The Luxury of Color
How the 'pink tax' is affecting women and girls across the nation
By Emily Provost
The pink tax, while not an official state-issued tax, is commonly used to refer to the difference in price between many essential products which are marketed towards women versus ones towards men. While it is seen more frequently with products like deodorant or razors, it can also affect services like dry cleaning or eve haircuts.
Michael Cone, a volunteer for 20 years with the Feminist Majority Foundation, defined the pink tax as, “A name for phenomenon whereby goods and services marketed to females costs more than similar goods and services marketed towards males.”
Cone also explained that the costs affected by the pink tax can be separated into four distinct categories: Federal government taxation, tax policy, state government tax policy, and then private businesses.
Karyn O’Beirne, president of the Mid-Suffolk chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), understands it as simple marketing.
“It’s the manufacturers of products; where they can be thought of as gender specific and they believe that females would be more apt to buy them. They price them based on that. It’s marketed towards a certain gender and its priced differently,” she explained.
Having completed her undergraduate degree in Economics from SUNY New Paltz and her MBA from Adelphi University, O’Beirne understands the tricks of the trade.
“We’re in a market economy, so pricing is based on, supposedly, supply and demand,” she said.
A professor of modern European and post-colonial history and co-director of women studies at Hofstra University, Sally Charnow had similar things to say.
“In advertising, there’s all kinds of niche markets or niche groups who are targeted,” Charnow explained. “I think, in all these ways, advertising wants to shape to what it thinks we want and what we will buy. It’s not that all women are the same, and they know that, so they’re going to market to that specifically at this moment in time.”
According to an article, “The ‘Woman Tax’: How Gendered Pricing Costs Women Almost $1,400 A Year”, written by Forbes in 2012, women will typically spend around $1,351 more than men per year due to extra costs and fees. It is not so much that the costs of all these items is incredibly more expensive, but the few dollars here and there certainly add up over the span of a year.
“I think women are more used to spending more money on clothes, or deodorant or razors, and the way advertising shapes its way towards women’s products: this is made for you, for your special body, for your contours,” explained Charnow. “You are not made like a man; you are made differently, so this razor is going to do a super special thing that a man’s razor is not going to be able to do.”
Women are also typically making less than men in a year. This issue is made even worse by other factors including race. In an article published by USA Today, written by Nicole Zelinker, “‘pink tax’ means women still pay more for goods and services,” the data from a 2016 study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) notes that the average woman in America makes 80 percent of what a man makes. But when race comes into play, this percentage drops down to 63 percent for a black woman in comparison to the average white man.
Mary Hickey, senior director of communications for AAUW, confirmed these statistics.
“The pay gap affects women at every stage of their career: From when they graduate from college and throughout their career into retirement,” she explained. “The fact that women also face a pink tax makes this even more challenging.”
Charnow believes that these two difficulties are linked.
“I think the whole idea of ‘women are different and women either can’t work on the same level or can’t use the same level’ are part of a whole way of thinking about women,” she explained. “It’s a whole construction of what woman is, how woman behaves, what woman needs and how woman integrates or fits into our social world.”
When it comes to finances, it would seem that women have a lot of obstacles standing in their way of success. However, there may be mixed feeling towards whether legislation is the best course of action.
For O’Beirne, it is all about choice. She argues that the consumer’s free will makes all the difference. While woman have the opportunity to make the “smart” choice, they still may make the decision that they are most comfortable with.
This is a perspective with which Charnow agrees.
“I think we just have to get smart and not buy it. Boycotts have been effective,” said Charnow. “We can vote with our feet. We can buy what we want and consumer consciousness is really important…Collective action is effective.”
While Cone does agree that consumer choice is an important aspect to solving the issue of the pink tax, he noted that legislation against pricing based on gender alone has been effective in certain areas of the United States such as New York City, California, and Miami Day County.
Action on the part of the people is important, but where and how one chooses to spend their money is not the only solution to solving the issue of the pink tax.
“I think it’s more about grassroots education and people objecting to it,” said Cone. “Letting the companies know, whether it’s pink or its blue, if it looks the same and acts the same and does the same thing, I’m going to buy the cheaper one regardless of what color it is.”