The Pink Tax: What It Is + How These Brands Are Leading the Change Against It
From face creams to razor blades and other personal care products, women routinely shell out more money than men—and not by choice. This practice, known as the “pink tax,” is often associated with period care items because of the way they are taxed: Considered to be “luxury” items, pads and tampons are often subject to sales and local tax, while items such as condoms or bandages are not.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you may start to notice that the pink tax is much more prevalent than you realized. Luckily, unisex brands are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to the passion of their founders—and with their commitment to fight the pink tax, they’re dismantling the sexism behind the highly gendered marketing that allows the pink tax to thrive.
Keep reading to learn what defines the pink tax, how three companies are leading the change and what you can do to help abolish the pink tax against women.
Beyond Periods & Personal Care
“The pink tax is basically the tax that female consumers pay for, well, being female consumers,” says Rachel Winard, founder of the gender-neutral skincare brand Soapwalla. “It can affect any service or product that’s gender-priced, or that’s geared solely toward females (pads and tampons, for instance). The places I’ve seen the pink tax employed often are 1) hair salons, 2) dry cleaners and 3) clothing.”
This insidious practice of charging women higher prices extends well beyond products; the pink tax is often levied on everyday services that may be even less obvious because they don’t appear to engage in the highly gendered marketing we often see in the personal care aisle. “I have a short haircut, more in line with what would be considered a ‘men’s’ cut,” Rachel continues. “However, many salons would charge me the price for a women’s cut (often 50 to 75 percent more than men’s pricing), even if my trim took 10 minutes and only required buzzing my neck and ears.”
And that’s not all. Rachel adds, “Most dry cleaners also employ gendered pricing: If I bring in a men’s button-down shirt, the cost to clean and press is lower (once again, often 50 to 75 percent lower) than the cost to clean and press a women’s button-down. This goes for 100 percent cotton or polymer blends, so the cost differential has nothing to do with additional back-end cleaning solutions or extra time.”
April Worley, CEO of gender-neutral Mender CBD Apothecary agrees, citing additional instances where the pink tax is levied on female consumers. “The pink tax ought not to be perceived as trapped within the confines of items related only to menstruation,” April says. “While of course that is a battle worth fighting, consumer data reveals that even toys designed to be sold to girls are seven percent more expensive than those for boys. Women’s clothing is eight percent more expensive than men’s overall, and within some companies’ pricing structure, this price discrepancy goes up to 29 percent. And for body care, on average women pay 13 percent more.”
As frustrating as these statistics are for female consumers, they are equally as frustrating for these women entrepreneurs, who see the issue as multi-layered and in desperate need of deconstruction.
“The pink tax is a blatant attack on women and girls,” April says. “The fact that when girls save their allowance for a toy and it costs more than a boy’s toy, is sick. Companies flood our field of vision with messages that create insecurity paired with the promise of release with retail therapy and we buy into it with the .72 on the dollar we make compared to men and it compounds our financial insecurity. And now that women without children are making as much as men in [some] cases, I am willing to guess savvy marketers are targeting this group with ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ messaging tied in with even higher markups to snatch up that expendable income. It is a cycle that starts in childhood in this country, and we hope to draw attention in our own small way that this system ought to be questioned.”
Rachel agrees, citing the lifelong cycle of sexism. “There are myriad ways in which the pink tax is frustrating,” Rachel admits. “The two most infuriating for me are: 1) the lifelong economic ‘cost’ of being female, or female-identified; and 2) the subtle effects it has on children. These tiny differences, starting from infancy, create a cumulative effect and solidify that there’s some inherent difference between boys and girls.”
Leading the Change
With so much at stake from such an overwhelmingly pervasive issue, how will brands take a stand and work toward dismantling these practices? While combatting systematic sexism is by no means an overnight undertaking, independent brands are at an advantage for changing the way products are formulated, manufactured and marketed to ensure they’re offering an alternative to highly gendered products. Companies who are just starting out or who maintain control over their businesses can create a brand in the image of its founder(s), and pivot as necessary to make certain their vision to be change-makers remains un-compromised.
For Rachel, every Soapwalla product is a reflection of her commitment to disrupting outdated and sexist messaging surrounding gender and beauty, and the brand has continued to grow with that mission in mind. “We were one of the first brands on the market to talk about skin the way we did, so we were really outliers for a few years,” Rachel says. “Being a completely unisex brand that celebrates all bodies and expressions has helped us tremendously, and one of the best ways is that I get to talk about it as much as I can. I’m passionate about good, healthy skincare; I’m passionate about accessibility; and I’m passionate about visibility, especially for groups who have been invisible for far too long.”
For companies like Billie, a subscription shaving company, educating its customers about and fighting the pink tax is part of its brand story. “We’re strongly against the pink tax,” the company states on its website. “That’s why are razors aren’t just half the price of women’s shaving brands, they’re priced in line with men’s razor subscriptions.”
Billie is taking the debate one step further, offering its customers “The Pink Tax Rebate”— a referral program offering coupons toward future purchases when customers refer their friends. “On behalf of the razor companies out there—we’re sorry you’ve been overpaying for pink razors,” the site says. “It’s time you got some money back.”
Not content to just take on the pink tax, however, Billie has created “Project Body Hair,” a social media campaign featuring images of women showcasing their body hair. The hope behind the campaign is to empower women to feel comfortable in their natural state, and to combat the stigma surrounding female body hair. Should customers opt to shave their hair, Billie offers them razors at a price comparable to men’s razors; if they choose to not shave, Billie offers a body wash and moisturizer, instead.
Mindful of their vision to honor all people, April and co-founder Vanessa Pisias launched Mender CBD Apothecary to be gender neutral for several reasons. “On the meta level, we know gender identity in many ways is a societal construct that is pretty tired,” April says. “We also believe that items of beauty and quality are non-gendered by nature, and ought to be enjoyed by all despite how one may identify. We also have husbands and sons and our lead designer is a man, and we feel that to honor ourselves is to honor all, and we do that by creating beautiful, clean body care for all humankind.”
Unisex And Universally Beneficial
As companies take a stand against the pink tax and promote their unisex brands, they are reaping the benefits that come with appealing to consumers in an authentic, mindful way—from formulations and package design to brand messaging. Approaching their businesses in this way resonates with consumers, and translates into (often repeat) customer sales.
“We’ve had a slow and steady growth over the last nearly nine years,” Rachel shares, “and I think that’s a testament to sticking to your principles as a business, even when you’re swimming against the current. Also, we have the best, most loyal customers in the world. Seriously.”
Though it is still fairly new to the market, Mender’s mission is to connect to its unisex customer base through thoughtful formulations that work for everyone and simple, yet elevated, design. “We design and formulate products that are for daily use, and are so elegant you’ll want to keep them on your counter and you can, because when you share products with everyone in your home, you are cutting down on clutter, you are cutting down on the amount of time spent selecting and buying for each individual,” April says. “It’s a minimalist mindset that we apply to our formulations—there is nothing unnecessary in any of our products—and to our design. We see this idea of minimalism and simplicity as the backlash to a culture of excess and there is a breathability, a serenity, to this thinking that puts people at ease, and that is what great brands do. They appeal to our innermost desires and we think a lot of people desire clean simplicity.”
Ready, Set, Shift
Just as these brand founders are working to combat the pink tax, consumers can demand an end to sexist practices by holding companies accountable through a shift in buying practices.
Taking actionable steps toward ensuring you aren’t paying the pink tax can be as easy as speaking up. “There are two great ways!” Rachel says. First, “Like the NYC subway system says, ‘If you see something, say something.’ If you go to your local dry cleaner and see that you’re paying double for your shirt to be dry cleaned, speak out. Ask why there’s a difference in cost. Ask the dry cleaner to honor the men’s pricing. And then put your money where your mouth is.”
Second, she continues, “Support businesses that don’t employ the pink tax. We obviously would love for you to shop at Soapwalla! But there are a ton of fantastic unisex brands doing great work and supporting their local communities. Buy from them, and loudly. Share with your friends that you purchase from these companies, and why you do so. One of the most powerful ways to vote in this country is with your dollars.”
The shift away from sexist practices begins with the consumer, and with mindful consumption. “I think that rejecting the pink tax first starts within us,” April adds. “Making the conscious effort to simplify our routines in a way that makes sense. Instead of buying ten cheap lipsticks, maybe consider buying three shades from a company that you trust. For items like deodorant, lip balm, body butter, etc. read the ingredients, and ask yourself, ‘Are they full of artificial preservatives and “fragrance”?’ If they allude to the promise some kind of esoteric outcome like freedom, independence or sexiness, then what you are paying for is probably the idea of what this item is putting in your head and not the actual ingredients.”
Questioning marketing claims and the impetus behind them isn’t just a practice for women, April advises. “I love Old Spice’s marketing, I really do, but as a case study, because if you read the ingredients, men are literally slathering blue lake #1 and aluminum into their armpits because their ads are hilarious,” April says.
She also wants conscious consumers to dig deeper. “Question what ‘natural’ means, too, because I think ‘greenwashing’ will be the next ‘pink tax.’ Our products are not an extension of our identity; they are things we use every day to tend to our bodies, so be aware of the associations your mind is making while shopping and pay for good ingredients and quality.”
In addition, choosing to support brands that have philanthropic endeavors that align with your own can make you feel good—not only are you helping to dismantle a system where the pink tax is thriving, but you’re making a difference in the lives of others while you’re at it. Billie, the subscription razor blade company, is donating one percent of all revenue to Every Mother Counts, the organization founded by Christy Turlington Burns, to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for women, no matter where they live.
As consumer habits shift, brand habits—and marketing initiatives—will follow suit. Though shifts in behavior and expectations take time, with female brand founders like these at the helm, the pink tax is sure to be a thing of the past, and that makes us excited for what these women are doing here in the present.
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