What a time to be alive: Canadian women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men, yet an analysis by data mining firm ParseHub found women pay 43% more for personal care products. The “pink tax” is the well-documented and widespread practice of women being charged more than men for identical products and services, ranging from the banal (pink-vs.-blue children’s clothing and toys, dry cleaning, deodorant, haircuts) to the bizarre: BIC pens “for her” (tagline: “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand”), earplugs, and even laxatives.
It’s an insidious bit of economic sexism, but here’s how women can harness their power as consumers to fight back.
Buy men’s or unisex products
Look, no one’s saying you need to abandon your fake eyelashes and favourite shampoo and start buying men’s t-shirts in bulk from Costco. But if you’re looking to save money on basic personal items you buy regularly, you can absolutely find a similar soap/body wash, deodorant, shampoo/conditioner, or shaving cream that isn’t arbitrarily pricier. A razor blade is a razor blade, even if the handle is pink and the packaging has some nonsense about women’s curves and a moisture strip. If it’s suitable for men to drag across their faces, your legs and armpits will be fine.
The pink tax hides in plain sight because men’s and women’s products are frequently sold in different sizes and quantities. It’s only when you break down the price per 100 grams or per 100 millilitres, as the ParseHub study did, that the differences become apparent. Some stores have that breakdown printed in tiny type on the price tag, but you might have to do the math yourself.
Hunt for the best price on everything
Everyone has their thing, but the key is knowing when to splurge and when to save. As ParseHub notes, a premium-priced product should have better materials, ingredients, and overall quality, “not a gender based mark-up.” When your preferred products go on sale, buy the largest size to get the most value. Beauty junkies can stock up at sample sales and supply outlets, and save on more expensive items that usually don’t go on sale during Sephora’s semi-annual VIB sale.
The pink tax unsurprisingly extends to fashion, from Old Navy to luxury brands. Unisex fashion is becoming more mainstream, but you can also choose to spend your money on brands who don’t differentiate: Canada Goose parkas, Doc Martens boots, Burberry scarves, Ray Ban sunglasses, and Shinola watches are identically priced, for example.
Be a conscious consumer and buy less
A common excuse is that women are willing to pay more. If that’s true, it’s because we’re conditioned; idealistic (and heavily gendered) beauty standards are ingrained during childhood, and the entire beauty industry is built on marketing products to women through a careful mix of aspiration and inadequacy. Not only are women’s products more expensive, but a trip to any drugstore will confirm there are far more personal care products marketed towards women than men: cleansers, exfoliants, toners, moisturizers, serums, eye creams, face masks, cosmetics, nail polish, and haircare, to name a few. Globally, the anti-aging industry alone is worth an estimated $250 billion.
Everyone could stand to be a more mindful consumer, but part of beating the pink tax is being aware of what marketers are trying to sell you. Audit your spending, particularly on gendered or high-priced items: Why did you buy it? Do you actually use it? Is it a want, or a need? You don’t need to go full minimalism, but you might be surprised by what you don’t actually need.
Help other women
One of the most expensive costs women bear over their lifetime is a monthly non-negotiable: Menstrual products. We live in a society still annoyingly squeamish about periods, and feminine hygiene is a human rights issue in every single corner of the world. It’s one more hardship for low-income and homeless women, and for Indigenous women living in remote communities who pay more than double for menstrual supplies. Ask shelters and charitable organizations in your area what kind of toiletries and menstrual products they need, seek out homegrown and global organizations, or take a page from this Toronto woman’s book and start your own community drive.
If you see the pink tax in action, call it out
Activism, journalism, and crowdsourced callouts via Twitter and Tumblr (#PinkTax) play a major role in cultivating awareness and holding those in power accountable, but progress is frustratingly slow. Until 2015, Canadian women paid federal tax on tampons, but not Timbits — the government only eliminated the 5% GST on menstrual products after decades of protest. Some brands have wised up and harmonized the prices of comparable gendered products, but retailers rely on price elasticity — how consumer demand for a product changes in response to changes in price. In other words, they’ll charge as much as you’re willing to pay.
Women literally can’t afford to live by the whims of capitalism and politics. Alongside continuing activism and awareness, women need to collectivize as consumers to hit the pink tax where it hurts retailers most — their bottom line — to send a message: We aren’t buying it.