The invention of mass media rapidly increased companies’ power over their customers. Newspapers, radio, television, and now social media have allowed companies to associate customer’s self-described interests with products that best match their interests. But, what happens when companies begin targeting customers based on categorical data such as gender, and the stereotypes and constructs related to that gender? The Pink Tax is just one example of how companies use gender-based stereotypes to exploit their female customers. And while this may seem like an issue of the past, these marketing and price disparities are prevalent as ever.
The Pink Tax that women consumers experience today comes in two forms: one is the taxation of feminine hygiene products as “luxury” items, and the other is the noticeable price difference between a product’s versions for men and women – with the women’s version costing more. (For this article, the term “Pink Tax” will be used to refer to the latter form.) The price mentioned above and marketing differences are often seen in products like razors, lotions, shampoo, haircuts, and even writing utensils.
Kelly Finley, a senior lecturer and undergraduate advisor of women’s and gender studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte has studied these inequalities for over fifteen years. She remembers many instances of experiencing a difference in the quality or price of an item or service because it was considered the women’s version. “It’s a two-fold effect. There’s the economic effect, just paying more for the same goods. Especially when women on average make less than men. And it may seem frivolous to argue over these things, but when you think about how many times you get razor blades, how many times you buy shampoo, for over the years. It begins to [add up] .”
Although women can use some “men’s” products such as shampoo or razors, other times the price hike is inevitable. For example, women are charged more to dry clean their suits, even though men’s suits have more fabric. The individuals who work at the cleaners automatically know whether a suit or button-up shirt was made for a man or woman – there’s no way for women to avoid the upcharge.
Also, women’s basic haircuts often cost more than men’s, even when the time needed to complete both services are equal. “The stylists [where I worked] would work on thirty-minute increments. For a man’s haircut, they would charge thirty-five or forty dollars. But for a woman’s haircut – in the same amount of time – they would charge seventy dollars.” Finley explained. The Pink Tax is ever-present in women’s lives, and it often goes unnoticed or is considered normal.
One of the most publicized examples of the Pink Tax being brought to light occurred in 2012 when BIC released a series of pens called “BIC for Her.” These pens were sold in pink and purple packaging, with a glowing, cursive font used to list the features. Outside of a grip placed on the pen (which is found on other, non-gendered models), the pen operated the same as any other pen. The release was met with widespread backlash, with many questioning why this product was released in the first place.
Finley described this difference in products as part of the “mythical norm,” which states that everyone outside of the white, heterosexual, male is considered less-than. “It makes it seem like women require special treatment to do the same work.” Says Finley. “When you specialize someone, you otherize them.”
Consumers have continuously pushed for large companies to be transparent and held accountable. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the government or another authoritative third-party to place price restrictions on these gendered products and services. In the meantime, women can exercise their buying power by avoiding these products and voicing their feelings regarding this unfair treatment. An informed customer is a happy customer, and with women leading this change, companies will soon follow.
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