Women are being given a new reason to see American society as inherently sexist: Businesses are overcharging women for toiletries, dry cleaning services, clothes, and other products. News reports and online exposés reveal that when men and women buy similar products, the one labeled “women’s” or packaged in pink costs more than items meant for men. This “pink tax” unfairly drains money from women’s pockets, and something must be done to stop it.
Progressives are pushing this line as we inch toward the next election. They rarely say what they would actually do to eradicate the “pink tax,” though undoubtedly somewhere Democrat staffers are busy crafting new laws and regulations to give government greater authority over how businesses market and price products in the name of eradicating sexism. And, in fact, California, New York City, and Miami Dade County, Florida all have laws prohibiting gender-based pricing in an effort to ensure that women aren’t being systematically overcharged.
Yet the current focus on the “pink tax” doesn’t appear to be so much about advancing a new set of policies, but rather as a way to repackage the overused “War on Women” campaign theme. The Left depends on convincing women that, absent robust government micromanaging of the workplace and marketplace, American society is replete with sexism, and will short-change women on the job and then gouge them at the cash register.
Yet women shouldn’t accept this idea that they are doomed to be swindled in the consumer marketplace, or that big government needs to protect us from those who traffic in pink packaging. Rather, women can fight back on their own and defuse the power of marketers with savvy shopping.
Here’s a few tactics that can eradicate the “pink tax” without piling on government red tape:
1) Don’t Buy Products Labeled for “Women,” When a Unisex Product Is Available: Women don’t need to mindlessly buy soaps, shampoos or razors that are packaged in pink and claim to be made especially for women. Instead, choose gender neutral products or those labeled for men if the price is right.
2) Recognize What You Are Paying For: If you do prefer the product that is labelled for women—whether it’s because of the scent or pleasing packaging—then don’t feel bad about paying a premium. You aren’t falling for a sexist trick by paying more for something that you like better. There is real value in having products that you enjoy. See Virginia Postrell’s The Substance of Style for an in-depth look at the value human beings derive from aesthetic pleasure.
3) Patronize Stores that Don’t Charge Men and Women Differently: People cite dry cleaning as a prime example of the “pink tax” – service for a button-down business shirt for a man often costs a fraction of the charge for a woman’s blouse. Perhaps once this made sense: Women’s shirts may once have had more complicated cuts and delicate fabrics that were more time-consuming to clean and press than standard men’s shirts. Yet that’s frequently not the case today, making these distinctions seem arbitrary and sexist. Fortunately, plenty of dry cleaners recognize this and are offering uniform prices per garment and don’t distinguish between men’s and women’s clothing. Women can reward these stores with their business. If you do prefer the customization of another dry cleaner, then don’t be surprised to pay a premium. The same goes for haircuts.
Women have tremendous power when it comes to the consumer marketplace. Women often are in charge of shopping for their children, spouses, and even elderly parents, as well as for themselves. Women make an estimated 75-85 percent of all consumer purchases, which means that businesses have an incentive to respond to their demands. The aisles dedicated to women’s beauty products and women’s clothes tend to dwarf those targeted to men for that very reason: Businesses try to win women’s favor by offering a wide variety of products that appeal to their individual styles and preferences. Businesses know that women are often willing to pay more for products they value, which is one reason that the “pink tax” phenomenon exists: Businesses charge women more, because women are often willing to paying more.
But price and value matter to women too. If women indeed face a “pink tax,” it is one of our own making. It is up to us – not government – to rid our shopping carts and baskets of these overpriced items, and send a message to businesses everywhere that we will exercise the power of the purse.
Carrie Lukas is managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism and Liberty is No War on Women.