Every year at Valentine’s Day, groups on college campuses push feminism – and not just any strain of feminism, but a body-centric version of feminism that includes recitations of the “Vagina Monologues” and focuses on all the ways that women are oppressed by our male-dominated society.
This strain of feminism, which could be described as grievance feminism, paints all women as victims. While it’s important to be vigilant against sexism, today too many women – especially college women – have been encouraged to see sexism lurking behind every corner… even in places it doesn’t really exist.
That’s the case with two economic myths – the “pink tax” and the “tampon tax.” Young women should learn the facts and understand that neither of these phenomena are evidence that our society, or our economy, is inherently sexist.
The pink tax refers to the price disparity between men and women’s toiletry items, like shampoo and deodorant: If a man and woman go to a pharmacy and buy items targeted to their gender, chances are the woman will pay more per ounce. In fact, a recent study from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found the price disparity to be about 7 percent.
Why do companies charge more for pink razors and perfumed shampoos? There are two reasons, neither of which has to do with sexism.
First, there are costs to developing and marketing products for a specific audience. In some cases, companies try to find ingredients that work better for women’s use. These research, development, and marketing costs are passed on to consumers.
Secondly, women demand different products. Even if women and men’s products cost the same to produce, the fact that women are willing to pay more for the feminized versions means prices will reflect this higher demand.
Critics of the pink tax say that women are paying more than men for the same products. But are the products really the same? This is the critical question.
In economics, two goods can be considered perfect substitutes if consumers don’t see any difference between the two. But women do see value in women’s products. We know this because women reveal our true preferences in what we buy.
If men’s products or gender-neutral products were just as satisfactory to women, then women would buy those instead, and therefore we’d pay the same price as men. There’s no law against that!
Ironically, the myth of the “pink tax” – like many other victimhood myths – relies on a bad (and sexist!) presumption about women: that we are stupid. Grievance feminists are making the argument that women can’t make good decisions about what products we want to buy and what prices we are willing to pay.
The pink tax isn’t a sexist conspiracy. On the contrary, it’s a reflection of the bountiful choices our competitive market has to offer. We should celebrate that we have so many options, and that companies are responding to the pocketbook power of women, who make about 85 percent of brand decisions for consumer goods. We can choose among a wide array of products, with different features and scents, which many women value and are willing to pay a premium to obtain.
The so-called “tampon tax” is a different concept. This refers to an actual sales tax, collected by state governments. Unlike the pink tax issue, discussions of the tampon tax apply only to feminine hygiene products for which there are no male equivalents.
Women should know that there is no special tax just for tampons or similar hygiene products. In most states, a regular sales tax is applied to these items, just as it is to other toiletries and similar goods. A few states have exempted these products from sales tax by categorizing them as “necessity items” like food and over-the-counter drugs, and some activists would like to see every state follow suit. But importantly, no state has intentionally burdened women with an excise tax or a special tax for hygiene items.
Misinformation abounds when it comes to both the “pink tax” and the “tampon tax.” Feminists like to tie these two unrelated issues together (along with another one of their favorite myths – the wage gap!) and paint a picture of our economy that constantly and intentionally keeps women down.
That’s not an empowering message. And most importantly, it’s simply not accurate. This Valentine’s Day, let’s all take a holiday from grievance feminism.