The View from Venus: It Ain’t Cheap Being Female

Published on April 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm

By ABBY FINKELMAN
Women’s Initiative

On April 6th, the website Jezebel published a post called “This Is How Much It Costs to Own a Vagina: An Itemized List”. Tracie Egan Morrissey was inspired by the contraception coverage debate to look into various expenses women have. On March 15th, Lea Goldman at Marie Claire published a post called “Why Women Pay More” about how the same products and services for women cost more than for men”.

Both came to unhappy conclusions. Morrissey (unscientifically) comes up with tampons (9 boxes/year) equaling $61.11 a year and pads $59.43 – if you buy the cheap ones on drugstore.com. If you go to a store, or want your fancy Tampax Pearls, it will be more. Goldman, meanwhile, informs us (scientifically) that women’s deodorant is on average thirty cents more per ounce than men’s, even when the only difference is whether it smells like a meadow with sunshine and unicorns. My nearest stick of deodorant is 2.6 ounces, or 78 cents more than a comparable one for a man.

78 cents may seem trivial, but it adds up: in 1996, California found that “women paid about $1,351 annually in extra costs and fees”. And taxes: women’s items are often taxed higher than men’s (though it is sometimes the other way around).

Admittedly, a lot of the things mentioned in Morrissey’s post are optional (Brazilians) or, hopefully, sporadic (Monistat). But here is one that is very not optional: toilet paper. They come up with $143.88 a year for toilet paper (again, drugstore.com), and estimate that men spend half as much. That’s a whole lot of money to be spending on something that I think we can all agree is necessary.

Jen Doll over at the Atlantic Wire chimed in to point out that then there are “the ‘woman’ costs that go beyond this list: Like makeup, cosmetic treatments and surgery, clothing and handbags”. The societal costs, we can call those, the things we do not have to do for basic survival, but may have to do to feel comfortable or get ahead. (Not optional for many of us: bras. A good bra can cost $25, $30, upwards of $50. I could buy a small island with all the money I have spent on bras – and build a little underwire house on it.)

All of this is exacerbated by the wage gap. You knew that at best (estimates differ) women are still only making 77 cents for every dollar men make, right? And 68 and 58 cents for black and Latina women, respectively. So we are paying more and making less.

But there is something we can do about this. It is an election year – a brutal one. The “women’s vote” can be a powerful thing; President Obama just shot ahead in the polls because women were turned off by the Republican attacks on reproductive rights. Marie Claire created a handy little “contact your representative” link: marieclaire.com/womenpaymore. Various state officials around the country, the entire House of Representatives, and roughly one-third of the Senate are all up for reelection. (Nearby: CT, Lieberman is retiring; ME, Snowe is retiring; MA, Brown is up; NJ, Menendez is up; NY, Gillibrand is up; VT, Sanders is up.)

Every 2, 4, or 6 years, these people care very much what women think. Tell them. Tell them you want to ban gender pricing, equalize import tariffs, establish equal pay, and while we are at it, subsidize tampons – and chocolate.

  • Heather T.

    Great article Abby! What I can’t understand is why Morrissey kept referring to drugstore.com. Who would actually buy their items online? Especially if they were unsure of what product is best for them? Feminine and female products are something that is always better spent *in* the store examining the different options.

    Now I’m thinking that Morrissey didn’t want to spend the time “for the field” conducting research in the feminine products section of CVS or a grocery store and hurt what I’m assuming is his pride and reputation?

    • Abby Finkelman

      Tracie Egan Morrissey is a woman…my assumption is that it’s because of how much prices vary across the country. A box of tampons in New York and a box of tampons in Arkansas won’t be the same. And in New Hampshire they wouldn’t have tax.

      • Heather T.

        Ah, thanks for making that clarification; and that actually makes it more interesting now…

        Yes, while prices do vary across the country, a sampling from her area would have probably still been a fairer representation than using an online store (that I hadn’t heard about before). Or, she could have asked for various readers or participants to provide a list of how expensive those materials were at a particular store such as CVS and then compiled and analyzed the data from there. And naturally NH doesn’t have tax. That’s one advantage women have in this battle. Clearly we must all move to New Hampshire. ;)

        • Abby Finkelman

          I’m almost certain she’s in NYC, which is way more expensive than everywhere else.

          You’ve never heard of drugstore.com? Oh, Heather.

  • Bizjack

    What does “Tell them you want to ban gender pricing” mean? What is gender pricing? The only time I can think of there being explicit differences in pricing is at night clubs where women get in free and men have to pay a cover charge.