Not So Pretty in Pink
A deep dive into the “pink tax” on women’s personal products and the effects the tax has on women and consumers everywhere.
By Marissa Burr, Opinion Editor
Since 1987, March has been known officially as National Women’s History Month to celebrate the extraordinary achievements made by women, both past and present. While the country rallies together in support for women during this time, the inequalities in their everyday lives continue to be ignored both during and after March.
According to an article from Cal Poly Humboldt, it is estimated that 91% of reported sexual assaults are against women. Pew Research Center states that, according to 2022 research the wage gap — the difference within the earnings between women and men — women only receive 82 cents for every dollar that a man earns. This number is an increase compared to before: the year that many current college students (including myself) were born, 2002, the wage gap was 80 cents to the dollar. People say change is slow, but at this rate I will be 200 years old before making the same amount as my brother or my husband. Despite the calculable deficit women have regarding their paychecks, women also face something known as the “pink tax,” which consistently lists items marketed specifically towards women at a higher price than their “male” counterparts. This can include products such as soaps, lotions, haircuts, deodorants and razors.
The products that are marked up because of the “pink tax” are usually quite similar — if not identical — to the ones that men use. The superficial differences are minor, including color or packaging design, yet the difference it has for women purchasing them can be vast over time. These items bought for their everyday lives can add up to $1,300 per year, according to an article from The Balance.
Evidence of this concept dates back to the 1990s — note how close it is to the year that Women’s History Month was established — when the California Assembly Office of Research found that 64% of businesses made it more expensive to dry clean a women’s blouse than a man’s button-down shirt. In 2015, the Department of Consumer Affairs found that 35 product categories upcharge women; their research also showed how women pay more for essentially the same products 42% of the time, while men only 18%. Ignoring the obvious iniquity in both salary and price of consumer goods that leads to women spending more money on the same products as men while still earning less than them, we are forced to ask: how is this tax even legal?
Unfortunately, this tax is added to prices in 49 out of 50 states — New York, as of 2020, was the only exception. The price hike is not an actual tax and more of an economic trend (and it’s only in effect by some companies for certain goods and services), but it is affected by import tariffs. Men’s cotton shirts and wool suits have higher import tariffs, the same way women’s silk shirts and leather shoes do. The taxing on the import of women’s goods is about 0.7% according to an Investopedia article, and this contributes to the ongoing “pink tax” in America. If companies were to set products that are similar for both men and women at the same price, money would be lost for the consumer, retailer or producer, because the slight difference in material is what makes them cost a different amount to import. So, in order for companies to not take a hit, they raise the prices on these products, and because more of them are marketed towards women, they contribute to the ever-growing amount of money that women spend more than men who receive the same products.
There is also more out there aimed at charging women more money for products that are necessary for everyday life. The “tampon tax,” much like the “pink tax,” is not a real tax, but it refers to the fact that products menstruators need are taxed as luxury goods instead of necessities, making them more expensive on grander scales. Yes, technically there are ways to stop menstruating — but that involves getting pregnant or going on a type of birth control that puts artificial hormones into the body and comes with a booklet full of pages just to list all of the harmful side effects. So, most continue to have periods, and, in turn, buy tampons, pads, cups, underwear and other products that allow for completion of daily activities. According to the Global Citizen, 500 million people live without access to menstrual hygiene products because they can’t afford them, and instead resort to less safe methods. If this luxury tax status is eliminated, ideally more companies and public places would be willing to offer free products in the bathrooms the way they do toilet paper, and everyone would have access to them.
Now the question is, will these taxes ever be eliminated? Hopefully, other states or the national government itself will pass legislation that makes it illegal for companies to make products that are geared towards women more expensive than the same ones they have on the shelves for men. The Pink Tax Repeal Act was proposed in 2019 and 2021 but has not yet been passed. There are supporters for it, and the former governor of New York was able to put it into effect, but it will take time.
Unfortunately, that means many women will continue spending their money on products that are more expensive than others simply because of the gender they identify with. So what can you do? As always, using your voice to oppose injustices; using social media, sending letters to Congress or other relevant officials and teaching others about these issues can be more effective than you may think. In your daily routine, try to be more aware. Take extra time when buying commonly “pink taxed” items to take note of the price and quality differences of each product. If they look the same or you can get away with using something marketed towards men, buy that instead. No one will judge you for having a blue razor instead of a pink one, and if they do, tell them you’re doing this to actively fight discrimination, and that they should jump on board — it is National Women’s Month, after all.