Take a look at these two t-shirts. The same color, the same fit, same neckline, from the same store (River Island.) Obviously, one is made for a female’s body and the other is for a male but apart from that, can you see any difference between the two?
No, of course you can’t because there is no difference, oh, apart from 3 euro difference in the price. The garment on the left (woman’s shirt) retails for 13 euro while the one on the right (man’s shirt) goes for 10 euro. You might think I’m being frugal, desperate even, to prove a point, but this is only one in thousands of examples of how it costs more to be a woman.
This can be explained by something called, the Pink Tax. This is when a company creates two, almost identical products and markets one for men and one for women, charging a significantly higher price for the latter. This can be seen in clothing, skin care products, hair removal products, fragrances and even children’s toys.
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) conducted a study in which they compared 800 odd products with clear male and female versions from more than 90 brands sold at two dozen New York City retailers, both online and in stores. The DCA reported that out of these products, women’s products cost 7% more than equivalent products for men and that women’s products cost more 42% of the time. The proof is in the numbers but you don’t need a master’s degree in statistics to see just how often female consumers get the short end of the stick.
Why are women expected to pay more, when they are paid less? In literally every country studied in the Global Gender gap report for 2016, on average, women earn less than men. Even though Ireland, my home country, ranked an impressive number 6 in the world, we still don’t have full equality when it comes to pay. Yet somehow, we’re expected to pay more for the exact same products that men pay less for? That’s not to mention the products women have to buy that (cis) men luckily don’t (i.e. sanitary products, various methods of birth control) and the products and services we indulge in to meet society’s expectations of what is to be feminine (waxes, make up, tanning, manicures, pedicures etcetera et fucking cetera.)
This concept can be so maddening that it is easy to forget the most ridiculous aspect of The Pink Tax, why are these products gendered in the first place? I have broken down all of the beauty/hygiene products I’ve featured in this post to their most basic ingredients and no joke, the products marketed for men and the products marketed for women are pretty much made entirely with the same formulas. Men’s products are usually made with blue or black packaging, simple in their design, advertised with words like ‘powerful’, ‘strong’, ‘intense’, whereas women’s products are marketed with feminine pink or purple packaging, with flowers, hearts or butterflies and are advertised with buzzwords such as ‘soft’, ‘sensitive’, or ‘delicate.’ What does this say about how society views men and women?
For example, see the compared ingredients of two Nivea shower gels below, one is marketed towards women and the other towards men. The pink text are the ingredients both products have in common.
Nivea Creme Soft Shower Crème (€0.60/100ml)
Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Parfum, Glycerin, Glyceryl Glucoside, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis Oil, Sodium Chloride, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Polyquaternium–7, Styrene Copolymer, Citric Acid, PEG-200 Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate, Sodium Benzoate, Linalool, Limonene, Citronellol, Benzyl Alcohol, Geraniol, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone.
Nivea Men Energy Shower Gel (€0.44/100ml):
Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Parfum, Glycerin, Glyceryl Glucoside, Menthol, Sodium Chloride, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Polyquaternium-7, Citric Acid, PEG-200 Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Salicylate, Linalool, Limonene, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citronellol, Benzyl Alcohol, Coumarin, Citral.
At least the above products might smell different, feel different on the skin, you could easily develop a preference for one over the other to justify the price difference. At least their only difference isn’t the color of the packaging. This is a huge trend in consumerism, take an already manufactured product, color it pink, label it ‘for her’ and charge extra.
I remember in secondary school, Casio came out with a new pink scientific calculator and all the girls in my class had it. The stationary shop across from the school was selling it for significantly more than its grey and blue counterpart but we all bought it (figuratively and literally), because it was pink, that’s literally the only extra value it held.
It’s something we’re taught from the moment we enter this world, pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Initially, it’s the color of the balloons your mother gets when your born, then it’s the clothes you wear as a toddler, the color of the pencil case and backpack you get for school to the color of the disposable razors you purchase as an adult.
It’s not something we even consciously think about as a consumer, you see an option advertised with feminine packaging vs the option with masculine packaging and you pick the one that was in a way, already predetermined for you. Often times these options are situated on completely different aisles in the store, so unknowingly, girls are choosing the more expensive option assuming that the men’s version is the same price.
Ladies, it’s time to ditch pink. We need to stop buying products based solely around their physical aesthetics. We must think more critically when it comes to our role as a consumer. Check the price tags, check ingredients, be analytical. Don’t let big advertising corporations limit your experience. Boycott companies that think our pretty little girly minds are too dim to take notice of their deception. Remember, products have no gender and blue is cute too.
(Disclaimer 1: When I refer to ‘girl products’ or ‘boy products’ in this article I mean products that are specifically marketed towards one gender, I know that anybody can use any product they want including makeup, tan etc. I also understand that not all females choose to shave, get their nails done etc. In fact, this essays very core is about defying gender norms. When I say that men don’t need to worry about buying sanitary items I am referring to cis men, I am aware that some trans men also need to purchase these types of products and I don’t mean to exclude you guys. I see you.
Disclaimer 2: All products I have used as examples in this article are compared fairly. Each pair of items are from the same retailer (Boots, River Island, Topshop, Tesco, Smyths), compared in price per ml and no sale prices were used.)