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  • Gabrielle Galchen

Stop Taxing Estrogen: Gendered Products

A company for earplugs promotes the idea that men and women have different ear anatomies, as well as different reasons for sleeping.

Similarly, another company advocates that boys and girls have different teeth.

In the first textile manufacturing plant in 1790s Rhode Island, manufactured products appealed to gender stereotypes by only manufacturing dresses for women and pants for men. Now, women have access to a variety of clothing options, but they are still subject to many limitations as consumers. This is because the American economy, capitalist by nature, profits from perpetuating sexism.  Whether consciously or not, millions of consumers have absorbed the norm that basic appliances should be tailored to different genders. This is largely because manufacturers almost exclusively appeal to gender stereotypes, whether their intended audience is children or adults.  In 2012, Lego wanted to appeal to more female consumers, as 90% of its buyers were boys. It released a new line with greater emphasis on dining in restaurants, shopping, going to the beach, and decorating houses. Lego’s profits subsequently went up by 35% as this “feminized” Lego set entered the “for girls” section of toy stores.  Lego is by no means the only toy company telling boys and girls from a young age what they are expected to like. Toy stores often have two sections: the “for girls” section features smiling baby dolls, Barbies, tiaras, and castles; the “for boys” section features cars, fake weapons, knights, and action figures.  When children grow older, the toys may change, but the stereotypes remain. The section for adolescent girls often features makeup, spa supplies, nail kits, and other stereotypically feminine activities. On the other hand, the section for boys often features items like robotics kits, sports, or construction. In an age when they are supposed to be learning about themselves and their interests, adolescents are told not only what they must like but what they must be: girls must focus on being beautiful and appealing, whereas boys must focus on being clever and strong.  Finally, the stereotypes continue as adults. Most toiletry manufacturers alter their products by gender, as men are usually less inclined to buy “feminine products.” Kleenex recently released its new line of “mansize tissues”; similarly, Colgate released a power-supplement toothpaste “for men.” Dove also has soaps, deodorants, and shampoos specifically delegated for men and women.  The reason for this is simple: When a company has two versions of the same product, it will reap more profit. Consumers are also more likely to buy a certain product if they believe it is specifically suited for them.  Admittedly, not all the blame can be placed on companies. The unfortunate reality is that gendered products are both a reflection and perpetuation of gender stereotypes that we, the consumers, feed into.  A clear example is colors. In the first half of the 20th century due to scarcities caused by the world wars, women wore more dull clothing. Subsequently, blue and black were considered to be female colors due to their “gentle hues.” When President Eisenhower’s wife Lady Bird Johnson began wearing pink in the 1950s, it promptly became a color associated with women.   Today, products for women will almost always be a soft pink or purple and tend to have more flowers or curved shapes; products for men are often a stark black or blue and tend to have more machines and straight edges.  Yet this is not simply an issue of pink versus blue; the American Psychological Association has concluded that one’s gender has little to no bearing on preferences and personality. Language is taught and not genetic; similarly, men and women are taught what to like and how to behave time and time again. Girls are by no means genetically predisposed to like dolls or beauty products, nor are boys to like cars or weapons. And of course, men and women did not magically develop different sets of teeth, hair, or skin.  Gendered marketing not only entrenches stereotypes, but also economically harms women through what is known as the “pink tax.” This tax describes how items marketed towards women are not only more costly, yet also contain less of the product (as they are smaller and therefore more “feminine.”)

CBS News went undercover in NYC to investigate gender-based price discrimination

A 2015 study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs concluded that women pay 48% more for shampoos and conditioners and 15% more for shirts. In stores such as Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens, there is a price gap of between 4-12% for razors, lotions, soaps, and shaving cream. Most shockingly, the study concluded that women pay more than men 42% of the time. This is about $1,300 annually in additional expenses.  In addition to the pink tax, there is also the “tampon tax.” In 35 states, women must pay a sales tax for tampons. Over a woman’s lifetime, the total cost of her period—birth control, new underwear, tampons, pads, panty liners, acne medication, etc—will amount to about $18,171. This is because such products are more costly and often not covered by health insurance.  Granted, women could simply outsmart the pink tax by buying items marketed towards men.  Yet ideally, the federal government could directly solve the issue by enacting legislation against gender-based pricing discrimination. In 2018, the Pink Tax Repeal Act was introduced in Congress to prohibit gender-based pricing of consumer products and services, yet the bill failed. As of 2019, 12 states have repealed the tax on menstrual products, and seven states have enacted legislation against gender-based pricing. The solution is simple: We must raise that number to 50. Though sexism pervades both our society and government, it starts with our mentality and ends with the ballot.

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