The Dirty F Word: No, the Other One

Innocuous Pharmacy Visit

Yesterday, Sam and I went to Walgreens to pick up a few things: toothpaste, chapstick, shaving cream. She needed new razors (never mind that I am NOT yet adjusted to my youngest baby shaving her legs and wearing bras and being almost as tall as I. Ugh.)


We strolled to the razor and shaving cream aisle, and she started perusing the multiple options. And then she asked a very interesting question. “Why are the men’s razors cheaper?”


We then compared, looking at similar packages – 4 pack of razors, triple blade, BIC brand…identical size and shape of package and razors. The only difference was the color and design. And sure enough, the pack of so-called women’s razors were $9.99 and the men’s were $7.99. Just because these razors are pink and purple and smell like freesia, they cost more? I seriously doubt the pink plastic or artificial chemical scent cost you an extra $2 to make, BIC.


I may be completely ignorant of razor blade technology, but isn’t a disposable razor a sharpened metal rectangle or a few sharpened metal rectangles housed in a hunk of plastic? Is there a difference in razors designed to shave beards instead of legs? What razors do men who shave their legs use? What razors do women who shave facial hair use?


Next, we looked at shaving cream. A good ole can of Barbasol was $1.49 on sale. We didn’t see a comparable Barbasol feminine shaving cream product, but the cheapest brand of the exact same size “women’s” shaving cream was $1.99. Fifty cents more because it’s in a purple can scented of Berry Mango Rain or Fresh Linen?


Apparently Our Hair Dye is a Bargain

Just when I thought I’d figured this whole thing out, Clairol switched it up on me. I looked up another product targeted specifically toward men: men’s hair dye. On both Amazon and Walgreens websites, Clairol Natural Instincts Hair Color was around $7.50 a box. Clairol Natural Instincts Hair Color FOR MEN was closer to $9.50. What gives? Is there an actual chemical difference in hair color made for men’s hair versus women’s hair? I doubt it. And in general, don’t most men have short hair, thus needing less hair color?


So maybe this blog isn’t so much about gender inequality, but about making smart financial decisions. Still, it would be interesting to study some of the products side by side and determine if there are actual differences beyond the superficial design of the product packaging.


Testosterone Saturated Soda

Sometime in late 2008 or early 2009, we were in Arkansas visiting my mother-in-law. We stopped for sodas on our way out somewhere. I grabbed a Pepsi Max. New then, this soda was targeted toward men. Commercials touted it as the first diet soda for men. When I set the soda on the counter with my family’s selections, the cashier said, half jokingly, “Oh, you can’t drink this. These are only for men. Don’t you want the Diet Pepsi?” At least I THINK he was joking. I chuckled noncommittally and paid for my testosterone-saturated soda. I drank it, and I promise I didn’t suddenly sprout a shiny new pair of testicles.


Or did I?


Wise Sam

Back to Walgreens.


My frugally wise and practical 12-year old selected the blue razors that smell like plastic and the can of Barbasol that smells like Barbasol. And you know what? She shaved her legs last night, and didn’t smell “like a man” NOR did she start growing a beard. It worked JUST AS WELL as the frilly, girly products at removing unwanted leg hair, and she saved us $2.50. Plus, she can share shaving cream with her father.


The Dirty F Word

Later, as I shared my Marketing Gender Discrimination in Shaving Products rant with Brooks and Chloe, Brooks made a comment about my action being feminist or some such comment. Disclaimer: I don’t think he meant any ill intent by the comment – it was just an observation. And yes, I agree, observing gender discrimination in any realm would qualify as a feminist observation by definition. Feminism is advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.


Economic rights. Equal. So other than color and scent variations, an identical product should cost the same, yes?


Why is the word ‘feminist’ such a negative word for many?  Negative stereotypes of feminists prevail – that all feminists believe in the same things, feminists hate men, feminists don’t shave, and feminists are angry bra-burners.


I certainly do not hate men. I don’t shave often, but that’s just because I have very little body hair. I hate wearing a bra, but I wear one out of respect for my fellow humans.


Feminism is simply wanting equal options, equal opportunities, and equal treatment. Economically, the big picture is striving to close the income gap. And we’ve made great strides, but we’re not there yet. Depending on the study you read, women make anywhere from 77% to 82% of men’s average pay. That’s certainly better than the 40% we earned before Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963.


That’s the overarching goal of economic equality. But what about in the tiny little realm of selecting shaving products? I highly doubt there is a fundamental difference in the formula and makeup of the product labeled “Beard Buster!” and the one labeled “Silky Smooth”.


Companies spend billions of dollars on marketing and research, and women are a HUGE percentage of the beauty and personal care market. It makes sense that those companies offer a variety of products targeted toward men or women or teenage girls or whatever other demographic. I’m fine with that. That’s business.


As the mother of two daughters; however, I am fully committed to teaching my girls to be aware of marketing strategies and make sound financial decisions – even with something as simple as a can of shaving cream. More than that, I am committed to teaching them that they don’t have to smush themselves into society’s defined role of what it means to be a woman.


They don’t have to purchase products that smell of wild ripe elderberries and cocker spaniel puppy breath. But they can.

They don’t have to shave their legs and arm pits. But they can.

They don’t have to get married and have babies. But they can.

They don’t have to be a nurse or a teacher. But they can.

They don’t have to wear pink ribbons and curl their hair. But they can.


They should look at advertising and the huge variety of products touted as “for women” or “for men” with a hearty dose of skepticism and questioning.


They can buy and use the blue razor blades and drink the Pepsi Max if they want to.


They don’t have to quietly accept and ignore misogyny or sexism or gender discrimination or glorification of the rape culture. And I hope they won’t.


I hope my girls have gotten that message…and if Sam’s simple question and behavior are any indication of whether that’s true, I think I just might be on the right parenting track.


And I’ll wear that dirty F word badge proudly.

Rachel Block Smith


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