Women not only earn less than men: they wind up paying more for goods and services. Here’s how brands put a “pink tax” on female consumers — and how they’re fighting back.

In May 2016, the California State Senate approved a bill, SB 899, proposing to ban businesses from charging men and women different prices for similar products. The bill was proposed by state senator Ben Hueso, who explained his position during floor debate: “We understand that women already earn less income. Why are we charging them more for essential products that they need in their everyday lives?”

Taxation Without Representation

Hueso supported his argument with quotes from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs’ 2015 report on gender disparity in pricing. The comprehensive study analyzed 794 products across 5 industries, and found that on average, women’s products cost 7% more than similar products for men, rising to 13% more for personal care products.
The report demonstrates that women start paying the “pink tax” early in life, with equivalent toys costing more for girls.

 

Children's Helmets

Even the most utilitarian products are often priced differently:

Rib support

Despite the report’s unequivocal results, Hueso withdrew the bill on June 28th, following firm opposition from lobbyists and assembly members who argued that this legislation would put unfair pressure on state retailers. California Chamber of Commerce representative Jennifer Barrera predicted that the bill would prove difficult to enforce: “There is still ambiguity in the statute, and if there is room for ambiguity then it’s going to incentivize litigation.”

Fighting Like A Girl

While this bill may have stalled, the war against unfair pricing is far from over. Many consumers have taken to social media to highlight instances of gendered pricing they encounter while shopping, providing a forum to publicly challenge these unfair practices.

Sometimes his and hers products have the same sticker price — but the female version comes in a smaller size, effectively delivering less bang for the buck.

Along with the higher price tags, female-targeted packaging often features sexist tropes and images.

Meanwhile, some businesses are flipping the script and refusing to levy the pink tax — particularly in personal care. Australian veterans Aesop have achieved cult success with their minimalist, unisex packaging design meant to appeal to both men and women. Sam Farmer created his gender neutral skincare line after shopping for his kids: “Having seen the rows of products, pink, pouty and submissive packaging aimed at my daughter and steel grey, macho stuff intended for my son, I left determined to do something about it.”

More established brands are likewise beginning to recognize the importance of championing equality and non-traditional expressions of gender identity: after years of macho marketing, Axe body spray’s “Find Your Magic” campaign gained praise with its aim of “shedding traditional notions of masculinity and embracing one’s individual sense of how to be a man.” In addition to its diverse representation of masculinity, the ad even included women who use Axe products.

For decades, the pink tax has capitalized upon and perpetuated traditional gender stereotypes. But public awareness of this trend, propelled by widely shared tweets, has given rise to consumers fighting back and successful brands changing their tack. With any luck, the pink tax may soon be reduced to a relic of the past.

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Author Hilary Krutt

A graduate of Dartmouth College, Hilary joined L&T after several years in the publishing industry at Simon & Schuster. As a member of the editorial board for the Off the Shelf book blog, her writing has been featured on the Huffington Post, among other major publications. At L&T, Hilary manages content quality and production, collaborating directly with writers, content managers, and clients to ensure every piece we write hits the mark every time. In her free time, Hilary is an avid reader and live music enthusiast. She hails from Boston but currently calls Brooklyn home.

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