Womanhood Isn’t Free: The Effects of The Pink Tax
By Marisa Fisher
When walking down the personal care aisle, one can be overwhelmed by the number of different options. There is a whole wall of different razors with an array of different blades, handles, and other helpful features. But why is the women’s razor more expensive than the men’s razor? It has the exact same features and is usually lesser quality. This common issue, referred to as the pink tax, is not really a “tax” at all. The pink tax is a phrase used to describe the upcharge many companies will use on a gender-neutral item, with marketing that caters to the feminine consumer. Though these items are no better than their masculine counterparts, one study shows that personal care items marketed towards women can show as much as a 13% price increase in comparison (New York City Department of Consumer Affairs 2015.) With all the extra money women spend on other hygiene products deemed “necessary” by society like makeup and hair products, why is there such a huge upcharge on comparable personal care products for men.
One of the biggest reasons that this happens is gender roles. Many women have been conditioned since birth that pink and frilly are girl things, while blue and minimalistic are boy things. So, when a woman is shopping for a new razor or bodywash, they are more likely to pick the pink one with a floral scent, even though the quality of the blue one may even be slightly better. Companies, being aware of this, will mark the prices up knowing that women will still buy it. Although more recently it has become a bit more common that women will use a male deodorant scent or a men’s razor for a better shave. In past decades, women were more likely to adhere to these gendered items, causing these ideals to be passed down seemingly forever.
There is hope, as laws begin to pass, helping to end these price differences. On January 1st, gender-based pricing was banned in the state of California. According to the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, “repealing it could save women $1,300 a year for the same products men buy” (NPR 2022.) If other states follow suit, it will become much more likely for a bill to be introduced at a national level creating a ban on price increases for women’s personal care items. In the event of this happening, shopping for hygiene products will become more affordable and attainable, especially for people who are low income and struggle to afford these necessary items.
Another tax that can be detrimental to low-income women is the period tax, also known as the tampon tax. Often grouped in with the pink tax, this is an actual tax placed on feminine hygiene products such as pads and tampons. This tax is placed because menstrual products are not deemed a “necessity,” but this could not be further from the truth. Reports show that many women in the US are unable to afford period products which can lead to mental and physical health problems. A survey of low-income women in a large U.S. city finds that “nearly two-thirds couldn’t afford menstrual hygiene products such as tampons or pads during the previous year” (Reuters Health 2019). This problem is also very prevalent within college students across the country. Today, “10% of all female college students are unable to afford menstrual products each month, leading to skipped classes and greater self-reported rates of moderate or severe depression” (Gender Policy Report 2021). This alarming statistic, along with many others has caused a large amount of backlash from women all over the country.
In more hopeful news, the state of Arizona recently announced that they would be removing period products from their sales tax. There are currently 25 states who exempt period products for their sales tax. While this is a good start, the women of the non-included states will continue to suffer without proper access to menstrual products. This problem exists within public schools, as only a small number of states provide free period products to their students. Most of those students are of the age at which they do not have the money to purchase products without assistance. A study done at a high school in St. Louis showed that “up to two thirds of girls reported that they do not have a reliable source of tampons or pads. One third of girls at the same school said that they stay home from class for precisely that reason.” (Gender Policy Report 2021). If women and young girls in the US are struggling so frequently, why is there not a nationwide exemption for period products, or access to free products for women in need?
As stated earlier, tampons and pads are considered “luxury items” in terms of sales tax. These products are also subject to value added taxes which increase the price even more. In total, all these taxes provide revenue to the government. Many people believe these taxes to be necessary, as they provide a significant decrease in tax revenue. However, when necessities like pads and tampons are in question, the women who need them should not be responsible for an added fee. If there needs to be a tax, government welfare plans need to be in place to provide access for those in need. Although it is unlikely the United States would do this, it is very clearly possible. The entire country of Scotland has recently made menstrual products free to anyone who needs them. Though the U.S. has the means necessary, the issue remains.
Overall, both the pink tax and tampon tax need to be evaluated and removed by the government at a nationwide level. The number of women who are unable to afford hygiene and menstrual products is increasing at an alarming rate. The government needs to enact a plan for equality amongst prices on comparable gendered hygiene products, and completely remove sales tax from tampons and pads. Contacting local government officials and expressing concern in these topics can be one of the most effective ways to get issues resolved. In the meantime, people who are well off enough financially should consider donating feminine hygiene products to local women’s shelters. Items such as body wash, shampoo, pads, and tampons are always in high demand at these shelters. As much help as possible is desperately needed. Some shelters will also accept makeup products, helping these women to feel more comfortable and happier in their time of need. No matter the circumstance, people everywhere should always have access to products that protect their health and well-being.