The conceptual underpinning of the ‘pink-tax’ refers to the profit-maximizing techniques adopted by companies based on psychological trends, shopping behaviour and interests, to promote the sale of products marketed towards female consumers at substantially higher prices than those promoted to male consumers. Far from being a “traditional” tax, these marketing strategies take advantage of women by increasing the price they pay. This difference results in a significant reduction in the opportunities and services available to women, augmenting deeply entrenched inequalities.
Advertisements and the media impose physical standards and encourage society to adhere to gender-stereotypes that push women to purchase beauty products despite higher prices. Cultural norms foster the belief that higher prices for feminine products are necessary for women to fit into societal expectations, thereby, continuously reinforcing socially constructed notions of what a ‘woman’ should be. The pressure to purchase products that apparently make women more ‘desirable’ overburdens them with additional economic expenses, creating a feedback loop wherein women are incentivized to maintain socially expected ‘feminine’ behaviour. As pink can be representative of femininity, most of the products marketed to women reflect this typology.
A rudimentary internet search is enough to help us understand the vastly differing prices of products like shaving-foam, body-wash, etc., that are used for the same purpose but are differentiated based on the gender of the end-user. A popular brand of shaving-foam prices its men’s variant to be 2.15 times less expensive than the product available for women, the only other major difference being packaging designed to appeal to the female-gender. Additionally, the gender-based marketing and taxes on menstrual hygiene products takes away their status from ‘necessary’ items and categorises it as ‘luxury’ items. Gender-based price inflation is, however, far from profitable. A study by Prior Catalyst showed that the abolition of the pink-tax would result in an increase in net earnings of Gilette from 8% to 20.19%. A direct consequence of reduced prices would be an increase in the demand for Gillette’s products which would translate into a rise in its earnings.
In February 2018, Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsico released a statement highlighting their plan to roll out snacks that would cater to the needs of women. The company planned to develop low crunch chips in purse-friendly packaging to cater to the female demographic, but this plan was later shelved. This case perfectly exemplifies how gendered marketing does nothing but promote harmful stereotypes of how ‘good women’ are supposed to be: healthy and feminine, through consumption.
Capitalism proliferates and sustains itself on the maintenance of status quo and inequalities, allowing corporations to indulge in harmful marketing strategies. The current structure exploits prevalent discrimination against women and aids corporates in their profit-generating schemes. One of the basic tenets of human rights law mandates equal treatment and the right to be free from discrimination. This right is abridged when companies use oppressive marketing-tactics on which impose undue burdens on women as opposed to men.
Women are further disadvantaged by the pink tax due to the unprecedented reliance of corporations on technology and online shopping interfaces. A study conducted to understand consumer behaviour and the influence of online recommendations on people exposed that consumers tended to buy more when the recommendations were customised to their preferences. With the advent of technology and online-shopping, a constant reminder of products that cater specifically to one’s gender identity intensifies the need to purchase these products. Research by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs in 2015 on goods pricing procedures, found that 42% of the time women’s items were priced higher by an average of 7% irrespective of the availability of a similar, less expensive product in the men’s section. Online marketing strategies, focussing on psychological tendencies and gender differences, have mastered the promotion of more expensive products to women. An acknowledgment of such online-marketing strategies is required to assess this additional tax and to bring in a more transparent consumer-producer relationship.
The pink-tax must be eliminated. It is a product manifestation of the intersection of gender discrimination and capitalism, and thus contradicts the principles of natural-justice which inherently rely on fairness and equality. The eradication of a gendered tax necessitates consumers be made aware of the gender biases that are manipulated by corporations. While heavy advertisement promoting gender segregation persists, an increase in demand for genderless/unisex products could jolt companies to become conscious of their corporate social responsibility.
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