Welcome to Episode 3 of Season 2 of the Glorieuses economic newsletter. Each month we write about economy, gender and race with an international perspective, and with the support of researchers.
In November, for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we analysed the link between domestic violence and the economic autonomy of women .
This month, the news is quite different. Between Black Friday, the reopening of shops and Christmas, it seems that December 2020 is more than ever the month of consumption.
Hoping to add a « feminist » touch to your purchases, we decided to write about « Pink Tax ».
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Vous pouvez lire la version française, #Economie, ici. Translation in English by Stephanie Williamson.
December, 27th, 2020 – reading time :8 minutes
« Pink it and Shrink it »
The two jumpers are of identical appearance : size M, green, adorned with Christmas trees, snowmen and red and white snowflakes. Classic Christmas jumpers. But when taking a closer look at the labels, the organisation “Pépite sexiste”– which seeks to raise awareness of consumer sexism driven by marketing– noticed a worrying difference : while the “women’s” version cost 14.99€, the “men’s” version was priced at 9.00€.
The association called the company out on Facebook and it apologised, replying to the post that « this was indeed a mistake” and “it will be corrected tomorrow.” The next day, the prices were adjusted.
This “mistake” is so common that it has been given a name: the pink tax. It refers to the price difference between “men’s” and “women’s” products. Although denounced for many years in France by feminist associations, this umpteenth report makes it clear that nothing has been done to change it.
The pink tax still exists
The Pink Tax had already made a name for itself in 2014, when the Georgette Sand collective posted photos on its Tumblr account to expose this injustice. It was discovered that the pink version of a razor was more expensive than the blue one, or even that a pack of three pots of “Uhu” glue in its “princess” version costs 1 euro 75 cents more than the version that features Marvel superheroes, or that a “girl’s” camera could cost 7 euros more than a “boy’s”.
A petition with more than 48.000 signatures then attracted media attention. “We made the front page of the Parisien,” recalls Fayrouz Lamotte, member of the Georgette Sand collective, “Our post even had international repercussions, with a manifestation against the Pink Tax in Argentina.”
Nevertheless, the case was quickly closed. Following this controversy, the government ordered an investigation into three types of products – razors, deodorants and moisturizers – as well as three types of services – home moving, car repair and locksmiths. The results left the collective perplexed. Indeed, the report indicates that these price differences “cannot be assimilated to a phenomenon linked to gender” because “the price differences exist in turn on both products intended for women and on products intended for men”.
« It was a great disappointment, » explains Fayrouz Lamotte, who regrets that the study was carried out on so few products and services. « Neither hairdressers nor dry cleaners appear in these studies despite being services where the pink tax is most prominent,” she laments. What makes this truth even more frustrating is that women are double victims of this injustice. Indeed, “facing these additional costs weighs more heavily on women, who are paid on average 27% less than men,” says Fayrouz.
Did the France’s Minister of the Economy jump to conclusions? This is what is suggested by the results of a second, more comprehensive study conducted by the state of New York in 2015, comparing more than 800 products sold by 90 different brands. It concludes that on average, women pay 7% more than men for the same products.
It is this lack of measures in the aftermath of the controversy that prompted Alara Efsun Yazıcıoğlu, a researcher specialising in tax law, to write a book on the phenomenon: The Pink Tax and the Law (2018). “I wanted to offer a deeper analysis of the pink tax and provide real solutions,” she explains.
“The pink tax is denied as a problem because it is treated as a purely economic phenomenon,” she notes. “We think the market is perfect. That every offer is linked to a demand. And so that if the products or services « for women » cost more, it is because women are ready to pay that price,” says the researcher.
As a result, women have gone from victims to guilty perpetrators of
this injustice. Indeed, when I searched “pink tax” on the internet, I came across a series of articles which oscillate between denying its existence or recommending choosing products “for men”.
For Alara Efsun Yazıcıoğlu, the lightness of this response reveals “the anchoring of sexism in our society.” Because, according to her analysis, “the roots of the problem are above all sociological”.
She explains that the pink tax has its origins in a commercial practice born in the 90’s in the United States whose goal is to create differentiated products for « men » and for « women »: gender marketing. One of the most common strategies for making products attractive to women is “Pink it and Shrink it”. In other words, any small and pink product should be irresistible to women … even if it’s more expensive.
An example? In 2018, the CEO of the PepsiCo group announced her intention to create Doritos crisps “for women”. One wonders what this can mean. Well! These are “less odorous and less noisy” crisps, which can be eaten “discreetly.” Crisps that would be contained in a “smaller” packet, which could be “slipped into a handbag.” Fortunately, the controversy caused on social media over this announcement spared us its marketing.
“This practice reinforces the belief that women are irrational, emotional spendthrifts”, regrets Alara Efsun Yazıcıoğlu. In her eyes, inaction against the Pink Tax amounts to “normalising this prejudice”.
The story of blue and pink
The emergence of pink and blue as « gendered colours » has its origins in the « baby » industry of the 19th century.
Until the 1890s, pink and blue were gender-neutral colours, used interchangeably in baby items. Blue was even preferred to pink for girls, at the time considered a more delicate colour.
Then, baby clothing stores chose to assign “pink” to girls and “blue” to boys in order to avoid the handing down of baby clothes from one child to another (which was possible with neutral colours), and increase sales and
A success! By the end of the 19th century, no one questioned the fact that « pink is for girls and blue for boys », to the point of thinking that they are innate preferences.
Source : Alara Efsun Yazıcıoğlu, The Pink Tax and the Law, Routledge, 2018
66% of French people think that women shop more
Indeed, in France, according to a study carried out by Cofidis and the CSA in 2017, 66% of French people think that French women shop more. Obviously, this is completely false: the same study proves that women do not spend more than average on clothes, shoes and cosmetics….
To refute this stereotype of women, Alara Efsun Yazıcıoğlu recalls in her book a psychological study on « will », « the Marshmallow Test », conducted in schools during the 1970s by Stanford University. This involved giving a child a marshmallow and telling them that if they resisted eating it for a while, they would get another as a reward.
Guess what? Faced with the temptation of consumption, little girls have proved to be more patient …
Faced with the prevalence of these gender stereotypes, many feminist “watchdogs” such as “Pépite sexistes” have emerged on social networks around the world in an attempt to denounce the sexism of gender marketing.
Some brands are starting to realise this. Indeed, companies like Mattel or Bic are slowly moving towards a new trend: that of non-gendered marketing, explicitly aiming to create “unisex” products.
In the toy industry, campaigns like “No Gender December” in Australia, “Let Toys Be Toys” in the United Kingdom or even the appeal against “a sexist Santa Claus” by the Georgette Sand collective in 2019, have also made a change. For example, in France, a Charter for the gender neutral representation of toys was signed by 14 main players in the toy industry on 24 September 2019.
Charter for a gender neutral representation of toys
On 24 September 2019, 14 of the main players in the toy industry – manufacturers, marketing companies, distributors – signed a charter for a gender neutral representation of toys, providing for 34 voluntary commitments from industry players.
On the design side, toy makers are committed to promoting neutral or mixed toys. In short, they will not offer nurse costumes to little girls and tech games to little boys. They are also requested to promote games which seek the intellectual development of children, such as scientific or educational games. These toys will be able to benefit from a “Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Maths” (STEM) label.
When it comes to advertising, marketing companies are committed to abolishing
girl / boy toy categorizations.
Finally, stores are invited to remove the blue and pink aisles. They undertake to reorganize toy aisles according to other criteria, such as, for example, the age or the function of the toy. Salespeople will also be made aware of gender stereotypes by associations.
While these initiatives represent progress, Alara Efsun Yazıcıoğlu believes that they are not enough to solve the problem. “A large part of the pink tax remains “hidden” she reminds us. The consumer is sometimes not aware that it exists because « any minimal difference in the product can be used as a pretext to justify a price difference ».
This is also observed in the study carried out by the state of New York. It reveals that, too often, “women pay extra for ‘special’ ingredients, which generally represent less than 1% of the total product” but which “are emphasised by the brand to make it more attractive or upmarket.”
Faced with this, Alara Efsun Yazıcıoğlu sees only one “real” solution to eradicate the Pink Tax: “government intervention.” For the researcher, “an effective way to abolish the pink tax would be to enact laws and / or regulations prohibiting the differentiation of prices according to gender.” All the more so since, according to her, “in terms of law we have the tools to intervene.”
Indeed, in her book she defends the fact that “since women are expressly targeted by this practice because of their gender, the pink tax can be considered as discrimination based on sex gender. This goes against constitutional standards and the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women ”.
It is therefore with great satisfaction that Alara Efsun Yazıcıoğlu welcomed the state of New York’s initiative, which decided on October 1 to prohibit companies from charging a “pink tax” for their products or services. Now, companies that break the law could be fined and required to compensate consumers.
What if we included this in our 2021 resolutions?
New York State bans the Pink Tax
On 1 October 2020, New York banned the pink tax. The new law prohibits retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and distributors from charging a different price for two « substantially similar » goods or services based on the gender of the consumers. These « substantially similar goods » are defined as two products which have little difference in the materials used in their manufacture, their purpose of use, design, functionality, as well as their brand. The new law also gives consumers the right to ask companies for a list of their prices as well as their justifications. If an unjustified price difference is identified, several sanctions are possible:
• the prohibition of the sale of these products
• the refund of the additional cost to consumers
• a fine of up to $250, increased to $500 in the event of a repeat offense
We’ve been telling you about it for a few weeks. Now, it’s official. Les Glorieuses is launching its newsletter IMPACT in January. This new bilingual newsletter will talk about public and private policies impacting women’s lives, with an international perspective. It is free. Suscribe here :
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