taking a stand. Dollar Shave Club is a company that sells gender neutral shaving equipment, placing no tax dependent on gender and actively trying to grow their female audience through social media. A company with the same mindset, Billie, advertises “We’re here to give you everyday TLC from top to toe. We deliver high-quality shaving supplies and body products at a fair price – without the clichés or pink tax. ” With lines like, “We won’t call you a goddess for shaving your legs. Promise.” and “Women’s razors cost 10-15% more than men’s razors. Not cool.” it’s hard not to feel like this company was meant for you. Billie delivers a $9 starter kit complete with a razor handle, magnetic holder, and two 5-blade razor cartridges. You pick the color you want and any add-ons you want, then you’re set. Another company, Boxed, seeks to do the same in making statements like “We took a hard look at some of the products offered on Boxed and realized that many female products cost significantly more than their male equivalents per ounce or unit. We want to take a stand to correct this, even if that means taking a hit on margin.” and “Periods are not a luxury.” Boxed sells all things from groceries to lifestyle items at a price much lower than their competitors. The closest comparison I could find was Boxed selling a pack of 96 super absorbency Tampax Pearl tampons for $15.46 while a notable drugstore sells a pack of 36 variety pack of Tampax Pearl tampons for $8.29; A box about half the size as what Boxed sells would be nearly double at a competing drug store. While these companies are doing it right, three companies that are peaking their heads into popularity is still a small win for the world.
And to go with the “Pink Tax” is the tampon tax, often used interchangeably. Considered luxury items, multiple countries have set out to rid their female citizens of having to pay this tax. In Australia, they are taxed 10% under the 10% Goods and Services Tax. The UK reduced an insane 17.5% tax, called the Value Added Tax, on these items but reduced the tax to 5% in 2000. In Slovakia, Malaysia and the UK, taxes still exist. In good ol’ Canada, the government rallied behind a petition to rid Canadians of taxes on menstrual products. The US sees taxes depending on the state; thirty-eight see a tax on sanitary products while Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and five states that do not have sales tax already do not. While erectile dysfunction medications are tax-exempt because they are seen as non-luxury items in all US states except Illinois, menstrual supplies are not. To me this sounds like our government saying that periods are something you can control, so you should just try to hold the blood up there a little longer.
Yes, it’s true: there isn’t someone standing over a pink box of Playtex tampons saying “we should tax these” but the problem is that tampons are grouped in with non-essentials, often considered luxury hygiene items like shampoos and face washes when any women will tell you, you kind of need one of these three things more than the others.
But this is how the “Pink Tax” rages on: items are categorized in a fashion that makes essential items for women seem like luxury items to own, and the blanket sales tax over these items gains money for the state government. Plus with the "Pink Tax”, according to Anne-Marcelle Ngabirano of USA TODAY, “Service providers say that women’s dry cleaning and haircuts tend to be more labor and time intensive, which is why women are willing to pay higher prices.” She finds that Ted Potrikus, CEO of the Retail Council of New York State begs to differ. According to Mr. Potrikus, “Retailers see women as their biggest target. Research and development, following trends, meeting trends, advertising products on television and in magazines are not cheap.” Coupled with this, Michael Cone, a customs attorney who brought the issue of equal protection provisions over gender specific items to court, “Advertising that doesn’t talk up the product but tells you you’ll be prettier and more successful is emotional advertising.”
Since companies know women will pay more for the same item as men if they convey emotional advertising, they run with it. Past the fact that the pink color of an item raises the price tag, there’s not much of a difference between items targeted at men and those targeted at women. The real difference is who is impacted: women everywhere. With new companies like Dollar Shave Club, Billie and Boxed emerging, it feels like change is on the horizon. Seven more states recently introduced legislation to have tampons and other menstrual products removed from being under their sales tax, with three of them aiming to invoke the change this year. With the fourteen states ridding the tampon tax, that makes twenty-one who have made an effort to change the rules. While the pink tax may continue on, there are people who are ready to combat it in any way they can.