The Pink Tax
Being a woman is expensive. Not only do we have to pay for bras, diva-cups and everything in between, we’re also expected to buy beauty balm creams to make sure we’re glowing at all times.
Gendered pricing or the ‘Pink Tax’ is a well-documented phenomenon south of the border. Women’s personal care products (shampoo, lotion, razors, deodorant, body wash and shaving cream) lead the pack — 13 percent more expensive than equivalent products for males according to a study from New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs.
What about Canada? Are we gouging our ladies too?
I went looking for this phenomenon at my local drug stores.
Walking in, I pondered the question on products from the ladies of the Baroness von Sketch Show: “How will the women, know it’s for women?”
Same question from another angle: what does it mean when a particular personal care product is made for women and not men? Does it come down to the product being actually better for one sex, or are companies advertising two versions of the same thing, enabling different pricing?
In stores, I got the impression that women are meant to inherently know what products are for them. I couldn’t find a single moisturizer specifically labeled for women. But the men’s versions are plastered with homme and for men, with stereotypically male-coloured packaging like black, green, and blue.
Shopper’s Drug Mart
If you want Lubriderm Original (480 mL) it’s $12.99. If you want Lubriderm Men’s 3 in 1 (473 mL) in a black rather than white bottle, and boasts Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, meant to be soothing to apply after you shave, it’s also $12.99.
Vaseline provides a number of special moisturizers just for men, in dark blue bottles. Vaseline Men Repairing Moisture Fast Absorbing Lotion (600 mL) is $11.99, and contains fewer ingredients than the yellow bottled Vaseline Intensive Care Dry Skin Repair Lotion (600 mL) is also $11.99 but contains Avena Sativa (Oat) Straw Extract.
So the cream that isn’t specified for men is different because it contains oatmeal? Cool. Sign me up.
Fragrances are trickier to compare on price. Perfume in its true form is the most concentrated and only requires the wearer to apply the tiniest amount. Eau du Parfum is second purest, Eau du Toilette is watered down even more, and cologne is the least concentrated and so usually the cheapest.
The smell is what distinguishes whether a scent gets marketed to men or women, not dilution; of course years of advertising has solidified the idea that women wear perfume and men wear cologne. Eau du Toilette is still technically gender neutral (Yardley’s still markets it to women) but it’s broadly understood to be for men.
Both the him and her highest prices at Shopper’s are Dior products with Fahrenheit Eau de Toilette (6.8 oz.) clocking in at $186 and J’adore Eau de Parfum (5.07 oz.) $198. The women’s product is indeed more expensive, but you’re meant to use significantly less of it, so it should last longer.
Razors, shaving creams/gels and deodorants are classic culprits in gender gouging. At Rexall there are over 100 different razors, all with slightly different features, so finding comparable products is difficult.
Schick Hydro 5 Sensitive (1 razor, 2 replacement blades) for men is $18.49, while the equivalent Schick Hydro Silk (1 razor, 2 replacement blades) is $18.99. This is a clear, but small case of the women’s product costing more.
Even the store brand Rexall Men Triple Blade X3 are $8.29 for four, and the Rexall Women’s 3X Blade $8.99 for four. Another obvious and arbitrary difference.
Dove Men+Care Body+Face Wash (400 mL) was slightly cheaper at $9.99 with the Dove Body Wash (354 mL) for women priced at $10.49. Same with Dove’s shampoos, the same size women’s version is $0.50 more. But in their soaps the prices were exactly the same, each at $6.79 for two 113 gm bars. Dove deodorants less easy to tell on the spot, with a tiny fraction of a cent difference per gram.
Olay soaps were significantly more expensive than Old Spice (both owned by P&G) with four bars, 90 gm each of Olay Fresh Outlast for $7.79 and 6 bars, 141 gm each of Old Spice Swagger soap for the same price.
L’Oréal (a company boasting the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality certification) lives up to the name with its men’s and women’s shampoos costing exactly the same amount.
While men’s products were sometimes cheaper, more striking was the lack of men’s alternatives to begin with. I found few examples where the same company makes mirrored products for men and women. But there is no simple conclusion, sometimes the price seems unfairly higher for women, sometimes not.
So what to do next time you’re confronted with a crowded shelf of products? Women cannot now, and never could afford to be passive consumers. It seems, however, that increased consumer awareness has started to move toward fairness in the drug-store aisles. I did not find the blatant pink-tax across the board.
The trouble remains that women are expected to navigate a much broader range of products, while men’s alternatives made obvious. A sneakier marketing strategy exists, whereby out of 100 shampoo bottles, 10 will be labelled for men but the other 90 won’t make any gender-focused claims.
So ladies, check and compare prices at every opportunity, and the companies more deserving of your hard-earned money will soon be revealed. Be suspicious of pink. The colour of the bottle, handle, or brush should have less do with your purchase than the price.
On a complete side note:
Alice Cooper made a foray into the gender bending market in 1973. Not sure what made his “unisex” mascara dubbed Whiplash different from any other tube on the market, it was exclusively mail-order and cost $2.95 U.S. with $0.50 in shipping, the equivalent of $18.75 in today’s cash.
The first ever Cologne (which is indeed named after its German city of origin) called 4711 was originally a women’s product.
Dollar Shave Club are advertising to women without changing their products at all. The message is simple and effective, if this razor works for a dude, it’ll work for a lady because…why wouldn’t it?
Cover: Anna Novoseltseva