In Gender Pricing, Women Taken to the Cleaners

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One thing that has always aroused ire in my belly is my dry cleaning bill. My husband's shirts, which are that same fabric but about twice as large as mine and hence have more fabric to clean, cost about half as much as my shirts do. The reason for the disparity, according to a recent article in The New York Times, is that most machines are built for men's shirts, requiring women's shirts to be pressed by hand. This is how the dry cleaners and laundries are able to flout New York City law, which bars “the public display of discriminatory pricing based on gender.” (Although isn't that a weird way to phrase an anti-discrimination law? It's not OK to publicly display discriminatory pricing, but if it's private policy it's fine? I don't know...)

Anyway, Janet Floyd was mad as hell that her size 4P shirt cost more than her husband's 15.5 inch necked, 33 inch sleeved shirt, and she investigated 50 dry cleaners in New York City. Only nine places charged the same price for men's and women's shirts. (Eight refused to service women's clothing.) Floyd was now really, really angry and looked into the availability of adjustable presses. Turns out that they are available, and they are half the cost of a men's press. On the flip side, they can produce fewer shirts per hour. (One might argue, however, that the cleaners can make up for the lower production by charging both genders eqaully high prices, although that may not make them competitive with gender-biased cleaners unless City Council revisits the pricing discrimination law.) Floyd's full study is available at Floyd Advisory.

Cleaning is only one area in which price discrimination is rampant. In 2008, a scathing report revealed that self-employed women were charged as much as 49% more than men for the exact same health insurance policies. The basis for such discrimination: women go to the doctor more than men for preventative care. Yes, and last time I checked, it is far more cost efficient to pay for preventative care than emergency care, so that argument is bunk.

I've also always maintained that basic products, like for example razors, are made worse for women than men and then the women's versions are more expensive. Notes to My Sister shares the following anecdote:

A long, long time ago a boy and girl met, fell in love and got married. One day while the lovely couple were out shopping together, the young wife needed to buy a package of disposable razor heads for her lady’s shaver. Coincidentally, her dear husband needed replacement razor heads for his manly shaver. ..Suddenly, the young couple realized that they not only have the same favorite brand, but also the same favorite style of disposable razor heads - in different colors, of course.

My, was the young, beautiful couple surprised to learn that apparently, green plastic costs more than gray plastic. Significantly more! But, being a thrifty and wise young couple, they decided to share the same package of black and gray disposable razor heads. After all, even the manly version had an Aloe Vera moisturizing strip!

In the United States, the only area in which men are price discriminated against is auto insurance (and Ladies' Nights at clubs and bars, but I'm not sure if we want to examine the need for bars and clubs to lure women as part of this; it seems a whole separate topic). Based on risk factors, young men pay significantly more than young women. I can't really support this discrimination (although the really bitter part of me does - HA! Take that! Now you know how it feels to pay more due to your genitals!), but at least the statistics somewhat support the pricing inequities. Women just get randomly discriminated against.

I've always been amazed at how much more money it cost to be female. Even without price discrimination, we seem to incur much higher expenses in our daily lives. From make-up to "feminine hygiene" products, women just require more items. Since we also tend to make significantly less than men (on average, 78 cents to a man's buck, although when race is factored in, the gap narrows because men of color do so poorly compared to white men, but that's another story), our disposable incomes are eaten up rapidly. WISER Women tells us that all of these things mean that women can save less, and are more likely than men to be poor in old age.

It's almost enough to make me want to drop out of society and live in a cave because we just can't win. Instead, I buy men's razors, when I even bother shaving.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. Her first book, Off the Beaten (Subway) Track is about unusual things to see and do in New York City, and costs the same price regardless of one's gender identity.

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