Shopping can be a stressful experience, particularly when shopping for beauty products and basic personal care. Since youth we have been taught that the female body in its natural state is not acceptable and must be modified as much as possible to comply with the culturally accepted ideal of beauty.
Titled ‘essential’ for a reason, personal care items such as deodorant and shampoo are necessary tool to enable ourselves, not just to feel clean, but to stand up to society’s vision of the ideal female. This all makes a visit to your local branch of Superdrug a daunting and often costly venture.
Living up to this ideal is time consuming and expensive and becomes especially frustrating when you begin to notice that these essential items are also costing you more than comparable versions marketed at men. Men who already earn an average of 17.5 % more than women annually, who buy fewer personal care products on average, who are not held up to the same beauty standards are also making savings on their personal care.
“From the bathroom cupboard to the dry cleaners, women are systematically being charged more”
Known as gender pricing, this is an entirely legal practice in the UK and abroad, where men and women are charged different prices for comparable products and services. From the bathroom cupboard to the dry cleaners, women are systematically being charged more by businesses and marketers who tap into our need to comply to gender specific beauty standards.
A research trip to the high street revealed gender pricing to common practice. Venturing into my local Boots I found a very clear difference in price across male and female gendered personal care items. For example 100ml of Right Guard deodorant costs £1.08 for men and £1.20 for women. That’s 0.12 pence extra for a comparable product with slightly different scents.
A trip to my local dry cleaners revealed men will pay £3 for a basic white shirt to be washed and pressed whereas my white blouse costs £6.50. The fabrics are the same cotton/polyester blend, requiring the same chemicals and labour time to clean. The only difference is I pay £3.50 extra for the service.
Across to Sainsbury’s and Wilkinson Sword will sell a 20pack of disposable razors at £0.29 pence a unit to a man but a 10pack of the same 2 blade razor at £0.42 for a woman. That’s a price increase of 69% for a slightly different moulded plastic handle.
My shopping trip highlights how, on a very basic day-to-day level, women are consistently charged more than men for goods and services that don’t have any discernible difference.
Looking further than my locality as a means of research, very little academic or industry generated insight can be found on this subject in the UK. Looking abroad however, the picture is quite different.
Stateside, gender specific price discrimination has been banned in the state of California since 1996 after research found that women paid approximately $1,351 extra annually in costs and fees that men. If theoretically applied to the rest of the USA (as done in a study by Marie Claire in 2014), women are collectively paying approximately $151 billion annually in mark-ups. This is not a trivial figure for a few packs of razors. This is a sizeable chunk of women’s disposable income that is being eaten up by the need to uphold basic beauty standards.
It can of course be argued that women are not forced to buy gender specific items, rather it is a choice we make to pay more for feminine scented shaving foam or ergonomically designed pink razor handles. This attitude however ignores the fact that women and men are bombarded every day with images that reinforce the importance of gender specific identifiers: men must be strong and confident; women must be gentle and pretty.
“…it is a simple and insidious message that has been repackaged and sold to us since we received our first baby-gro from Grandma”
Boiling down to the crudest idea of blue for boys and pink for girls, it is a simple and insidious message that has been repackaged and sold to us since we received our first baby-gro from Grandma. It’s no wonder that businesses and marketers the world over have taken advantage of this notion to make it work in favour of their bottom lines.
So what can be done? Women can vote with their purse strings, buying generic personal care items and arguing down their dry cleaners for a fairer price. Speak to their MP and highlight this as an important issue.
This is not an easy thing to do. As a gender women are busy enough trying to succeed in an unequal, unbalanced world. Fighting back against unfair price discrimination is probably not top of the Too-Do list and certainly causes conflict between wishing for a fairer pricing structure and conforming to the perfect picture of femininity. Yet it is through questioning and arguing, whether with people who haven’t noticed this as an issue or your dry cleaner on the unfairness of their pricing policy. Talking about gender pricing increases awareness which is the first step towards levelling the gender playing field and restoring balance to your bathroom cupboard.
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