Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Paying for a pink razor

How much would you pay for a pink razor?



Not as much as before, fortunately, with Tesco's recent announcement that it is reducing the cost of its women's disposable razors to match men's ones.  However, you're probably still paying over the odds if you favour shampoo, deodorant or body wash aimed at women.

In fact, once you open your eyes, it appears that the number of products that women pay more for is simply staggering.  If you can bear to read it, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs put together a 76-page report detailing just how much more a female customer is likely to pay over the course of her lifetime.

Perhaps, like me, your initial reaction is, "Why don't you just buy the men's version then?"  But of course, the issue runs much deeper than that.  Paula Cocozza, in The Guardian, comments that spending 50p less for men's shaving gel just "make[s] you smell like a cheap man".  Cheap or not, the all-pervading fear these products are playing on is the idea that you might be mistaken for the wrong gender.  If you don't smell right, wear the right thing, or have the right bottles in your bathroom, you somehow become less womanly.  Or manly.

It runs deep.  I have to confess that all my razors (of the non-disposable sort) have been purple, curvy, and probably more expensive than the chunky blue kind.  It would feel a little odd to go out and buy a designated men's razor.  From a biological point of view, it's obviously quite useful to be able to tell which sex a person is without actually having to peer down their trousers, so the innate preference for identifiers of your own gender is not, as such, a problem.

The problem is that this preference is being gouged deeper and deeper by forces seemingly outside our control.  As the New York City study points out: " Individual consumers ... must make purchasing choices based only on what is available in the marketplace."  Anyone who has raced round shops trying desperately to find just a plain red T-shirt will vouch for that. 

Like many parents, I have snorted disbelievingly at the toy shops selling girl and boy versions of everything from trampolines to push-along carts, but until now I hadn't considered that it might be cynically setting us up to make gendered purchase decisions for the rest of our lives.  A little girl who has everything pink and sparkly from babyhood is surely less able to resist the messages that tell her she must pay extra for the beauty-enhancing women's cosmetics when she grows up.  And a little boy who rather likes pink will quickly squash it down in favour of the comic book heroes and macho packaging that he's told he should prefer. 

An article from The Atlantic claims that gender stereotypes in marketing are as strong as they've ever been, merely "repackage[d] ... to make them more palatable".  If it's not OK to think of a woman as only a housewife, let's make her a princess instead.  If a man isn't just about working with his muscles any more, he'll still be flattered if we pretend he's a super hero.  We can only buy what we're being sold.  And what we're being sold is a whole idea of who we are, and of what being a woman or a man in today's world means.

So how much are you paying for a pink razor? 

More, it seems, than you might think.

Image attribution: By David Monniaux (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

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