The United States is in its most active consumer-based economy to date. With billions of items to choose from and the increasing popularity of e-commerce, it has never been easier to make a purchase with a single click. Theoretically, the freedom and ease of such an economy would favor almost everyone and decrease disparities between different types of consumer populations. However, nuanced aspects of the U.S. economy related to discrimination and outdated legislation continue to widen these aforementioned imbalances. Despite all of the progress made on gender equality and the destigmatization of menstruation, both of these factors are still used to justify the idea that the female-identifying population should be required to spend more money. Imagine a person goes to their local grocery store to buy a pint of ice cream. At this particular store, all of the pints come from the same company, are of the same flavor, and organized into two columns: one with dark blue packaging and the other neon pink and labeled as “for women.” These two ice cream pints are exactly the same besides their advertising, but listed at two different prices: the blue pint costs $4.29 while the pink pint is $4.99. Although there is only a $0.70 difference between the two pints, the manufacturer was able to choose these prices because the latter group has a target group it is marketed towards women. Now, imagine this price gap also being on general items such as vitamins, work-style clothes, deodorant, and even toys. The average consumer may not think they are overpaying during their weekly shopping trips when in fact, these seemingly minor price differences will quickly add up at their expense.
My analogy with blue and pink ice cream pints may be fictional, but gender-based price discrimination for the other goods I listed is certainly not. Commonly referred to as the Pink Tax, the collective trend of gender-based price discrimination has prevailed in the United States economy for decades (Hoffman) and is still around today (U.S. Government Accountability Office). The Pink Tax extends beyond items and applies to services such as dry cleaning and car maintenance (Hoffman). According to an article on the Listen Money Matters website, a study conducted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs in 2015 found that after comparing the prices of over 800 basic products, women pay about $1300 more for the same items per year. To control for gender-specific goods and services, the products compared in this study were clothing, toys, personal care products, and senior home products (Elliot). Over the average woman’s lifetime, which is about 81 years according to the Center for Disease Control (Arias and Xu), she is projected to spend an extra $105,300 in goods and services. Arguably, a shopper could avoid the difference in costs if they purchased the generic, male-branded items versus the female. However, some products only apply to one gender, so there is not a cheaper alternative available to customers. If you guessed that I was hinting at pads, tampons, panty liners, and any item related to menstruation, you would be correct. The Tampon Tax is slightly different from the Pink Tax in that it is an actual tax added to the purchase of menstrual products, but it is similar in principle. In fact, states generate millions of dollars of revenue off of the Tampon Tax. As of 2020, 60% of states still had a Tampon Tax in place, and their revenue from this tax totaled to about $122.4 million (Period Equity). For such a modern economy and society, it is shocking that States are significantly profiting off of menstruators for a biological process they cannot control.
So, as either an affected consumer or an interested bystander in the Pink and Tampon taxes, where do you go from here? Unfortunately, there has not been much federal progress on abolishing either of these practices. On April 3rd, 2019 the Pink Tax Repeal Act was introduced in Congress, but the last recorded activity on the bill was on April 4th, 2019 where it was referred to a Congressional subcommittee. Therefore, the only way to defeat the Tampon and Pink Taxes is through individual work. The first, and arguably most important, step anyone can take is to educate themselves and those around them about the various organizations, philanthropists, lobbyists, and government figures working towards diminishing the Pink and Tampon taxes. A great resource I found upon doing my own research was https://www.periodequity.org/ which is the website for a legal organization called Period Equity. Founded by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and Laura Strausfeld, Period Equity’s main mission is making menstrual products more affordable and accessible and spreading their message about “menstrual equity” (Period Equity). They have championed the movement against the Tampon Tax by collaborating with various legal teams and media outlets to push for legislative reform in multiple states and publishing stories and informational pieces about how the Tax impacts the United States. In addition to offering a plethora of Tampon Tax material, Period Equity’s website also includes links to donate, ways for interested individuals to get involved, and updated documents with information about their legislative efforts. If you do not have time to get super involved or just want to start with a simple change, I would recommend avoiding purchases from brands that gender-discriminate in their pricing and switch over to equally priced subscription services like Billie, Harry’s, and Boxed for razors and tampons. Additionally, as U.S. residents, we can lobby our local representatives to push for the legal change we want. If enough people make their concerns heard and we can grasp the attention of those in high legislative positions, we could potentially be one step closer to finally ending the Pink Tax and Tampon Tax.