gender aisle

This week the New York Assembly passed a bill which would ban what they call the “pink tax,” which in fact is not a tax at all, but a price difference for goods marketed towards women. According to New York’s Department of Consumer Affairs, for similar products including clothing and personal care, the women’s versions are more expensive 42 percent of the time and the men’s versions are more expensive 18 percent of the time.

Senate Bill 2679 bans price differences on the basis of gender for similar (note: similar, not identical) products. It could be extra confusing for New York City, which recognizes over 30 genders with enforcement of massive fines.

By passing this bill, the New York Assembly has affirmed that it does not believe women are smart enough to decide for themselves whether a pink razor or vanilla-scented deodorant is worth an extra dollar. Rather than letting consumers choose between supposedly equal but inequitably priced goods, the bill would allow the state to enforce price controls, stripping consumers of their right to choose.

The state would mandate the price margins, and consumers would have to choose between the limited array of products that their favorite brands can legally sell. The idea that women cannot decide for themselves whether a product is worth the price is just a sexism-tinged version of the trope that the government knows our needs better than we do.

The New York legislature has made it obvious that some basic clarification on taxes is needed. A tax is collected coercively by the government and carries with it the threat of fines and imprisonment. The “pink tax,” on the other hand, is optional for both men and women. Brands do not have the power to force anyone to buy their pink products, and women are always free to simply buy the products marketed towards men.

In a free market, consumers have considerable power over prices. This is because they have the power of choice; if a store sells two different razors, pink and black but otherwise identical, consumers can simply pick the cheaper option. If a product offers women unique benefits at a higher price, customers can individually decide to pay extra for the superior product or buy a cheaper, gender-neutral alternative.  

Consider a luxury women’s shaving cream. The product is composed of ingredients similar to its masculine counterpart, but with a few key differences. It could contains shea butter to moisturize the skin. Or maybe the brand simply added perfume and glitter in an obvious attempt to market to women and increased the price accordingly. Brands have a right to charge extra for such products and should not be penalized if it is predominantly women who choose to buy them.

To the New York government, the price difference between these products may be arbitrary, even sexist. To some consumers, however, the added features are meaningful, and the aesthetic differences are worth the extra cost. It is the right of the consumer to decide what a product is worth. It is not up to the government to rob whimsical, feminine, sparkly pink products of their rightful place in the free market.

The bill now awaits approval in the Senate. Time will tell whether New York will stand up for consumer freedom.