Szuhaj: The Problem With Pink

by Ben Szuhaj | 2/14/16 6:45pm

For those of you who haven’t yet heard of the Pink Tax, prepare yourselves. A study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that, on average, the “female” version of a product costs seven percent more than its “male” counterpart. The most well-documented examples of this inequity are found in health and beauty products. There’s the pink razor that costs more than the blue razor and the women’s shampoo that costs more than the men’s, despite being made of essentially the same ingredients. For the most part, there is no discernible reason — other than marketing — for the difference in price.

This is not a new phenomenon. It is so well-documented in the marketing industry that it has given rise to the production motto, “Pink it and shrink it.” Accordingly, a manufacturer takes a good, makes it smaller and pink, and re-releases it to the market with an up-charge. One study of the Target Corporation found a 73 percent increase in price between the pink, “little girl,” bike helmet and the blue one made for boys. The Pink Tax does not only affect children’s products. Makers of women’s plus-sized jeans, such as Gap Inc.’s Old Navy, have been criticized for price gouging. Their justification for higher prices? To offset the cost of research and development necessary to produce jeans “specifically designed and manufactured to fit and flatter” plus-sized women.

The Pink Tax extends to services as well. A Northwestern University study found that on average, women who called auto-repair shops were quoted 11.2 percent more than the repair should have cost. On the other hand, men who called in and asked the same questions were quoted only 4.9 percent more. While this is blatantly unfair, I do not believe it is a grand conspiracy to deprive women of their hard-earned cash. Rather, the assumption is yet another example of classic American patriarchy — obviously, women must know less about cars.

As with the Pink Tax on services, the Pink Tax on products is exploitative, but not intentionally evil. Rather, the price exists because the market can support it. But why can the market support the price? In short, the answer is patriarchy.

Prices fluctuate, for the most part, in accordance to supply and demand. But why is demand so high for “the best” shampoos, flattering jeans and pretty bike helmets? Because for decades it has been (incorrectly) acceptable and even lauded to associate a women’s value with her appearance. The mantra fed to women has long been, “Enhance your appearance with overpriced products, because expensive equals better.” This reasoning is largely subconscious and highly toxic. But it’s only half the story.

The other half, supply, is a more subtle form of discrimination. The extra research and development supposedly put into developing additional, modified, or special products such as women’s plus-sized jeans or a pink bike helmet, assumes the existence of an original model — the regular jeans, the blue or black helmet. The boy’s product is the original model, while the girl’s product is extraneous, an addition for which one must pay extra. This attitude is not new: it is reflected in the work place, where traditionally male-dominated sectors marvel at the integration of the sexes, viewing the female professional as out to take “the man’s job.”

And it can be found, unsurprisingly, in politics. Of the 100 U.S. Senators currently serving, 20 are female. Three of the nineSupreme Court positions are currently filled by women. Hillary Clinton is the only woman making a serious presidential bid. And somehow, her decades-long hard work and determination can be reduced to nothing more than her gender when some ignorant soul spews: “We may get a lady-president in 2016.”

We don’t marvel at the grotesque surplus of incapable men who inhabit a disproportionate number of supposedly equal-opportunity positions. And yet we break the internet when some individual of a group rises above adversity to become a symbol for their marginalized group. We focus on their struggle against the system, while simultaneously transforming them into something to be consumed, commented on or hashtagged.

We must praise the individual merits of skillful individuals, but we must be sure not to take away from their accomplishments by focusing only on their race, gender or sexual orientation. These labels comprise parts of their identity, but they do not comprise their entire identity. They are certainly not the reasons for their success, nor should they be causes for oppression. In human terms, there is no “original product,” blue is no better than pink, nor did one come first. It’s a subtle and perversive ignorance to assume that one did, to price one differently from the other on the basis of appearance alone, just as it is to marvel at a single part of a person’s physical identity and to conceive of them as differing so drastically from you.

Correction appended Feb. 16:

The original version of this column stated that three of ten positions on the Supreme Court were filled by women. There are, in fact, nine positions on the Supreme Court.