By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah
For years, many women have been outraged by the pink tax, a term attributed to cases in which women pay more than a man does for the same product. Women have called through social media for an end to gendered pricing, especially because women already are paid less than men on average. Many feminists agree that the pink tax is a symptom of the patriarchal system that exists within the United States. How come the pink tax exists?
Feminists speculate that manufacturers use the approach of “shrink it and pink it,” in which they make the product look more feminine and small as a marketing tactic. “Yes, sometimes women do need smaller versions of things, and for jeans and other clothing, we want different cuts and different fashions,” said Christine Whelan, director of MORE: Money, Relationships and Equality at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in an interview with US News. “But the idea that that equates to somewhere between a 30 to 50 percent price hike is simply playing on the socialized culture that says women need to look a certain way.” Economists believe that it’s basic supply and demand. Pink toys appeal to a more specialized group, so manufacturers can charge more. Companies who are accused of charging women more claim that it costs more to manufacture women’s products. It is the third claim of which we will examine the most in this article.
Razors are often cited as a prominent example of gendered pricing. Dr. Kristina Vanoosthuyze, who works at the Gillette Innovation Centre, defended the higher pricing in an interview with the Boston Magazine. “The elastomer materials in the grip points, finger rests, and how women hold the razor are different and more comprehensive, she said. “It’s important to make the razor ergonomic to use, because women typically shave in a fairly wet environment. And for women, shaving can be like acrobatics, trying to get the ankles, back of the legs, knees, etc. We want the handle to have good control so she can move it around in her hands.” The shape and pivot of the razor head are also different to “fit the contours of a woman’s body,” according to the Best Health Magazine. Men don’t have as much pressure to shave as much body hair as women do, most likely because of sexual attraction. Therefore, women’s razors are made to cover more body parts as opposed to men’s razors. This creates more differences between the razors than what meets the eye, and likely creates the price difference.
Jeans are another example. Old Navy came under fire last year for making plus-sized women’s jeans cost $12-$15 more than regular-sized jeans, but not making the same adjustment for plus-sized and standard men’s jeans. Gap, Old Navy’s parent company, justified the pricing difference, claiming that a team of designers add curve-enhancing elements like four-way stretch materials and contoured waistbands that aren’t present in men’s wear. Differences in male and female proportions explain a need for female-specific contouring, especially for plus-sized jeans. Design, especially contouring, is a common reason used to explain why women’s clothing is more expensive than men’s clothing, including shoes, shirts, and formal wear.
The dry cleaners’ is also part of the pink tax. Women are often charged more at the dry cleaners’ than men for their shirts. The reason, as explained by dry cleaning company Battiston’s, is that women’s shirts contain more elaborate fabric, cuts, styles, and trims and “should not or simply cannot be laundered and pressed.” Thus, the shirt will need to be finished by hand, creating a more labor-intensive job and an increase in price.
Products like pads and tampons are examples of things that men don’t need but women have to pay for. Feminists like Jessica Valenti of The Guardian have argued that tampons should be covered by jobs-based health insurance. UNICEF estimates that 10% of African girls miss school during their period. Therefore, proponents argue that menstrual products are necessities for women and should be covered. The common argument against adding more to work-based healthcare coverage is that small businesses would have to pay the price as well, while bigger corporations can handle providing more health insurance.
While both the economist’s and feminist’s perspective are valid, it would not make sense to raise prices higher for women when it already costs more to manufacture women’s products. Why? The awareness spread by the pink tax will incentivize women to pursue lower prices. Therefore, if women’s products are marked up as a result of marketing, companies would find it in their best interest to make the products as cheap as possible.