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 (with the dubious ‘benefits’ of lower wages, more expensive health care, no family leave, and ‘limited access to your own reproductive rights’) – although arguably no family leave is a circumstance that affects men as much as women, and framing it as a women’s issue only worsens the burden.
These cards were sold at $5 to fund Clinton’s campaign – ironically, resulting in Clinton literally playing the ‘woman card’ in her fundraising. But 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, which 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, 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…
|Hair care & body products||$35k||$17k|
Notably, the only one of these differences that is related to physical differences rather than social expectations relating to gender is the first one. Russell Brand’s excellent short video of children’s toy advertising gives insight into how these socially constructed differences are created from childhood onward.
Women typically earn 78% of what men do, although once you adjust for education, qualification, experience, level of risk, and other factors, the figure is closer to 94%, meaning 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)
So while the gender pay gap might not be as significant as it sometimes sounds (although 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), over time, 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 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.
Even worse, once you take into account the unavoidable expenses outlined in the first section above which men do not have to contend with, this 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, and 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 due to a combination of the pay gap and sanitary spending, and potentially an additional $5,575 compared to his 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 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 some minor 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 than both Carrie and Abby, 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. Some of us need 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. None of us need 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, and wearing murderously high shoes are not the only – and certainly not the best – ways of expressing your identity, no matter what 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 any of us – biologically or physically male or female – needs to spend on the basics, I think we should consider how much we spend on those things that aren’t necessities. 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.
What 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 – where today, 雛祭り🎎 or ‘hinamatsuri’, the Doll’s Festival, commonly known in English as “Girl’s Day” is being celebrated.
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