The Intangible Behind the Pink

Lydia Michaels in her book, La Vie En Rose: Life in Pink, gives readers Emma Sanders, a seemingly ordinary girl who wound up being the strongest woman Riley Lockhart (the protagonist, if you may) had ever known. Below is an excerpt from the erotic, intellectual, and haunting journey of the deceptive pink bow that shines on its cover.

'Emma shut her laptop and scowled at them. “I’m pink.”

She wasn’t sure when her opinion of the colour changed or why, but she now took offence to outsiders putting down the pink as much as she took offence to corporations abusing the colour. What she once criticized she now understood. Despite all the exploitation, there was something intangible behind the pink, a sense of connectedness, and she wanted to embrace that camaraderie.”

I am certain that pink reminded her of her love for dance. The innocence of being young. Tutus. Strawberry frosting on a vanilla cake. And lipstick (I bet she loves a good lipstick). Perhaps, it reminds her that she should take pride in her feminine traits, in being a woman. There is nothing remotely wrong with enjoying femininity. Curves. Hips. Lips. Empathy. Vulnerability. Sensuality. Patience. Intuition.

Who knew capitalists would take her intangible behind the pink quite so literally. Have you ever wondered why there exists a price difference for male and female shoppers’ while buying similar products? Masculine products come in dark-coloured packages while female products come in packages of pink and purple, coated with fruity and floral fragrance. And while colour and scent are the notable elements that distinguish one from the other, there is another yet indistinct facet that is costing those who buy women-based products more – the infamous “pink tax”.    

The pink tax, also known as an episode of gender-based price discrimination, is an invisible cost that women have to pay for products and services designed for them, while the male constituent of the same is priced less, more often than not. There is a rambling tendency for products marketed specifically toward women to be pricier than those marketed for men, despite either gender's preference to purchase either product. And this tax is not confined to the wealthiest nations of the world, women in developing nations too pay a higher price for feminine products. 

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a lawyer, Vice President for the Brennan School of Justice at NYU School of Law, and co-founder of Period Equity says that from a technical standpoint, it isn’t really a tax, rather an income-generating scenario for private corporations who found a money minting technique. Part of the reason why products that are considered ‘pink’ are priced more is that society typically places women to a higher standard when it comes to appearance, providing big business houses with a window of opportunity to push women from all backgrounds to spend more on their appearance. Then, pricing products higher becomes part of the marketing strategy and companies are happy to rake in a bit more from women. So, razors for women cost more than the razors for men. And just because they can explicitly make money off of pink tax, they think that they should, a classic capital stance.

Pink tax coupled with wage discrimination makes even basic hygiene products for women unaffordable. The Consumer Reports of California, Florida, Connecticut and South Dakota reveal that women pay as much as 50% more than men do for similar products. However, women and men are not even completely aware of the existence of a pink tax or gender tax. In a survey conducted with a small sample size in the age group of 18-25, 67% of the respondents had never heard either of the terms. However, interestingly, 93% of the respondents felt that similar consumer products were charged at a higher price for women than for men. 

Dr Surbhi Singh, a practising gynaecologist and founder and president of the menstrual awareness NGO 'Sacchi Saheli', says that in general, most of our choices in life are determined by marketing and advertising. With this in mind, we are drawn towards products that are marketed to make us feel prettier or fairer, etc. For this, women certainly pay the “extra price”. 

In the fashion industry, a matrix to look into is the bridal segment. Retailers and designers lay a great deal of emphasis on the bridal apparel or jewellery or all those accessories that go into making a bride (like Emma Sanders), versus all those that go into making a groom (like Riley Lockhart). There is clearly an extensive disparity. A chunk of it is certainly developed by branding, marketing and a push from the marketers; rest is gender stereotyping. A study on shoppers and their buying habits vouchsafed that women consumers are more at the mercy of this kind of marketing because it appeals to their ‘lower’ self-esteem and self-pride.

Back in 2018, Mrs Indra Nooyi, the then chief executive of PepsiCo went over the board with ‘Lady’ Doritos in a podcast. The masses didn’t take it well, obviously. Mrs Nooyi told the interviewer that women did not eat Doritos the same way men did. “They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public,” she said. “And they don’t lick their fingers generously, and they don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavouring into their mouth.” She further suggested that “snacks for women can be designed and packaged differently,” or in other words, PepsiCo was planning “a male and female version of chips.”

Women want equal pay for equal work and an end to sex discrimination in the workplace, and all our society has to offer is a bag of Lady Doritos so they won’t have to crunch too loudly in front of their male colleagues. What most people believed and I’m sure still would, if Lady Doritos actually becomes a thing, is that Lady Doritos are just regular Doritos but when a woman buys a bag, she only gets 70% of the chips a guy would. Funny how mysteriously our pink tax finds its way to things as ordinary as a packet of chips.  

And yet gender tax is not an issue that infuriates women, even educated and gender-sensitive ones. Gender tax would be visible, perhaps, if we all knew that it exists. However, consumers are getting aware of it gradually. And hence, strategies and policies are bound to change in future. Companies like Burger King have staged their campaign against pink pricing. Hopefully, a time shall come where women may not have to pay more for products just because they are considered pink or feminine. If we think about the enduring and complex history of the color pink, it was considered masculine by virtue of being a diminutive of red, before it was considered girlish or feminine. It wasn’t until the 19th century, that it became coded as female, while blue became an indicator of masculinity. Perhaps, the problem that we’re trying to solve would ask us, society as a whole, to change the very definition of what does and doesn’t qualify as a gender specific notion, vox populi. And a lot of work needs to be done to make it happen but as Lily Pulitzer, one of the greatest American fashion designers, says, “anything is possible with sunshine and a little pink”


Anjali Harjani

A highly inquisitive person fascinated by the world of economics & behavioral sciences. I'm pursuing my interests or at least I try to, with utmost integrity, growing through the journey, & simultaneously enjoying the process of discovering myself.

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