FASHFEST 2017 Masthead
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Is There a ‘Pink Tax’?

Ros Hull

Well no, not literally.

We all know the argument that women should not have to pay GST on tampons (we shouldn’t, in my opinion). However, we are all entitled to an opinion and there are those who are pro paying tax and those seriously against.

Whilst I personally disagree with the first link, it should be pointed out (in relation to the second) that menstruating for women is not the equivalent of having protected sex for men. Men don’t menstruate involuntarily, we do. If we didn’t the human race would not exist.

A lot of women find basic (non-GST) pads uncomfortable, unreliable and a bit distressing. So cut us a break, let us have a GST-free choice. By the way, we can get birth control and barriers GST free just the same as men, so we really should try to compare apples with apples to be fair.

In this spirit, let’s move away from this political football and ask – does it actually cost more to be a woman?

My instinctual and immediate response was a resounding YES! Of course it does. However, as I have dug deeper, some doubt crept into my righteous indignation. I’ve also discovered this topic is enormous. So, in an effort to make a rational comparison, I am simply looking at two working professionals of indeterminate age getting ready for work.

They both wear underwear – and anyone who has bought luxurious intimates knows how outrageous the cost of those can be. However, taking it back to basics, a large chain store sells their home brand underpants for men at $10.00 for a 10 pack but women pay $10.00 for just four pairs.

Seriously? Just $1.00 per pair if you are a bloke – I never want to hear that joke about right way, wrong way, frontwards, backwards again. There is no excuse.

Besides, men don’t need to buy bras and there is another $10.00 spend for the most basic model available (as long as your matatas don’t exceed size 14, above that it’s a minimum spend of $19.00).

However, to be fair, if our sample male is a bit more refined he might want a singlet – $10.00 for a home brand but $30.00 for a pack of just one named after a Sydney beach. Wow. I clearly have not shopped for my dad in a while.

Let’s look at suits next. A more upmarket store (named after a man) sells suits for both sexes. The least expensive men’s suit starts at $239.00 and a jacket and trousers for a woman adds up to $250.00. Not bad?

Not good.

I used their online store for this experiment and discovered that, for men, I could go immediately to suiting and sort by price, but for women I had to wade through pages and pages of clothing items in infinite variety to find a simple jacket and trouser combo. Let’s be honest, even with ‘investment dressing’, the latest trends will make that jacket tired in a season or two. Men buy their first suit at university … and some still are still wearing the same one 20 years later.

But I digress.

I took a straw poll of daughters, sisters and workmates before writing this piece and one item that has popped up often is the suggestion that briefcases are not taxed but handbags are. It turns out this is an urban myth, they both attract GST. There is even a page in the Australian Master GST Guide 2012 that using a leather briefcase as an example for calculating GST.

Only ‘some education supplies’ are exempt from GST and I suspect my male colleague (just as geriatric as me) would have as much trouble convincing the ATO that he bought his briefcase for university as I would. By the way, I know he paid more for his because men don’t hunt for bargains.

The subject of just how much it costs to be a woman v. being a man is never far from the media spotlight.

Earlier this month a British woman was sent out to buy high heels because her workplace deemed her flats unsuitable. However this issue has far more to do with rampant misogyny than a gender bias in the cost of shoes.

In fact, as the aunty of a young man with size 13 feet, I know men’s basic leather shoes can cost much more than women’s. However, my husband can wear the same dress shoes for 10 – 15 years whilst I have been in and out of several pairs of basic black heels in that time.

Now let’s look at personal grooming, because this is where there really is a divide.

Have we imposed this divide on ourselves by listening to clever marketing? I checked Woolworths online as a benchmark  and found just 12 types of deodorant available for men … and stopped counting when I got to 60 different types for women!

There are face washes and moisturisers available for men and women, but only a few brands that make these for both, which is the fairest comparison. I chose to again look at the lower end of the market to avoid ‘prestige tax’ or overt marketing and compared the male and female versions of a brand that rhymes with trivia.

Online at the Woolworths site the men’s moisturiser is $15.99 per 100mls whilst the equivalent women’s one is $26.98 per 100mls. Razors for women are 10c per five more expensive than men’s too.

I don’t want to disappear down the rabbit hole of women’s skin care or make up because frankly, there is no good answer there.

Hair cuts. Again, let’s keep it simple, keep it suburban.

There is one chain of cheap cuts that doesn’t discriminate but there is another (which also sells hair products) where men are charged less than women – and a cut on long hair costs more that on short hair. Why? I wear my hair longer and all I need is a tidy of the ends and the fringe trimmed. My colleague gets his shaped, styled and his neck razored, taking twice the time and precision my cut does but costing him at least $20.00 less.

However, if he chooses to go for a prestige cut at a trendy barber, then he will pay lots of money, just like us.

If we head to the gym, he can join a men’s only program at the YMCA for a considerable amount less than my women’s only gym membership.

I could go on and on, but can I draw any conclusions from what I’ve learnt?

I have learned there really is no upper limit to what we will spend on items we perceive as fashionable, prestigious or having the magic bullet of age reduction. If there was, there are a lot of skincare companies, fashion houses and supplement sellers that would not exist. However, this is as true of some men as it is of women.

We have a slight advantage over men in that we actually enjoy the activity of shopping (or most of us do) so we find the unusual, the samples, the marked-down options. On the other hand many a man will march in, purchase what he went there to buy and leave.

Retailers have discovered there is no point marketing to this customer, so they market to us. Women’s fragrances are marketed to women and men’s fragrances are marketed to us too. Even Old Spice. Especially Old Spice.

If we are willing to buy razors that cost more because the plastic is pink, and they have therefore been made especially for us – are the marketing people really to blame?

So here is my political hot potato – yes, it is more expensive to be a woman. However, we might be allowing it to be.

Have we all worn flats to work as a sign of solidarity with that woman in the UK? No.

Have we whispered about that one woman who doesn’t shave her legs? Probably.

Would we wear something that we know is out of fashion? Hands up if you are willing to go makeup-free to work, or even more confronting, to drinks with your girl friends?

Maybe it’s time to stop complaining about dollars and ask for change instead.

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Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author

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