#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!

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