The Cost of Living

(As a Clash aficionado, this phrase always makes me think of the EP released in 1979. This has nothing to do with the post, but I thought I’d get it out there and out of the way for myself. I enjoy the mental image of Strummer and Paul Simonon giggling about the phrase–apparently how they came to name the EP. This digression is now over.)

You may have seen this study from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, finding that women pay extra money for the products marketed to us. This is not exactly a huge surprise to me, but I’m glad to see someone do the legwork to confirm it. We’re charged more for the products we’re asked to buy even leaving out how much extra buying is demanded of women. Even if we just bought one-to-one the same stuff as men bought, we’d have a surcharge. Obviously, some of this can be circumvented: I don’t know a single woman who buys women’s shaving gel rather than men’s, for instance.

And that’s not taking into account all we have to or are manipulated into buying that most men don’t: tampons and pads and panty liners, make-up and nail polish, contraception, hair products, extra clothing (men can wear a suit to a white-collar interview and a suit to a wedding; I need radically different outfits for those two events), jewelry (most men can and will show up to that wedding without any jewelry on).

Here’s an example from my own life (that makes it an upper-middle class example, of course): I start teaching again soon. Because I had my son, I’ve gone up a couple of sizes. I don’t mind; I still think I look good. But it means I own an entire closetful of clothing that doesn’t fit me. And I can’t show up to teach in yoga pants or a pair of jeans. I hadn’t thought about the gendered aspect of the shopping necessitated by this situation until I mentioned it to a male colleague who said “Wow, yeah, I can just slouch on into the classroom in a shirt and jeans. That’s not fair to you!” No, I guess it’s not. (I’m tenured now, I suppose I could slouch on into the classroom in a t-shirt and jeans, but I don’t think I could count on commanding the respect and deference that a male colleague doing the same thing could, given all the work coming out on how sexist student evals are.)

It costs more to be a cis femme woman than it does to be a cis butch man. I wonder how this breaks down in different gender expressions. What’s the price differential of being a butch woman, for instance? What about a femme man? And how does race inflect these differences? And what is the cost of being trans?

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17 comments for “The Cost of Living

  1. Wordwizard
    January 13, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I have no comment; I just want to follow the comments of others.

  2. Stareyes
    January 13, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Shoes come to mind; most female-coded work clothing requires at least one pair of shoes that aren’t casual. Possibly more, since my fashion consultant says I can’t wear black with navy blue. And most of them are not suited for jobs that involve a lot of standing or walking.

    (There’s a reason I only wear my dress shoes when breaking them in for job interviews, and on the interviews themselves, and the occasional other ‘dress up’ event.)

  3. PrettyAmiable
    January 13, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Healthcare premiums tend to be higher for women than men in the US (maternity care, longer life spans, typically bones that are more brittle – all contribute to this).

  4. HowIsBabbyFormed
    January 14, 2016 at 9:27 am

    I think exercise is also a lot let optional for women than men, in terms of cultural pressure and guilt.

    I also have been looking through fashion magazines, and I think if you want a commanding female presence, you might try wearing very high heels but sitting with your feet on the desk the whole class. Pick a well dressed make student and make him wrote on the board for you.

    • HowIsBabbyFormed
      January 14, 2016 at 9:28 am

      Autocorrect makes me sound so smart

  5. Angie unduplicated
    January 14, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Performative femininity is an exorbitant expense which should be completely optional. This has pissed me off for decades. Often, the expense is demanded by the job but the tax code does not allow deductions for gender-stereotype expenses. Low-wage jobs often demand as much in “appearance” as high-wage jobs with only an exception for clothing costs in relation to wage. If they want to regulate appearance, let the @#&!s provide a uniform or an expense allotment.

    I stick with a dirty and boring job because the boss man doesn’t require me to wear a bra or dress up at all, a rarity for a cis woman. This has allowed me to accumulate some savings, a near-impossibility on this wage in any other job. Unfortunately, he will not live another five years and I cannot and will not work for his successor.

  6. Tom Sims
    January 15, 2016 at 5:14 am

    Without getting into the reasons women spend much more on clothing and footwear than men, the whole concept of capitalism is charging “what the market will bear” for products and services offered. If the supply side exceeds demand, prices will decrease.

    • EG
      January 15, 2016 at 10:39 am

      I think we’re all familiar with the concept of capitalism, Tom, but you can’t just handwave away the reasons women spend much more on clothing and footwear than men. You can’t handwave the patriarchy and make any sense, particularly when it is now indisputable that women are charged more for the products marketed to them.

      • Tom Sims
        January 16, 2016 at 11:15 am

        Sorry EG, my comment was well intended but poorly communicated by. No excuses, as I take full responsibility.. In retrospect I missed the point of the post although my reply was sincere and in no way meant to be sarcastic. Clearly if professional women like yourself are required to spend more on clothing than your male counterparts, it is wrong. I could have and should have done a better job in my reply.

        But I am concerned with the moderator post claiming “Over the past few weeks it has been noted that your comments have become increasingly sarcastic and abusive in an excessively personalised manner.

        The last post I made was back in August last year telling of the birth of my great grandson. Before that I think I made a post congratulating you on the birth of your child. I’m concerned my account has been hacked and someone is making posts using my name.. Again this post and one that did not get published are the only posts I have made since last August. I would appreciate it if you can look into to this and try to determine if someone is making posts using my screen name.

      • January 16, 2016 at 3:31 pm

        Tom Sims, the moderator note was not directed at you! If it had been the Disapproving Giraffe would have been added to your comment but you can see that it was on another person’s comment. That other person is whom the moderator note was addressed to.

    • HowIsBabbyFormed
      January 15, 2016 at 10:57 am

      the head of a giraffe against a bright blue sky: its mouth is pursed sidewaysThat’s a very smart comment dear. A gold star for noticing this issue was about buying things. That’s a good boy!

      MODERATOR NOTE: Over the past few weeks it has been noted that your comments have become increasingly sarcastic and abusive in an excessively personalised manner. These are commonly used silencing tactics which are not welcome in our comment threads. You are requested to stick more to the arguments than to the person in future, and to ignore comments that seem pointless to you rather than responding with such condescension. ~tt

  7. a lawyer
    January 27, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    The socialist in me says “that’s ridiculous and unfair!”

    The economist in me says “If someone wants to pay more for a pink helmet/razor/etc, that’s their call. And volume has a lot to do with cost and availability. A lot of price controls simply end up reducing both options and choice; demanding that things are priced the same is often insensible.”

    The capitalist in me says “Huh. That markup seems pretty sizeable, especially in a day and age where people are dying for leverage of a fractino of a percentage point. Why hasn’t someone specialized in selling ‘stuff for women’ at a slight markup difference, and made a shitload of money by charging less than everyone else? Is it because nobody has thought of that, yet? Or is it because there is reduced volume, or some other reason, which significantly increases costs?”

    The study skeptic in me says “It does seem like they were searching for a conclusion here. For example, they talk about a lot of INDIVIDUAL factors not explaining cost increases, but they don’t really talk about how they work together. Seems like most of the differences, in most cases, are easily explained away. Nor do they address issues of choice: if you want to buy shoes which are re-designed once per decade then they will be cheap; if you want to have new options every year then they will be expensive. And they used averages and not medians, which allows a few things to affect results. Moreover, it took me about 90 seconds to find them comparing a $170 ‘Emily pant’ with leather trim and welt pocket and zippers to a normal $98.50 ‘Dress Chino’ pant without any explanation of why those two are even vaguely equivalent, which isn’t a great sign.”

  8. a lawyer
    January 27, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    …and the theorist in me says “blaming this mostly on patriarchy and ignoring the vast choice involved seems a bit disempowering. And also seems to cherry-pick the cons without looking at any of the explanations, much less the pros.

    Can you go to a wedding without jewelry? Can you attend a wedding in “work formal clothes?” Can you attend a wedding in “work formal shoes?” Of course you can. Plenty of women I know choose to do just that. Half of my family and many of my friends do that. Own your choice. They do.

    Can you work at most professional jobs and wear a pair of LL Bean khakis and a button down shirt, like the guys, throwing on a jacket when you meet clients? Or a suit, if you prefer, every day? Yup. Plenty of women I know choose to do just that as well, from banks to law offices to doctor’s offices. They own their choice too.

    I concede that you can’t wear whatever you want. (Nor can I.) I also concede that work-appropriate or universally-appropriate wear is (depending on where you work) a proportionally smaller fraction of women’s clothing. But I’d argue that the difference in percentages is mostly because the entire set of womens’ clothing is so much larger; there are probably two women’s clothing stores for every menswear shop. This is both a benefit (choice is good) and a cost.

    Moreover, women have a much wider range of acceptable clothing in many areas, than men do. This is a pro (choice is good!) which carries a con (exercising that choice, if you want to, means you must own more clothes.)

    I agree with you that women can’t easily “just slouch on into the classroom in a shirt and jeans.” But that particular example is a bit like complaining that I can’t get respect if I wear yoga pants, high-thigh shorts, or toeless shoes. Jeans have a “men’s pants” history originally and current jeans designs are highly gendered and fashion-focused so choosing that example is merely cherry picking the outcome. Choose a different example: “cotton knee shorts” or “khakis or slacks and a polo on top” and the outcome changes.

    Also: I have scanned through the study. Try it: You’ll see that a LOT of stuff is non-comparable. And the non-comparable stuff is often the most different in price, which is to say the things that most affect the study.

    Whether it’s comparing a stretch spandex t shirt to a cotton/poly one that trick goes on and on. Hell, the Club Monaco comparisons alone probably provide half the difference.

  9. Angel H.
    January 30, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    There can also be a cultural and a racial aspect to this.

    I’ve been a naturalista on and off for the past 10 years. First I had dreadlocks because “fashion”, but I cut them off after a few years because reasons. I sported a TWA for a while but Dad gave me $100 to go get my hair straightened because he didn’t want me to show up at his wedding “looking like a homeless woman.” (I don’t know how else a homeless woman supposed to look like, but whatevs.) Chemically straightened hair is expensive to maintain, so I became natural again.

    Natural hair is currently The Thing. (It’s always been “a thing”, but now major brands have decided to make it a money-making thing.) It takes time, money, and hours of protective styling to find which potions, concoctions, oils, products, and techniques will my make my 4c, low-porosity hair “presentable”. Going back to the “creamy crack” – *ahem*, relaxer – will make it easier to style, but not any easier on my wallet. There’s also the idea that if I do go back to a relaxer that I am, at least subconsciously, betraying my roots (heh-heh) and giving in to white standards of beauty.

    In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out how much money for some yaki and how much time it’ll cost for me to do my own box-braids…

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