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Excerpt: "Women pay more for everything from razors to houses to health care for no reason other than that we are women. ... there are federal civil rights laws which project against discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation, but the same cannot be said for the sales of goods and services."

Women are often victims of gendered pricing. (photo: Jezebel)
Women are often victims of gendered pricing. (photo: Jezebel)



Turns Out Being Born a Woman Is a Major Financial Mistake

By Cassie Murdoch, Jezebel

22 March 12

 

s if being a woman wasn't difficult enough - what with all the not having control over important decisions about our own bodies, making less money than our male colleagues, and, yes, let's play the childbirth card - we are also routinely hit with financial penalties just for having the balls to be born with a vagina. That's right, women pay more for everything from razors to houses to health care for no reason other than that we are women. It's like our own personal vagina tax, and it sucks.

In fact, it's enraging. You might think such gendered pricing practices would be illegal and we wouldn't even have to worry about them, but alas they are not. Of course, there are federal civil rights laws which project against discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation, but the same cannot be said for the sales of goods and services. Some states and cities have their own statutes, but they often don't make much of a dent in these kinds of widespread problems.

In fact, this problem is so pervasive that often we don't even notice it's happening - we just accept the cost of items as a given, sort of like the air around us. But there are lots of little ways we're charged more than men. Marie Claire has a detailed run-down of how this plays out, and they point specifically to dry cleaners, who often charge women three times as much to clean shirts which are virtually identical to mens' dress shirts. They justify this by saying that these "blouses" require extra labor to press. Hmm, seeing as I wear a larger shirt size than some of my male friends, yet their shirts fit on the pressing machine, this hardly seems possible.

Then there are things like haircuts and women's toiletries, which are typically priced higher than their men's counterparts, despite the fact that, even though they are all wrapped up in them purty pale pink packages, they are virtually the same products. (Maybe pink ink is just astronomically expensive?) Obviously retailers don't like to admit to it, since if they did, we'd come running at them, nails filed to a point and extra-gentle razors in hand, demanding a refund, but it is happening.

A study done at the University of Central Florida found that on average, women's deodorant costs 30 cents more per ounce than men's, even when the only difference between the products was the smell. The study's coauthor, Megan Duesterhaus said, "These companies have us convinced that men and women are so biologically different that we need completely different products, as though we are a different species." Well, they are from Mars, and we're from Venus, which probably has an atmosphere that affects our sweat differently and necessitates special deodorant technology to neutralize our female brand of stank.

We could consider ourselves "lucky" if these price gaps stopped at relatively trivial expenditures like dry cleaning and hair products, but unfortunately they extend into far more substantial purchases like cars, homes, and even health insurance. Blergh. In the case of buying cars, it's long been known that women often get the shaft, and it doesn't seem to have improved one bit. On average, women now pay $200 more for a car than a white man would, and black women pay a whopping $400 more.

When it comes to home loans, the Consumer Federation of America found in 2006 that women were 32 perecnt more likely to end up with high-interest subprime loans, even if when they had better credit ratings than the men. This may not be a case of discrimination, but rather the result of the way women tend to shop for things. Economists theorize that we rely on word-of-mouth rather than just taking the lowest rate from whomever is offering it. We aren't as likely to negotiate either, which puts us at a disadvantage when buying cars, homes, or other big items like appliances. As Yale Law School professor Ian Ayres explains, "The idea of just giving a discount to those who ask for one puts women at a strong disadvantage since they are less inclined to ask." (Here is some help for this very problem, should you need it.)

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this whole situation is that women pay so much more in health care premiums because of a practice called gender rating - basically charging more because they can claim that a person's gender affects how much it will cost to cover them. The National Women's Law Center has just issued a new report that found more than 90 percent of the best-selling health plans charge women more than they do men. This practice has already been made illegal in 14 states, but the rest the country is still shit out of luck.

Just how bad is the gap? Pretty bad. According to eHealthInsurance.com, in Chicago a 30-year-old woman pays 31 percent more than a man of her same age pays. In Louisville, Kentucky, a 40-year-old nonsmoking woman pays 53 percent more than a nonsmoking man of the same age. The nonsmoking woman even pays 14 percent more than the premium a male smoker pays.

Why, pray tell, would insurers charge women so much more than men? It's mostly because, "[Women] are more likely to visit doctors, to get regular checkups, to take prescription drugs and to have certain chronic illnesses." Oh good, because it totally makes sense to charge people more for keeping themselves healthy, thereby saving you money in the long run. Also, the fact that the gender gaps vary so widely between insurers indicates there is no "fixed cost" associated with covering the fairer sex, so their whole premise is pretty much bullshit. But to be fair, we are awfully needy in the drugs department. After all, we keep demanding those pricey whore pills, month after month.

The gender gap mainly applies to people purchasing insurance individually, because civil rights law prohibits employers from charging higher premiums for the same benefits to female employees. Though for group plans, if they have more women than men, an employer can choose to raise everyone's premiums to cover the higher cost of women's premiums. (That must really make our male colleagues love us.) But, wait, there's more where that came from: The premium gap isn't the only penalty against women who are buying their own insurance - they often also have to pay for maternity coverage separately, which can add to their costs significantly. For instance, in Springfield, Illinois, a 30-year-old woman must pay $278 for her monthly plan, plus $270 a month for maternity coverage. It sure is nice that having a baby isn't considered a normal part of human bodily function.

Fortunately, the evil socialist plot known as Obama's health care reform law addresses this and will eliminate gender rating in 2014. It will also require insurance plans to cover maternity care as one of the "essential health benefits." That is, if the whole thing doesn't get struck down by the Supreme Court… Fingers crossed!

So, when all is said and done and you add this all up, what exactly is the penalty we pay for being card-carrying vagina owners? Well, Marie Claire reports that California (where gender pricing has been banned since 1996) found that ladies paid about $1,351 a year in extra costs and fees. If you take that figure and run it across the entire country, it results in a total burden on women of about 151 billion dollars. That, in case you're one of them there ladies that isn't so good with numbers, is a lot of money. As it happens, it's more than what the federal government spent on education in 2011. Gee, it sure would be nice to have some of that back in our bank account, but hahaha. Yeah, right.

Sadly, given that this is such a far-reaching problem, and there's no one organization causing it, fighting this kind of gendered pricing is insanely difficult. But there are some ways we can fight for the right to pay what guys pay. (God, it's so crazy that that sentence even needs to be typed.) First of all, start paying attention to where gender pricing is happening and try to avoid it. Second, it is certainly in our interest to continue supporting Obama's health care bill, however imperfect it might be, against the constant onslaught of Republican attacks, and to that end you might want to write to your state and local representatives about all of these issues. Other than that, your only other option is to simply complain on a company-by-company basis and stop buying things from places that insist on overcharging you. It's the power of the purse, people - the beautifully crafted, high fashion purse you'll finally be able to afford when you no longer have to pay the Vagina Tax.

 

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+24 # GeeRob 2012-03-22 10:12
Thank you, Cassie, for such a well written piece. It's hard to find humor in this reality but you've done it. One more thing I'd like to mention. Women make less than men for the same job and, consequently, they pay less into Social Security. On average, women live 6 years longer than men. Smaller Social Security payments and a longer lifespan can spell disaster for older American women.
 
 
+8 # Patriot 2012-03-22 11:51
There are much more subtle kinds of discrimination, too.

Alhough I don't know if this sort of thing still happens, in 1981, whle driving a U-Haul across country, I checked into a motel and walked across the parking lot to a Denny's restaurant for dinner. Many other diners came in after me, yet all were waited on before I was. I finally got up and asked to speak to the manager. A waitress was sent to the table, but I still did not receive promt service once my order was placed. This was not terribly uncommon on that long trip from Georgia to California, however it never was quite so bad at any other stop.

Maybe a lone diner receives less punctilious service than a party? No, lone men received better sevice than I did. I'm of average appearance and was well dressed. Women are known to be poorer tippers--someon e had to explain the purpose of tipping to me before I understood and paid properly- but, of course, no one knows beforehand what any diner will tip.

I've also found that auto parts stores often are slow to wait on a woman who is not accompanied by a man, and often unwilling to give the advice and guidance advice that they give to men.

Last year I bought matching shirts for my husband and myself. He is 6' tall and wears a size 16; I am 5' tall and wear a size 6, yet my shirts cost half again what his did.

Anyone else?
 
 
+7 # grouchy 2012-03-22 11:57
So why is this happening? (1) It is highly profitable to the insurance industry (which has been ripping all of us off for decades, and (2) they can simply get away with it!
 
 
+11 # Regina 2012-03-22 12:06
You were expecting equal charges for women's and men's products from companies run by the money-controlli ng gender? How naive. Why do you think they're do obsessed with both money and control? How many centuries did it take for women to pry loose their control over the vote? And who's going to be deprived of the vote from the power boys' campaigns for voter I.D., when (among other factors) it's the women whose names get changed in marriage(s)? The pattern persists.
 
 
+6 # Richard Raznikov 2012-03-22 15:11
Excellent point on the voter ID laws and their effects. Just one more bonus for the crazies on the right. We've let these creeps take over the public dialogue. Time to run them out of town.
 
 
+6 # amye 2012-03-22 12:26
Awesome article! So funny and so true! What is it about we women that men just want to screw?! Oh right the vagina!! Among apparently a whole lot of other things! As if we aren't poor enough with the lower pay, we have to pay more for everything else too! Nice! So much for the gentleman! He'll only open the door for you so he can screw you apparently!! And then leave you with the kid(s) cause you couldn't get birth control or afford it. Then he'll fight you in court over child support payments! Etc, etc, etc.
 
 
+6 # Richard Raznikov 2012-03-22 15:09
Thank you, Cassie. I'm citing this piece and a couple of others this afternoon for my own tirade:

http://lookingglass.blog.co.uk/2012/03/22/the-vagina-tax-13271811/

Time for us to start pushing back. This culture now permits a few high-profile women (and blacks) to reach visible 'success' but the fact is that inequality is as prevalent as ever. Women STILL are paid only 77% of what men are paid for the same jobs.

What kind of culture promotes this kind of disparity? As someone more eloquent than I once pointed out, women cannot by meat cheaper, women cannot buy bread cheaper...

We've got a job to do here.
 
 
+6 # BLBreck 2012-03-22 19:12
Thank you, Cassie! So glad to see these things pointed out! And thanks to Richard and GeeRob for pointing out that the pay disparity just adds to the insult. I would like to add that because medical insurance costs so much more for women it impacts our chances of getting hired for a job. My son owns a small business and when he interviewed two prospects he wanted to hire the woman more than the man, but the woman's medical insurance cost $300 more a month, yes a MONTH. So he was forced to hire the man because that cost did not fit in his budget.
 
 
+3 # mrey 2012-03-23 17:01
I noticed this years ago, and at least on the little things, you have some other options. Two examples: You can buy the package of razors with navy blue handles instead of the otherwise same ones with pink handles in a smaller package at a higher price. You can buy the cheaper men´s unscented deodorant rather than the smaller stick of women´s (same manufacturer, same ingredients, according to the label). If we stop falling for these tricks, maybe they will stop trying to trick us.
 
 
0 # Windy126 2012-03-29 09:16
If I am treated like a "little woman" by a business I will not go there again. I went out to buy a yard tractor. I knew what I wanted, it was a national brand. The first dealer sat down with me went over everything I would need down to the last bolt and nut for the various attachments I was buying. He asked if I had a trade in. I told him yes, the same company different model. He asked me if the seat was torn, and if I had the manual for it. The seat was fine and I had a manual. He gave me a $5,000 trade in on it. Just for laughs I went to another dealer who assured me that he could give me a "deal". When asked about the trade in I was told "Oh, I can probably give $1.000" No need to ask who I bought the tractor from. I hate to buy a car because I feel it is such a waste of money. It depreciates as soon as you leave the lot. One dealer tried to screw me on repairs. I went straight to the company with my problem. He lost his dealership. It was a Saab that I had bought. I have found that if make a stink I can save a lot of money. A good friend who is a lawyer helps. His best words were, Question everything you don't think is right even lawyer, they aren't all honest. I question and I come out on top.
 
 
0 # Lucy Lee 2012-04-02 14:52
While we have the vote...we do not have representation. Many more women need be elected!
US is #78 in world democracies that elect women. How are these other 77 countries successsful? (Some with 43% women elected)
Most have a proportional voting system that allows more women & others to be elected and have their views represented. We are half the population yet only 17% of Congress and our representation is actually declining. For more information about proportional representation of women and full representation of all voters see non partisan fairvote.org.
 

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