Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How do I prevent my pen from being sexist?

Gender-based marketing is a pervasive phenomenon on which a number of studies have been conducted. Some goods like cosmetics or hygiene products are advertised, designed and priced differently based on the gender they target. Several examples of studies and striking differences between products are collected in the following blog post : The woman tax: gendered products and gendered pricing

Products that aim to please women are often made pricier and tinier. Companies using this strategy are thus able to sell more products and charge more for them. Thankfully, more people have become aware of this phenomenon. For instance, the Bic pens "For her" started a controversy on the Internet (see for example the hilarious comment section on Amazon) and on TV (on The Ellen Show). 

Nevertheless, women generally pay more for their products, while usually earning less money. This situation is referred to as "the pink tax" and has been comparatively analyzed with the masculine gendering of products in an interesting previous post

The angle of this post however is to identify ways to reverse the tendency and to look at what has already been done to that effect. Which specific legal tools are in place ? How can we as consumers impact this discriminatory phenomenon? What should we keep in mind while making the decision to buy such goods?

From a legal point of view, State Senator Ben Hueso of California has proposed to 
prohibit business establishments from charging customers different prices for similar or like goods on the basis of gender (Equal gender pricing Bill, SB 899).
The California Senate approved the bill in May 2016, but the project was then withdrawn by Sen. Hueso on June 28th, apparently due to
strong industry opposition from retailers and manufacturers who argued its conditions were ambiguous and would open the way to a wave of frivolous lawsuits (Los Angeles Times, article by Jazime Ulloa, June 29th, 2016).
One might choose to see this withdrawal as a positive sign. Indeed, the California legislature and its congressmen and congresswomen are now undoubtedly informed of the issue and the possible solutions. It will just take more time to accommodate all the stakeholders.

On a related topic, California Assemblymember Cristina Garcia introduced a measure last January to exempt feminine hygiene products from sales tax (AB 1561). That is, to abolish the so-called "tampon tax". The bill is now on the Governor's desk, waiting for his signature. A few states do not tax these products while others, such as New York, are passing similar bills. Actual legal change could very well happen in the near future, so we should keep an eye on it.

From an individual and every-day life point of view, the first step is to be aware of gender marketing. Carefully comparing products made for men or women before buying them or identifying and purchasing gender-neutral products are good ways to save money and take a silent but economically potent stand. Raising awareness and making people think of these unjustified inequalities by simply pointing out the price difference is another idea.

What really matters in the end is choosing to buy whatever one needs while being conscious of the marketing strategies. If one prefers to buy the pink Bic pen, so be it. Yet it would be more desirable to be aware of these matters and not be manipulated into buying it to affirm some sort of femininity rather than just by mere personal preference.


Kyle Kate Dudley said...

Thank you, Flamingo! As I began to read this post, I at first felt very frustrated with myself. I could not believe that gendered marketing was so widespread! I had heard of things like the "for her" pen (those Amazon reviews make for STELLAR reading, btw), but I hadn't realized how deeply pervasive gendered marketing is, and how much I'm a target of the "small and expensive" items and things like the tampon tax. My frustration was abated however, as I came to the close of the post, because I realized that just by reading it, I would be more conscious of these strategies in the future. "For men" products, here I come :).

Earnest Femingway said...

Flamingo, thanks for bringing up such a prevalent issue in product development and marketing. It got me thinking about my 10 year old brother; he is obviously unaffected by the price point differences, but the branding still exhibits the stark contrasts between "for boys" and "for girls." I noticed the common feature of combining shampoo and body wash into one product. I am not certain, but I assume that young girls aren't offered such a convenient combo. The natural consequence is that parents are forced to buy the extra product, reinforcing the norm of the "pink tax" early on. Maybe legislation aimed at childrens products would be a more palatable step for those who refuse to believe that hygiene is unfairly more expensive for women.

Flamingo said...

Thank you to both of you for your precious feedback! I am glad that my post was interesting to you and made you more conscious! This is exactly what I have tried to do myself, be more conscious about these issues and act accordingly.
@Earnest : Indeed, gender marketing hits strong in the children market! There are studies and articles on this subject as well and I actually hesitated to focus my post more on this particular matter. It seems ridiculous that little girls are not offered the same combo as little boys, I did not know about that. I feel like we became unknowingly used to these differences at a young age. It would be interesting to ask our younger siblings/acquaintances about whether they perceive these differences in products or not.

Josie Zimmermann said...

@Earnest, that's a really interesting example. As I was reading it, my first thought was poor little boys. Your scalp needs a different type of soap than your body. To me, that's just reinforcing the idea that girls and women spend time and money on their appearance, but that's too frivolous for boys and men. It's crazy how this type of gendered marketing really hurts both men and women.

Julie Maguire said...

Flamingo, this is a very interesting comment on a very current topic in society.

It appears that these marketing strategies often only become obvious to people after they have been made aware of them. The distinction is, however, blatant. It appears that men do not want for as much as women and, therefore, the products aimed toward them are often much more compacted, and often cheaper, than similar products targeted at women.

I appreciate your acknowledgement of the "tampon tax". Until recently I had not been aware that such a thing existed. I had always just paid the advertised price without question. It was only when I realised they were considered a "luxury product" that the outrage hit me.

I found your post fascinating and a great read, thank you.