Why the ‘Pink Tax’ is costing us all a lot more than we realise

The ‘Pink Tax’ investigation by The Times should have made clear to everyone that gendered products are purely a way to profit on the basis of gender stereotypes. The study found that where equivalent products were priced differently, they cost 37% more for women and girls, highlighting how marketing segmentation as a strategy often goes hand in hand with a “pink it and shrink it” approach, which insults and undermines women whilst expecting to profit from them.

We’re all affected by clever marketing, but we should know that men and women don’t need separate soaps, chocolate bars and different coloured pens. Hopefully people will now be encouraged to reject not just pink razors and more expensive shampoo, but the whole idea that women and men need different products, and more importantly, the idea that children’s products need to be divided on the basis of their sex. For as long as we promote a pink and blue culture to children, gender inequality will continue.

A pink scooter may cost £10 extra to buy, but the social cost of the pinkification of girlhood is inestimable. Stereotypical assumptions are at work when it comes to pink pricing. What does it say when we’re expected to pay more for girls clothes than for boys, or that when it comes to shoes especially, girls pay more for flimsy pretty shoes while boys get solid sturdy footwear that lasts? Clearly girls are not expected to be climbing trees or playing football.

It’s generally accepted that gender identity is formed in early childhood, a time when we form deep seated beliefs and values that can stay with us throughout our lives. The period from birth to age 7,  is sometimes called ‘The Imprint Period’ by sociologists who say that; ‘…up to the age of 7, we are like sponges, absorbing everything around us and accepting much of it as true.’  Yet we put up with marketing forces that pressure children in a way like never before, to conform to ideas of gender norms that they often do not fit and, often, are not in their best interests.

Research by Welsh organisation Chwarae Teg shows that by late primary age children already have very clear ideas about jobs that are suitable for girls and boys; ideas that are very hard to shake later on. When toys and other children’s products are segregated by gender, is it any wonder that children grow up with the idea that men and women are profoundly different to each other and should take on separate roles in adult life?

Only 13% of the UK’s science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) workforce are women. The latest UCAS, (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), figures show that nursing students are 90.5 per cent female. The UK gender pay gap now 13.9%, and while discrimination hasn’t gone away, it’s widely acknowledged that much of the difference comes from the different career choices women and men make. But why are those choices made? What are the forces that are shaping them? Could it be those deep seated beliefs and values formed in early childhood at work?

Research by Professor Elizabeth Sweet, from the University of California at Davis, shows that toys are more divided by gender now than they were fifty years ago. Gender-stereotyped marketing to children has massively increased. A viral image created by Let Toys Be Toys; an Argos catalogue page from 1976 juxtaposed with the same types of toys sold by Argos today, clearly showed how over the last few decades toys aimed at girls have been ‘pinkwashed’.

Children’s clothes and toys of the seventies came in a wide range of colours and styles and were much more accessible to any child, as opposed to those today which have been deliberately targeted at either boys or girls.  It’s not much of a leap to make links with the recent research finding by the Young Women’s Trust that young women have more stereotyped views than older women about careers, or with the new statistics published by UCAS which show that the gender gap has almost doubled between female and male students in the past eight years.

Let Toys Be Toys have been saying for the past three years that there is no such thing as boys’ toys and no such thing as girls’ toys, there are just toys. Boys and girls do not need gender segregated products. They need to be respected for who they are and what they are interested in. Marketing by gender limits children’s choices, limits their chances to learn and develop and feeds bullying. The toy industry is at pains to maintain the sharp boy/girl product division because they believe it is the best way to make money. But it’s not in the best interests of children.

Conservative MP, Maria Miller, leader of the Women and Equalities Committee, said the pink tax was ‘unacceptable’ and suggested that some brands could be called to Parliament to explain their pricing on gendered products, but she’s not the only one who should be asking questions.

All of us need to question, not just why products targeted at women and girls are more expensive, but why those products are there in the first place.

Sign the Change.org petition to ask Boots to review their pricing on gendered items, or read the blog from Stevie Wise who started the petition. 

Find out more about the Let Toys be Toys campaign.

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Tricia Lowther
Tricia Lowther is a founder member of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign. They are asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.