Does it pay to play the ‘woman card’?

In the 2016 US election (which was itself somewhat like a game of ‘Cards Against Humanity‘), candidate Hilary Clinton was accused of playing the ‘woman card’ by rival Donald Trump. In reaction, her campaign actually produced such a card. It boasted the dubious ‘benefits’ of lower wages, More expensive health care. No family leave, and ‘limited access to your own reproductive rights’. (Arguably no family leave is a circumstance that affects men as much as women. Framing it as a women’s issue only worsens the burden).

These cards were sold at $5 to fund Clinton’s campaign. Ironically, this resulted in Clinton literally playing the ‘woman card’ in her fundraising. But (aside from campaign funding) does it actually pay to play the ‘woman card’ in a financial sense?

Over the past month, we’ve looked at the reasons women often pay more than men for basic categories like toiletries, hair care and clothes. These reasons are largely social and capitalist in nature, as opposed to physical reasons. There are a few (rare) occasions on which it costs less to be a ‘woman’ than a ‘man’. Like Ladies’ Night. But unlike the basic expenses incurred in everyday living such as clothes and toiletries, these discounts are generally for unnecessary costs. And besides, they generally aren’t truly ‘free‘. As such, situations in which playing the ‘woman card’ can get you a discount don’t even begin to balance out the overall inequity.

Adding it all up…

 Lifetime costs Women Men
Feminine hygiene $18k N/A
Shaving $10k $7k
Makeup $15k Generally N/A
Clothes $35k $20k
Shoes $10k $5k
Hair care & body products $35k $17k

Notably, the only one of these differences that is related to physical differences is the first one. (I’m assuming that men and women will share the cost of contraceptives here, but of course, that is often not the case either.)

All of the other differences result from social expectations. Russell Brand’s excellent short video of children’s toy advertising gives insight into how these socially constructed differences are created from childhood onward.

There’s no ‘woman card’ in my wallet

Women typically earn 78% of what men do. But once you adjust for education, qualification, experience, level of risk, and other factors, the figure is closer to 94%. This means women tend to earn around 6% less than men due to differences in negotiation style and in some cases, discrimination. (Although some reports suggest this is much more relevant for those above 40 than for those of us below).

Of course, it’s important to recognise that the gap between how much effort men and women typically devote to child and elder care, housework, and other duties which often reduce women’s ability to engage in paid work is substantial. Especially, again, for those who married in the 70s or 80s as compared  to the 2000s. But even if we consider the 6% difference a younger woman might experience,  it adds up to quite a lot.

With the average US salary coming in at around $40,000 currently, that’s a difference of around $2,400 per year. Or nearly $100,000 over a working life.

The average woman, working the same job with the same qualifications for 94% of the pay of the average man would have to work over 2 years more to earn the same.

So even though the true pay gap may seem small, it can make a significant difference. Especially when we consider the value of money over time.

Imagine that sum invested

If you were to invest $2,400 at a 6% interest rate at the end of each year of a 40 year working life, you’d end up with over $370,000.

Or the equivalent of 9.25 years’ salary.

It’s even worse, once you take into account the unavoidable expenses which men do not have to contend with. Then, it looks more like a $118,000 disparity, or $2,950 per year.

If you also take into account the pressure to dress in a ‘feminine’ way, style one’s hair and wear makeup etc. the disparity is more like $223,000, or $5,575 per year. As mentioned previously, the bulk of the above table is based on social expectations not physical differences. Not all ‘women’ adhere to these expectations, and not all ‘men’ don’t.

The real difference

Using the above figures – which are awfully crude, but do illustrate a point – we can see that the average man should, theoretically, have at minimum an additional $2,950 per year to save or invest in comparison to his female coworkers. This is due to a combination of the pay gap and sanitary spending. Potentially he could have an additional $5,575 compared to female coworkers that adhere to ‘norms’ surrounding feminine apparel and styling.

Put another way, let’s imagine Carrie, and Abby and Bobby all work at A&B Fashion Store, which has recently been taken over by a larger company. All three work as salespeople, and while Carrie and Abby earn $38,400 annually, Bobby earns $40,000.

Carrie, while having the same wage as Abby, spends more on cosmetics, hair treatments, and buying products subject to the ‘pink tax’. She buys more clothes than either Bobby or Abby. And she visits a hairdresser and a waxing salon more often, for more expensive treatments.

Abby shops similarly to Bobby overall. She avoids the ‘pink tax’, looks for alternatives in the “men’s” section, avoids makeup, chooses an easy to maintain hairstyle, and selects a long-wearing capsule wardrobe. Although there are differences in their lifetime spending, and Abby’s wage is lower than Bobby’s, Abby is able to save $2,625 more each year from her salary than Carrie is.

Over 40 years invested at 6%, that’s a difference of over $400,000.

Bobby, earning more, and not needing to buy feminine hygiene products, has $5,575 more per year to invest than Carrie.

Over 40 years invested at 6%, that’s a difference of almost $900,000.


Physical necessities are something we all need to contend with. Some of us need medications. Or prosthetics. Some of us need sanitary goods. In my opinion, these should all be considered tax-free, basic needs.

We all need clothes. But none of us need “this season’s” dress that won’t even be worn for a whole season because someone’s already seen it once. None of us need to paint our faces. Or to tear out our body hair. None of us need to change the colour of our legs with nylon. None of us need to glue our hair into place. These are all socially constructed desires.

Painting your eyelids an unnatural hue. Lacquering your fingers red. Wearing murderously high shoes. These are not the only – and certainly not the best – ways of expressing your identity, no matter your gender. If you enjoy these things, by all means, do so.

But recognise that they are not necessities. And they may be costing you more than you think.

Given the amount we all need to spend on basics, we should consider how much we spend on unnecessary things. If there’s one thing more painful than tearing your hair out by the roots from a sensitive area, surely it’s paying almost half a million dollars to do so.

There's no woman card in my walletWhat social expectations irritate you? Share your thoughts below!

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Today’s featured image is a stack of cards on our table here in Japan. Here, it is 雛祭り🎎 or ‘hinamatsuri’, the Doll’s Festival, commonly known in English as “Girl’s Day”.

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4 thoughts on “Does it pay to play the ‘woman card’?

  1. Terrific writing. Im currently trying to accomplish something similar to what you have here. Many thanks for the motivation.

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