By Sakshi Sadashiv Kadam
In 2015, New York City Department of Consumer Affairs wrote a study titled “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer” juxtaposing prices of over 800 products which led to a conclusion that products of women cost 7% more than the same products tailored for men. For personal care products, the difference was of 13%.
Many are oblivious regarding the reasoning of this tax within society; therefore, it is identified as a ‘hidden’ tax. The products targeted to women, while they may not flamboyantly include the word “women” on the packaging, have marketing that seems targeted to female consumers: they are packaged in light-coloured, curvy bottles. The text on these bottles most times includes the word “beauty” or claims of improvising appearances, while the text on bottles marketed toward men often emphasize efficiency and the strength of the product like “macho”, “max”, “extra”, etc.
Regardless of whether certain products are officially aimed towards women, the price of men’s personal care products is clearly gender-based. Economic gender discrimination is still lingering within society is due to the deep-rooted acceptance of cultural presuppositions of the genders. Cultural presuppositions are propagated by the media and directly marketed to females.
The hue of femininity
“Pink Tax” refers to an invisible, gendered tax that women have to pay for the same products for which men tend to pay way less. Sometimes, the generic or the male equivalent of the same product, with only a difference of packaging is vastly cheaper. As pink has been superficially regarded in society as the hue of femininity, most of these products consist of pink packaging and/or features. The pink tax can be understood as a selective consumption tax, as it targets specific goods and services. This enables and cultivates the placement of a prejudicial and preferential effect on a certain portion of the population. However, it is not exactly a tax. It’s an “income-generating scenario for private companies who found a way to make their product look either more directed to or more appropriate for the population and saw that as a money-maker,” explains Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a lawyer, vice president for the Brennan School of Justice at NYU School of Law, and co-founder of Period Equity.
The problem is deeply seated within nomenclature itself. The media, especially in the West, has long used the term pink tax, which itself dives into the stereotype of colour coding women and girls with the colour pink. "I object to the phrase 'pink tax'. Pink for girls and blue for boys is just idiotic. Instead of continuing the trivialization, we can use a different phrase for it," says Ritu Dewan, Vice-President at Indian Society of Labour Economics, and former President at Indian Association for Women's Studies. She is known for her work on gender economics.
While there are always exceptions, most salons impose heavier prices for women’s haircut than men. This is also accurate for personal care products like razors and deodorants. In some cases, apart from the packaging, the “female" version is hardly different from the generic one. For instance, while a conventionally established brand of disposable razors marketed towards men cost around ₹20, the cheapest disposable razors for women from the same company cost close to ₹55.
Shrink it, pink it
The simple strategy behind this; used by corporations is “shrink it, pink it”, the company will take the basic version they have made it for everyone and then market that towards women. They’ll make it smaller; they’ll make it pink. Often, brands are just milking the opportunity to overprice female items in a continuation of what has now been feigned as a norm of female consumption. Packaging is, of course, not the sole provoker and only issue in need of correction in order to alleviate the pink tax. Services as well as articles of clothing untouched by packaging are still included in the issue.
But it’s not just big corporations in the retail space that nudge women to spend on their appearance. Social scientists and retail experts say that this stems from the fact that society by at large, hold women at a higher standard for their appearance. Also, women are assumed to be less price-elastic, as their purchases are governed by liking for a product or brand and are less likely to shift.
Further, regardless of whether the nature of the item accessible for both the genders stays as before, a few advertisers profit by their thought that women will spend more on their appearance and grooming. Many companies arrogate grave sums of money from women for the most basic products due to their brand name being present on the product, which further feeds into this narrative of social value imposed around women. The uncertainties that ladies convey because of the judgment they face on their looks and way of life supports this gendered evaluating and permits organizations to arrogate enormous amounts of cash from ladies who desire to coordinate with the out of reach cultural norms utilizing the results of these companies.
There is barely any awareness about this price disparity in developed and developing countries alike. A survey uncovered that as numerous as 67% grown-ups in India had never at any point known about the pink tax. The first occasion when this gendered pricing was brought to the public eye in India was through the manoeuvre against the 12-14% GST levied on the unmentionable and taboo subject sanitary napkins and other women’s hygiene products.
While contraceptives remained tax free and are appraised as essential goods, a “tampon tax” was imposed on women’s sanitary products as they were considered a luxury instead of a necessity. This sparked ubiquitous protests on social media, especially twitter, under the campaign name #LahuKaLagaan, meaning “tax on blood”. Online petitions against it too acquired more than 4,00,000 signatures including those from activists, actors, politicians and comedians and eventually led the government to revoke this “tampon tax” in 2018.
Albeit the "tampon tax" development in India helped spread some mindfulness about it, pink tax still significantly stays hidden in the commercial centre and is acknowledged as an unquestioning standard of society. Numerous online media developments all throughout the world, for example, #GenderPricing and #AxThePinkTax–also have carried some regard for it yet their span is still extremely restricted.
About the author
Sakshi Sadashiv Kadam currently works as a Research Associate for BehanBox, a gender journalism digital platform. She previously worked at Times of India, primarily covering School Principals' interviews and focusing on pandemic teaching. Her thesis on the Hijra Community and their artwork was published by JJ School of Art, Mumbai.