The other day I wandered into a supermarket and picked up my usual deodorant. It's Mitchum, roll-on, and it works a treat. As I went to move onto the next aisle though, another deodorant caught my eye. It was Mitchum's men's roll-on... and it was 10p cheaper.
This, my friends, is the 'pink tax' – in which, as a female consumer, you are no doubt already well versed. It's not a literal tax imposed by the government. Instead, it is the extra cash that women fork out each month to deal with a) the fact that products marketed toward women usually cost more, b) the expectation they may feel to spend on products and services in order to look a certain way, and c) the fact that we're still paying tax on those 'luxury items' known as tampons (unless you're shopping somewhere like Tesco).
Earlier this year, a study by RIFT, a tax refund company, found that women can pay up to 35% more for everyday items than men. This is on everything from razors and deodorant all the way to kids' uniforms! Yes, it costs more to clothe a little girl for school than it does a boy.
It's easy for some people to completely miss the point of why the pink tax is so unfair. Women don't have to wear makeup or buy clothes or indulge in various methods of hair removal, they'll say, viewing the whole thing as frivolous. But many women feel like they do. Years and years of conditioning from men, the media and more has so deeply instilled the notion of how a woman 'should' look that women who do forgo things like hair removal have to explain themselves on a regular basis. Studies show that women who wear makeup at work are getting paid more. The whole thing is so firmly ingrained in society that to call any woman frivolous for partaking in beauty or self-care regimes is to misunderstand where society is at with gender expectations.
Which was why I was thrilled when I came across my new favourite couple, Eliot and Livvi*. See, for the past year (they've been together for five-and-a-half) Eliot has offered to pay Livvi's pink tax for her. Really. When it comes to beauty and wellbeing regimes, or late-night Ubers home, he offers to contribute 20% of the overall cost. She doesn't always take him up on it and, in return, she chips in for his therapy – believing this to be a 'blue tax' because, as a man, he doesn't have the same support network as her when it comes to mental health issues.
Below, they explain to me how this excellent arrangement came about and how they make it work.
*Names have been changed as Eliot explains below...
I remember bits of the initial conversation: Livvi was frustrated about the amount she felt pressured into spending on makeup for work, or on haircuts at a salon. I had read about the idea of the pink tax earlier in the week and agreed with her that it was an issue. So I offered to partly subsidise her expenses on items that were affected. She seemed to really like the idea, so we went with it.
When we first put the new system into practice, I suggested that she should choose which items would be subsidised. We have a high level of trust in our relationship – and I am sure she understands the effects of the pink tax better than me, so is best placed to decide what should be included.
I really like our system. I have read a lot about the different ways in which people are made to effectively pay hidden taxes. Alongside the pink tax which affects women, there is evidence suggesting many people pay higher costs for everyday things because they are poor (high interest credit agreements to purchase expensive things in instalments, for example) or live in a poor area (less money means fewer jobs and more spent on travel). These sorts of situations strike me as very unfair, so I am pleased to get the chance to fight one of these hidden 'taxes' while supporting my partner.
I haven’t really spoken to friends and family about how we handle the pink tax, though not because I think they would react negatively. Personal finances just aren’t really something that get discussed in my friendship group, so it’s never really come up. I’m sure people close to me would either agree that our system is fair, or would at least be supportive if it works for our relationship.
Beyond my immediate circle, however, I probably wouldn’t be comfortable talking to people about it. I definitely think lots of people might have a different interpretation of the pink tax and I’ve seen a lot of very dismissive or openly aggressive tweets and comments in response to other articles about the pink tax (or feminist issues in general) and one of the reasons I suggested Livvi and I write under different names is because I don’t want either of us to receive any hate from angry dudes.
It’s a shame we have to think about that when writing about these sorts of issues.
Whatever other people think, I am pleased to be able to make Livvi’s life a bit less stressful and I think it makes us stronger as a couple.
This wasn’t my idea and I didn’t 'campaign' for it – but the idea that there are lots of hidden costs to being an average woman has always irked me. I remember popping into a store with Eliot to grab some makeup basics and saying to him at the counter: "All this costs £50!" I was holding three small products! At the time I was working at a restaurant, where the manager made pointed comments if you didn’t wear makeup to a shift.
We don’t enforce it as a strict rule; it’s always up to me. I tend to use it for beauty treatments (haircuts, hair removal etc.) when I’m feeling overwhelmed, especially by the pressure of appearing a certain way. For instance, an upcoming wedding or if I’m feeling overlooked at work, not seen the way I want to be.
I think it’s very easy to be self-conscious of your 'branding' at work as a young woman, when you want to be taken seriously, and that can mean buying more things. For instance, I recently started dyeing my hair black – and cut it shorter – because I felt having long mousy-coloured hair accentuated my shyness. I’d wanted to appear tougher, and that came with a price tag.
Another big test was recently going on a hen party holiday. I’m not 'good' at being glamorous – I don’t wear makeup most days, I like baggy jumpers – and I really panicked. My friends have distinct, lovely, expressive styles and I knew I could easily slide into feeling out-of-place and rubbish.
Eliot took the sting out of the lead-up for me. He went shopping with me and kept reminding me to charge him 20% for my treatments (especially all that stupid hair removal!). But this did mean one night, on the holiday, when there was a mix-up paying a friend back for a drink, I just drunkenly yelled "Eliot will pay for it!" and downed the cocktail – which was (I think?!) a joke but still really bad. I want it to be a conscious and thoughtful process, not to use him as a piggy bank. Luckily I do the accounts sober.
Sometimes I worry the costs spring from me being insecure. But I do believe that women are given quite a strict narrative about what we need to feel comfortable.
Like not being safe in a city late at night. Most products I 'charge' him 20% – but we instantly split Ubers 50/50 when I’m travelling alone late at night and feeling uncomfortable. He wanted to change my mindset, from 'Is this a frivolous expense? Maybe I should just walk' to 'Yes, this is a sensible option and Eliot agrees'.
We don’t know if it’d be the right thing for everyone, we just know it works for us. I feel seen, like he’s acknowledging the pressures I’m under that he isn’t – and not brushing them off as 'silly woman should just wear less makeup'.
And it’s worth noting I do the same for him. I actually pay a kind of 'blue tax' equivalent by helping him pay his therapy costs. I don’t want him to feel financially drained by it, especially when I know he doesn’t have the same network of support that I have as a young woman.
The main disadvantage is it can be a hassle working all this out! We’re behind on our accounts by several months. But once it’s done, I’m very clear with the process and upload a spreadsheet of the costs to a shared Google Drive. Clarity helps make it fair.