It is time to put an end to “pink taxing,” the practice of charging women and girls more than men and boys for shampoo, conditioner, other personal hygiene products as well as pink-colored products. So says six Lake Washington High School students and some lawmakers in Olympia.
Women are charged upwards of 13% more for such products than the same products marketed to men, according to a 2015 study conducted by New York Consumer Affairs. Since the release of that study, New York and California have made such gender-based pricing illegal.
Students create a bill
This month, the students spearheaded a bill now circulating in the Washington State Legislature that would ban gender-based pricing in Washington as well. After being introduced on January 9, Senate Bill 5171 (SB 5171) is sailing through the Senate and is currently waiting to be heard on the Senate floor. SB 5171 “prohibits businesses from charging different prices for any two goods that are substantially similar based on the gender of the target market.”
If the bill is made into law, it will join other legislation aimed at female product equity: In 2020, lawmakers eliminated retail and use taxes for feminine hygiene products. To move forward for consideration in the House of Representatives, and potentially to the Governor to sign into law, the bill must be brought to a vote on the Senate floor by March 8.
Pink bottle vs. blue
“I think a lot of us have heard the phrase “pink tax” although we all know that it is not actually a tax. It is something that happens very often mostly to women when we go shopping and the bottle that is pink costs more than the bottle that is blue,” bill sponsor Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) told the Senate Law & Justice Committee during a hearing on January 16.
“We already know that women do not earn the same amount of money as men do these days, and it’s even worse when we’d look at women of color,” Dhingra added. “Today, there is absolutely no reason why one product should be more expensive than the other when they do not have different ingredients (or) different manufacturing processes.”
A gap that adds up
The bill was seeded in a class on government at Lake Washington High School. The students who researched the issue approached Dhingra to sponsor the bill.
“Stereotypical examples of gender based pricing are found in razors, hygiene supplies, children’s toys, and senior care products, where the girl version is often priced higher for no apparent reason, even if it’s the same brand of product,” said student Gabrielle Heuer told the Senate committee. “The only significant difference may be the packaging or the coloration. (It) may only be a few dollars or cents, but over a lifetime, this gap adds up to be something significant. It can happen to men as well, which is all the more reason to address it. The intention of this law is not to needlessly regulate the economy, but rather to prevent discrimination.”
Equity on multiple fronts
In her testimony, student Benjamine Howard pointed out that the bill is about equity on more than a gender front.
“It is important to differentiate the two demographics most significantly impacted by gender based pricing, white women and women of color,” Howard said. “According to studies conducted by the National Women’s Law Center in 2021, Caucasian women are paid 83 cents for every dollar a Caucasian man earns. This is a significant difference. But an even greater disparity is seen between Black, Indigenous and Hispanic women when compared to Caucasian men. When women, specifically women of minority racial groups, are already unfairly disadvantaged by the gender and racial pay gap, the increased cost of a product is that much more significant. We need to acknowledge and support the hundreds of thousands of Washington residents suffering from consumer discrimination.”
More power for Attorney General
Although pink taxing is already a violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Improvement Act, passed in 2022, Dhingra says that the act is not stopping the practice of gender-based pricing. The measure, she says, would give the attorney general specific power to address the inequity.
Several people testified in opposition to SB 5171, mostly concerned that local businesses would be penalized using prices set by manufacturers. But, according to Dhingra, the bill stipulates that penalties would fall to manufacturers if the demand businesses enforce gender-based prices that they set.
To track SB 5171, go to the Crosscut WA Bill Tracker.