Two years ago, my man and I moved in together. We’d taken it real slow, so when we were ready to cohabitate after four years, we’d already explored some of the less sexy territory of day-to-day domesticity. I knew what was critical to me in the arrangement: equality.
We would split resources down the middle – time, as well as money. We’d contribute an equal amount of cash toward buying household items and an equal number of hours toward keeping our home looking like adults live there. See, even though he makes more than I do, I wanted a down the middle split to ground the power dynamics that can surround money. I'm a modern woman, dammit! I was in for 50-50.
And then I realized: you can’t do life 50-50.
Because it costs more money to be a woman.
And no, not just because women are marketed to by the beauty and fashion industries more aggressively than men (though, that’s a real thing), and end up buying more shit that they arguably ‘don’t need’ because consumerism(!), and the unrelenting pressure put on women (by both men and other women alike) to always look pretty (though that’s also a real thing, even when it's very subtle).
What I’m talking about is far less nuanced: ordinary day-to-day products and services cost more money if the paying customer has a uterus. I’m talking really basic, gender-neutral stuff like razors, deodorant, and dry cleaning.
I first discovered this a couple of months into my new living situation. I was up for errand duty, picking up a few things at CVS for the house and for myself. Already beyond my cognitive load, I stood in front of about fifty deodorants (none of which seemed noticeably distinct) feeling annoyed that my usual choice was out of stock. I looked over at the significantly smaller selection in the men’s area and noticed, in passing, that the men’s version of the same deodorant, which my partner uses, was cheaper than the women’s.
I didn’t think too much of it. When you’re running on fumes, it’s easy to slide into ‘that’s just how things are’ complacency. I grabbed a women’s deodorant, threw it in the cart, and that was that.
It wasn’t until a couple of months later when a video caught my eye and gave both shape and name to what I had passively noticed: The Pink Tax, or the fact that essentially identical products cost more if dressed in gender-specific packaging that targets women.
So not only do women earn 79 cents on every dollar that men make, we are expected to spend more of our smaller earnings on the same basics that both men and women buy. In December 2015, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs published a study that found that, on average, women’s products cost 7 percent more than similar products for men.
It’s been documented for years, and I was only just now catching up.
As pointed out by the New York Times, the French Feminist collective Georgette Sand has been showcasing this ‘phenomenon’ on Tumblr, with side-by-side images of the same product, but packaged for girls and boys. It’s striking to see. Another article I found by the Washington Post cut right to the chase: Why you should always buy the men’s version of almost anything.
Now deep in this wormhole, I wanted to observe the Pink Tax in the wild. And not so passively this time.
I went back to the deodorant aisle at CVS to fact check my memory and corroborate my own story. The proof was in the price tag.
Not only does the basic version of Degree deodorant cost twenty cents more if it’s for women ($3.79 vs. $3.59), but the brand comes on strong with SO MANY OTHER OPTIONS for women. Some range as high as $5.99. This means that if you happen to be deodorant shopping while in the mood to cultivate your womaness (which, is a glorious part of the female experience), the black dress on that ‘ultra clear’ option (a very tired symbol of femininity) might sucker you into paying $2.40 more for a stick of deodorant than your male counterpart.
It seems to get worse when it comes to products that are only for women. There is an actual LEGAL tax (not just a subtle price increase) on tampons in most states, where they are categorized as ‘luxury items’ rather than basic necessities. Watch Thinx founder, Miki Agrawal, break it down in this video:
So what’s a girl to do? Continue to have this conversation. Especially about money. Especially with other women. Especially with your partner. Especially with your political representatives. And try your best to notice. Notice other subtle ways the world is unequal to women. Subtle ways that might not yet have been given a clever name, like The Pink Tax.
I continue to navigate the meaning of equality in my relationship, especially as our identities as individuals evolve independently of our identity as a couple. Although some of these negotiations are very cut and dry, like the Pink Tax. Sometimes we can interpret the 50-50 split very literally. For example, I now use 50 percent of his deodorant, shampoo, and shaving cream.
Now I’m on to reconsidering how to think about an equal split of another important resource: time. I wonder if this clock would cost 7% more in pink.
About the author: Joanna Pawlowska is a curious human of many interests living in Silverlake, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA. Her experience ranges from tech startups to public radio, where she takes new ideas and brings them to life. She's passionate about issues and stories about the lives of women.
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