The Pink Tax. It sounds so cute, doesn’t it? But I can assure you it’s anything but.
On 3rd October 2018, Australian State and Territory treasurers FINALLY agreed to remove the GST (Goods and Services Tax) from feminine hygiene products. For 18 years tampons and sanitary pads were classified as “non-essential items” (WTAF?). Meanwhile, condoms and sunscreen were exempt from the tax. It astounds me how blatant this form of discrimination is, or was – thankfully.
While that battle may have been won, the war is far from over. The Pink Tax is still a very real cost of being a woman in today’s society.
So, what is the Pink Tax? Essentially, it’s gender-based price discrimination. It results in women being charged more for products and services simply because the product is marketed to women. Sometimes it might mean a sweeter scent or a slightly different shape. But this phenomenon can be as overt as the company simply changing packaging (to pink, usually). They then increase the price, despite it being an almost identical product to that sold to men.
There are multiple studies, both in Australia and abroad, which have found that women are frequently charged more for a range of products, compared to similar products marketed to men. The results found that women pay 13% more for personal care products, 8% more for similar adult clothing items, more than double for dry cleaning and shockingly 7% more for girls’ toys! This toy-based gender divide, unfortunately, seems to be getting worse, not better.
More subtle discrimination
One thing that is much harder to pinpoint, and impossible to legislate, is the cost of society’s expectations about what it means to be a woman. While there are gender-based expectations placed on both men and women, those expected of women tend to increase our cost of living significantly.
The majority of these cultural rules, at least in the western world, are appearance-based. For example, the expectation that women wear makeup, dress in the latest fashion, have their hair and nails done, or have their body hair removed. The additional cost of having to keep up your appearance is not insignificant. And yes, men of course have grooming costs, but the price of similar products and services are often higher for women (see above).
The cost of not adhering to these societal norms can also be high. Women who choose not to wear makeup are likely to find that it has an impact on their salary and career progression. A study conducted by Northwestern University in the USA found that women who wear makeup to work are more likely to be seen as competent and therefore more likely to be promoted and more generously compensated.
Additionally, the use of injectables like Botox and other cosmetic surgery is getting more and more common. This is unsurprising given workplace age discrimination is on the rise. Not to mention the pressure from media for women to avoid ageing naturally at all costs.
Gender-based discrimination is complex. We’re not going to wipe it out with one single action, or even likely within this lifetime. But we can take small steps to move towards a more equal and just society for all genders.
I see two main ways that we as individuals can create change. I agree that change needs to happen at the structural level, but today I want to focus on the practical steps we can take today as consumers and emotional beings.
In order to get rid of the Pink Tax, we need to be aware of it. We need to be aware of the ways that marketing and advertising try to manipulate us. I recently bought a family photography package and during the viewing, they played soft emotive music as I viewed the photos. It made me well up and want to buy all the beautiful photos she had taken of me and my family. That was until I recognised what was going on. Once I was aware of it I was in a better position to make my decision from a more objective standpoint. I still ended up spending a bloody fortune, mind you!
We need to see through the fluffy and emotive marketing tactics for what they are. Rather, we should evaluate a product or service for what it truly is and the benefit that it will give us. Ask yourself, how is the marketing or advertising trying to make you feel? Scared? Insecure? Sad? Lonely? Don’t let it take your power from you.
We need to research the things we buy and find out if there is a cheaper, better, gender-neutral product available to us. Do we really need pink razors or ladies socks? Obviously, there isn’t always a like-for-like solution. In that instance, we can then decide whether we really need it or want it. And, whether it’s worth the hours we worked to earn what it will cost us.
Secondly, we need to acknowledge our choice in what we buy and how we live our lives.
I don’t wear a great deal of makeup. But when I do, I do it because I really enjoy it. I love playing with a winged liquid eyeliner (which I have still not perfected after 20+ years of trying) or playing with blending bronzer or replacing the volume the that 90’s stole from my eyebrows.
The point is that if we buy makeup, skincare, have our nails done or choose the expensive hair salon, that we should recognise that we have the choice not to. Granted, sometimes this can be difficult, but it’s within us to fight against pressures to be anyone other than ourselves.
If these things are important to us then we should own it. Put it into our budget and acknowledge we are doing it because we want to.
Equally, let’s normalise NOT wearing makeup. Let’s allow our nails go unpolished, our legs unwaxed, our hair go grey. And most importantly let’s not shame women who choose to make decisions about their appearances and lives that are different from ours. Let’s call out our male colleagues who comment on our looking “tired” when we don’t wear makeup. Or refuse to buy magazines that frequently shame celebrities for choosing not to have children, not have makeup, or… actually don’t get me started on the tabloid magazines.
Change starts from within
Sometimes I feel a bit exhausted and angry that women individually must take on the burden of making systemic change. But ultimately, living in a society that values men and women equally is something important to me. Equally, having awareness about yourself, what you value and how you spend your money is also important to our inner peace.
So, I realise that it’s worth the effort. Acknowledge that economic gender-based discrimination is real and then take the steps to change how you act in the world. It’s the only way I know to create lasting change for the world I want (and I want my children) to live in.