In celebrating International Women’s Day, the ‘pink tax’ was one of the discussions that recently surged to the fore, especially on social media.
The pink tax isn’t an actual tax – it’s an act of discriminatory pricing applied on women’s products. This insidious form of bias is pervasive. It literally starts at birth with differential pricing on boys’ and girls’ diapers and touches on myriad products and services associated with daily life.
For example, back in April 2016, the CBC reported that women were paying on average 43% more than men for personal care products. The article quoted a blogger from ParseHub who recommended that women either buy unisex products or “just buy products for men.”
Maybe women can circumvent discriminatory pricing on personal care products by shopping in the men’s aisle, but what about clothing, and all the other services where the pink tax shows up?
A recent experience brought me face to face with the stark reality of this ongoing bias.
A Tale of Two Shirts
As more formal office wear returned to play in this partially post-pandemic era, I added one of my cotton shirts to my husband’s pile destined for the dry cleaners.
Shirt on the left hails from Express, size Medium, extra slim cut, sold in the men’s category. Cost to dry clean: $2.10 Canadian
Shirt on the right is size 8UK, from Hawkes & Curtis, semi-fitted and classified as womenswear. Cost to dry clean: a whopping $5.00 Canadian!
That’s almost 150% more.
That’s practically two and a half times the price.
Shirt on the left stayed at the dry cleaners while shirt on the right came back home with me for DIY.
My husband bore the brunt of my tirade which went something like this, “So women fight harder to get the job, bear more scrutiny before being promoted, hit a glass ceiling that limits their progress, get paid less than men in a similar role, and on top of that they have to spend 150% more to show up in practically the same cotton shirt.” Talk about bias.
I started poking around to see what Google had to say about this and came across a Forbes article published last month entitled “There’s a Pink Tax on Women”.
The article quotes Diane Bourdo, president of The Humphreys Group in San Francisco, “The pink tax officially dates back to 1994, when a report from California’s Assembly Office of Research found that 64% of stores in five major cities charged more to wash and dry clean a woman’s blouse than they did a man’s button-up shirt. Following the study, California passed the state-wide Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995, making it illegal for a business to discriminate with respect to the price charged for similar services due to a person’s gender. However, without a doubt the pink tax still affects women today.”
This isn’t some random, new bias. It’s deeply embedded, and it is linked to sexism, an age-old system of oppression.
The irony isn’t lost on me that this week we celebrated International Women’s Day under the theme #BreakTheBias. I tuned in to some thought-provoking panel discussions with courageous leaders who are calling out bias and working to create more inclusive and equitable environments where everyone can thrive.
I admire this level of commitment because, on some level it’s easy to disassociate from the reality of bias. Yes, sure, we know it exists. Goodness, look at the oppression of women in ‘that country’. Oh wow, those stats on the gender pay gap in ‘that company’ are just shocking. Hmmn, it’s interesting to see that women, or people of color are not represented in ‘that industry’.
In fact, you may feel that you show up as a relatively unbiased person. After all, you give your kids equal opportunities, you share tasks with your partner at home, you lead a diverse team, and you treat all your colleagues with respect. You even donate to causes that support social justice movements. So, there’s proof that you walk the talk.
Can you do more?
Are you probing and examining the forms of bias that are within and all around you? Are you actively challenging them with your voice, your actions and with your wallet? Are you willing to shift out of your comfort zone, rock some boats, and ask some hard questions?
I hope you are. I certainly hope I am. Because that’s exactly what we all need to do to make a change.
Here’s an idea for action. It’s a minor one but maybe, when next you visit your dry cleaners, if there is a price difference on men’s shirts and women’s shirts, #ChooseToChallenge it. Ask them why it exists and then let them know you’ll be looking for a provider that doesn’t practice this level of bias.
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© Arlene Amitirigala 2022. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.