#FeministFriday No. 17

Last summer, my mom asked me to pick her up some razors on my weekly Target run. I obliged, and got her a package of men’s disposable Gillettes. She was annoyed that I bought men’s razors until I explained that the razors were exactly the same except for the color of the handles — gray, instead of purple.

Oh, and that the men’s razors cost $5.99 for a pack of 4, while the women’s were $6.99 for a 3-pack.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-off isolated incident, or even a case of Target making a pricing mistake, but part of a larger consumer problem known as the Pink Tax.

The Pink Tax is the standard extra amount charged by manufacturers and retailers for products and services marketed for women.

Obviously the average woman is going to spend more money on certain products and services than men simply because they have different needs; for example make up and hair tools, and in the case of cis-women, tampons and gynecology appointments. However, discounting those types of purchases, the average woman still spends an extra $1,351 every year due to the Pink Tax, on top of the fact that women are being paid less than men in the first place.

The Pink Tax affects nearly every needlessly gendered product, including toys, soap, and even chocolate, but the most common offenders are listed below.

...Why?

Just…why?

Clothing

I could probably write a college thesis on the frustration and horror that resides in the women’s clothing industry, but I’ll save my fake pocket and flimsy material rants for another time and just focus on pricing today.

Last year, Old Navy fielded complaints for charging more for women’s plus sized clothing, but not for men’s. Plus sized women’s jeans were priced $12-$15 more than the standard sizes, while there was no difference in pricing for the men’s plus and standard sizes.

Gap, who owns Old Navy, released a statement that claimed the additional cost was because “they are created by a team of designers who are experts in creating the most flattering and on-trend plus styles, which includes curve-enhancing and curve-flattering elements such as four-way stretch materials and contoured waistbands.”

Based on this explanation, Old Navy apparently doesn’t care about creating flattering, on-trend styles for plus sized men, or providing them with clothing designed for their bodies.

Old Navy certainly isn’t the only clothing manufacturer guilty of the Pink Tax, but they might be the only ones to claim the 12-year-olds working in sweatshops in Bangladesh as their expert designers.

In addition to the retail price of clothing, services like dry cleaners employ a Pink Tax. In 2009, New York City Resident Janet Floyd surveyed several dry cleaners and found that men paid an average of $2.86 per shirt, compared to the $4.95 paid by women. According to some dry cleaners, their machines are built to launder men’s garments, which somehow makes women’s clothing more labor intensive. In some cases, cleaners will only dry clean — rather than launder — women’s shirts, despite charging more.

Self-Care Products

These are the kinds of things you buy from a drug store: razors, shaving cream, deodorant, face wash. All of them are subject to the Pink Tax.

A news station in Atlanta visited several local stores and found the following pricing discrepancies:

  • Target Generic Razors
    • Men’s 5-pack, blue handles: $4.99
    • Women’s 5-pack, pink handles: $10.99
  • CVS Gillette Shaving Cream
    • Men’s 7 oz. Sensitive Skin: $3.79
    • Women’s 7 oz. Satin Care: $3.99
  • Degree Deodorant
    • Men’s 2-pack of 2.7 oz.: $3.99
    • Women’s 2-pack of 2.6 oz.: $7.79
  • Neutrogena Face Wash
    • Men’s 5.1 oz. Invigorating Face Wash: $5.99
    • Women’s 4.7 oz. Deep Clean Invigorating Scrub: $7.69

It’s important to note that these products are often identical, save for the color of the actual product, or the design of the package, which incidentally is often what manufacturers point to as the source of the price differences.

I think I can get over not having flowers plastered all over my deodorant label if it means I’ll spend almost half as much as I am currently.

Vehicle Repair

I hoped this was nothing more than a tired cliché, but Northwestern did a study that had men and women call various repair shops asking about the cost of having a radiator replaced. Women who seemed uninformed on the phone were quoted and average of $406 for a job that should cost $365. Men who acted similarly clueless were on average quoted $383.

Tampons

I touched on this earlier, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Tampons, pads, and other menstrual hygiene products are going to cost more for cis-women than they will for cis-men, because cisgendered males have no reason to buy those products.

That being said, the average cis-woman will spend over $3,000 on pads and tampons in her lifetime. We’re already being paid anywhere from 90% to 55% of what our male counterparts earn, then expected to spend sometimes twice as much money than those same males on products that are considered basic necessities, then on top of all that we have to pay another couple thousand dollars on a natural bodily function we have no control over.

Sanitary products are vital for the health, well-being, and full participation of women and girls across the globe, so much so that the UN has called the stigma around menstrual hygiene “a violation of several human rights, most importantly the right to human dignity.”

Access to tampons and pads for low-income women in the United States is a real problem. Food stamps don’t cover feminine hygiene products, so some women resort to selling their food stamps to pay for the “luxury” of not bleeding everywhere.

In the US, breast pumps, vasectomies, and artificial teeth are sales tax-exempt and tax-deductible medical care, and Viagra has been covered by most insurance plans practically since its inception. Meanwhile, tampons aren’t even exempt from sales tax in most states. In principle, menstrual care is health care, and should be treated as such. Much like the idea of insurance companies covering the cost of birth control was met by outrage in the right-wing political community, the idea of women even getting small tax breaks for menstrual products provokes mocking and incredulousness because some people lack an incredible amount of empathy.

And probably because it has something to do with vaginas.

In 1986, Gloria Steinem wrote that if men got periods, they “would brag about how long and how much”. Boys would talk about menstruation as the beginning of their manhood, that there would be “gifts, religious ceremonies” and sanitary supplies would be “federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields — ‘For Those Light Bachelor Days.'”

I can live without menstrual bragging, but she brings up a good point: why aren’t tampons and pads free? Or covered by insurance? Or food stamps? Or at the very least, not taxed?

Probably because they’re sold in pink packages — silly me.

tampon aisle

We’re making some progress with the Pink Tax. Under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer charge women more for identical services, and insurers must also cover birth control, much to Rush Limbaugh’s chagrin. Incredibly, California passed a law prohibiting gender discrimination pricing in 1996 that threatens business a minimum fine of $1,000 if found guilty of charging women more. However, California also has a law that guarantees sunshine to the masses, so no word on how well the pricing law is enforced.

Public shaming of companies on Twitter and the French site Woman Tax has garnered some positive impact, but for now the best way to avoid the Pink Tax seems to be avoiding anything explicitly marketed towards females.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

#FeministFriday No. 16

As the weather continues to improve we can begin putting our parkas, heavy sweaters, and fleece-lined leggings into storage as our warmer-weather wardrobe gets to come back into rotation. That is, unless you’re one of the many thousands of middle or high school students expected to follow a dress code.

Dress codes are sexist and promote rape culture. 

Sign: "I'm sorry, can you see my shoulders?" Men are never told that their legs, arms

Sign: “I’m sorry, can you see my shoulders?”
Men are never told that their legs, arms or stomachs are a problem for other people. They are seen as human and are very rarely seen as something there for your sexual exploitsWe are thirteen through eighteen-year-old girls. If you are sexualizing us, YOU are the problem.  Dress codes are perpetuating rape culture and oppressive objectification towards young women. 

Dress codes are meant to be a fairly innocuous set of rules set in place by the faculty to set guidelines for appropriate apparel for school. In theory this is good, and should keep students from coming to school in clothing that could serve as a distraction for themselves or other students. The priority of school, after all, should be learning.

So why do most dress codes seem to enforce the idea that learning is only a priority for the male students?

In schools, girls are told repeatedly by faculty members that their appearance or clothing is a distraction. I’ve heard accounts of girls being yanked out of class because of visible bra straps, or mandatory girls-only assemblies during school hours to hear lectures by the faculty condemning the wearing of shorts in 100-degree heat.

Why?

Because wearing clothing that shows any skin or hint of an undergarment serves only to distract boys from learning, apparently.

This is a problem for two main reasons. First, it tells girls that their education is not as important as their male counterparts because female students are being forced to miss class time in order to better the male students’ learning environment. A rebuttal to this claim might be, “Well, girls shouldn’t wear something that breaks the rules if they don’t want to miss class.” This would be a fair point, except the rule being broken exists solely to protect the delicate attention span of the boys in the first place. Moreover, the rules themselves are often double-sided; for instance, the visible bra strap example from earlier. Yes, bras are undergarments and yes, undergarments are supposed be covered by clothing, yet I’ve never once heard of a boy being sent to the principal for distracting female students with visible boxer shorts worn under low-sagging pants.

It’s not even limited to high schools and teenagers. A Georgia kindergarten student was changed at school — without her mother’s notification or permission — because her skort was too short and considered distracting. “Who, exactly, is distracted by a kindergartener’s skort?” asked vlogger and YouTube personality Laci Green in a recent video. “According to hundreds of U.S. schools, it’s boys and perhaps even male faculty. That’s…uncomfortable.”

Green goes on to quote inappropriate comments made by school administrators to girls whose clothing was deemed problematic:

“You know, not all dresses look good on certain body types.” – Capistrano Valley High School Principal

“You shouldn’t be showing off your curves. Don’t you want a husband someday?” – Stuyvestant High School Official

“The school’s dress code violators are skanks.” – Oklahoma High School Superintendent

“Boys are bad, and that kind of shirt is going to cause them to misbehave.” – Lakeland High School Official

This leads us to the second main problem. Dress codes perpetuate the belief that the female body is inherently sexual regardless of context, and that a girl is not entitled to respect of any kind if her skin is exposed.

For girls, this often leads to self-objectification, which is when they only see themselves through the lens of the male gaze and forgo their own wants and needs in favor of male desires. Unsurprisingly, self-objectification has been linked to depression, eating disorders, and other mental health issues, and it doesn’t help that most dress code rules go hand in hand with body shaming.

Additionally, this teaches boys that it’s acceptable to be disrespectful and misbehave around girls wearing more revealing clothing. Boys learn that they’re not responsible for their actions; rather, it’s the fault of the girls for dressing that way.

Normalizing this “boys will be boys” behavior is one of the most common ways society lays the groundwork for harassment, sexual assault, and victim blaming.

To be clear, having guidelines is not the problem. The problem is that the guidelines disproportionately target girls, blames girls for distracting boys, and sexualizes the students — most of whom are still minors. Furthermore, punishing a girl for wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt with anything from public humiliation to detention, suspension, or even expulsion, while allowing a boy wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt to carry on unencumbered is actually illegal under Title IX. That’s right, the way most schools are enforcing their dress code can be construed as gender discrimination.

I was privileged enough to attend a high school that didn’t have a dress code — it had a uniform. Uniform-issue shorts and skirts worn by male or female students that did not sport a hemline falling within three inches of the knee resulted in a $10 uniform fine. Shirts that were not tucked in, bore the old school logo, or were not uniform-issue resulted in a $10 uniform fine. Visible undershirts and undershirts that were not white resulted in a $10 uniform fine. Pants, shorts, skirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, and fleeces that were discolored, had holes, or were not uniform-issue resulted in a $10 uniform fine. Three consecutive fines earned a detention.

The fines generated from this class alone could probably fund a new wing.

The potential fines in this photo could probably fund an entire new wing.

Granted, some faculty enforced the uniform more than others — a particular Algebra teacher on the 3rd floor springs to mind — but the rules were fair and equally enforced for all students. Classes weren’t disrupted in the event of an untucked shirt, and no one was ever sent home to change for wearing American Eagle pants instead of the horrible uniform ones made of navy blue cardboard.

While uniforms and monetary fines are an extreme and improbability for many schools to adopt, this is the mentality all schools need to embrace: rules that apply and are enforced for all students, regardless of gender. Otherwise, they’re guilty of violating Title IX, perpetuating rape culture, and just generally being shitty to their female students.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

 

 Also, check out Laci Green’s video here. She rocks!

#FeministFriday No. 15

Author’s Note: This post was supposed to be published Friday, April 10. Due to work being a bit hectic, I forgot to schedule it and it’s been sitting in the drafts folder for over a week. Whoops. 

As promised, this week’s #FeministFriday is all about Purvi Patel. You may know her as the 33-year-old Indiana woman who was charged with feticide and felony neglect and sentenced to twenty years in prison last month.

Legally charging pregnant persons for the premature end of a pregnancy — regardless of how it occurred — is not a protective measure, but an incredibly dangerous precedent to set. 

In July 2013, Patel was admitted to the Emergency Room at St. Joseph Hospital in Mishawaka, Indiana. She was bleeding heavily, and told doctors she had a miscarriage, and threw the stillborn fetus into a dumpster. Doctors believe she had been 23-24 weeks pregnant, and that the lungs of the fetus were not developed enough to breathe.

She was arrested shortly thereafter.

purvipatel

During the trial, the prosecution claimed that Patel was between 25 to 30 weeks pregnant, took abortion-inducing drugs in an attempt to terminate the pregnancy, and gave birth to a live baby, which she then abandoned.

A toxicology report failed to find any drugs in Patel’s system, and medical examiners found no evidence that the fetus was alive for more than a few seconds after birth.

Obviously this is a fairly gray moral issue, but regardless of what actually happened, the fallout from this ruling has the potential to be a new revolution against human rights.

If Patel did induce an abortion — a claim there is no evidence to support — it could be argued that she deliberately took a human life in a premeditated fashion. Coincidentally, that’s the legal definition for first-degree murder. I understand this is an argument anti-choice activists like to use, the whole “abortion is murder” bit that you see on those flashy signs milling around in front of Planned Parenthood. Catchy; however, not factually accurate simply because a fetus is not yet an autonomous alive person.

By this “abortion is murder” logic, the door opens to charge a pregnant person who suffers from a miscarriage with manslaughter. Yes, a manslaughter charge usually involves criminally reckless conduct, but if we’re at a point where we’re incarcerating a woman for feticide — which isn’t even a real word — without physical evidence, it seems pretty realistic that a pregnant person accidentally falling down the stairs might have to defend themselves in a court of law.

Actually, it seems incredibly realistic because it almost happened in 2010.

Furthermore, why stop at murder charges for abortions? If someone dying of renal failure finds out I’m a match, but I refuse to donate one of my kidneys — which I’m allowed to do by right of bodily autonomy — am I guilty of murder or felony negligence if they die?

On the other hand, if Patel had a miscarriage, she’s now facing twenty years in prison for a bodily function that was beyond her control. Read that sentence again and tell me that isn’t terrifying. She went to the hospital to seek medical care and support, and instead she received a murder charge from the state of Indiana.

While Patel is the first person to be sentenced under Indiana’s feticide laws, Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese American woman, faced feticide charges in 2011. Shaui was suffering from severe depression and attempted suicide while pregnant. She survived, but the fetus did not, and rather than receiving support and counseling, she was held in prison for a year before the charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.

Deepa Iyer, Activist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland’s Asian American Studies Program and former director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, says it’s important to note that the only two women charged with feticide are Asian American since women of color often lack access to basic health care, counseling, and other reproductive health resources, as well as the fact that Asian American youth report the strongest amount of stigma around sex and reproductive health of any group.

Additionally, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law’s 2013 study on arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women in the U.S. found that approximately 71% were low-income women and 59% were women of color.

For many pregnant people, the additional fear of arrest could prevent them from seeking critical and necessary physical or mental health care during their pregnancy, or in the event of a miscarriage.

No person should be afraid that life-saving medical care will lead to jail time. Full stop.

So please, tell me again how any of this is pro-life.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week.

 

Sources:

Purvi Patel Could Be Just the Beginning (NY Times)

Arrests of and Forced Interventions of Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health (Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law)

Homicide: Murder and Manslaughter (Law for All)

Claiming Our Power: South Asian Americans Leading Together

National Advocates for Pregnant Women

 

#FeministFriday No. 14

Indiana has been in the news quite a bit this week. No, this isn’t another take on matters of religious freedom and legal discrimination, or even the fact that Indiana courts just sentenced a woman to 20 years in prison for having a miscarriage — though you’ll probably be reading about that horrendous affront to human rights next week.

I digress. Today’s #FeministFriday is focused on another legislative gaffe in the Hoosier State, with a special guest appearance by the anti-choice movement:

Clinics like Planned Parenthood provide legitimate health care services that are oftentimes necessary to keep people healthy, yet people and political movements are still fighting to shut them down.

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about the detriments of totally outlawing abortions in Ireland? Remember how I explained that I considered the movement anti-choice rather than pro-life because their stances don’t move to promote the welfare and livelihood of all living people, but rather abolish the right for people to make choices for themselves?

The Planned Parenthood in Scott County, a rural community in Indiana, was forced to close its doors in early 2013 due largely to funding cuts to the state’s public health infrastructure in 2011. The cuts came amid GOP campaigns nationally and locally to defund and demonize the health care provider.

The fact that the clinic did not offer abortions as a service did not dampen the celebration among so-called pro-life advocates, who considered the closed clinic a victory for their fight.

The HIV outbreak currently exploding in Scott County, however, may give pause to the celebration.

The clinic – which did not offer abortions as a service – was the only HIV testing center in the county, and now over 80 Scott County residents have tested positive for HIV in the last four months.

Indiana’s GOP-led state legislature passed a bill in 2011 that defunded Planned Parenthood because some of its clinics offer abortions as a service. Despite a federal judge later blocking the law from going into effect, Indiana has continued slashing various funding sources as the cost of operating a medical facility continue to rise.

In 2014, Planned Parenthood of Indiana received $1.9 million in funding from government contracts and grants, which is nearly half of the funding they had received just a few years prior. Five of Indiana’s smaller Planned Parenthood clinics were unable to keep up with growing technology costs necessary to remain competitive and competent as a medical provider.

Of the five clinics that were forced to close, all had offered HIV testing. None of them had offered abortions.

Planned-Parenthood-Patient-Care

As a result, Scott County did not have any HIV testing facilities available until a few weeks ago, which according to Patti Stauffer, the Vice President for Public Policy for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, “is a glaring example of the kind of public health crisis that results when prevention and testing are left unfunded.”

Indiana is now scrambling to set up temporary clinics to fight an unprecedented HIV epidemic caused by intravenous drug use.

The estimated 11,547 people now infected with HIV or AIDS in Indiana will suffer from this horrific disease for the rest of their lives, and it is estimated that well over 100 people will suffer because so-called pro-lifers tried to shut down clinics that dare to allow women to exercise their right to bodily autonomy.

Nothing about this sounds like it’s promoting life to me.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week.

 

Sources:

How an HIV outbreak hit rural Indiana – and why we should be paying attention

Semi-Annual HIV/AIDS, STD, and Hepatitis B & C Data; through December 31, 2014

Indiana shut down its rural Planned Parenthood clinics and got an HIV outbreak