By Sarah Weingarten
Razors, candles, tools, disinfecting wipes, food, beer, shampoo and tissues are all products that everyone can use but are packaged to market to two distinct genders, male and female. Gendered products are most noticeable in baby and toddler products. A baby’s sex is deemed super important to society. If people don’t know the gender, they won’t know if they should buy the blue rattle or the pink rattle. The gender binary starts strong from birth and has worked its way into adult products. Capitalism enforces the gender binary by creating products marketed to two genders, which therefore erases non-binary people.
Girl toolsets are typically pink or purple and the tools inside and slender and delicate. Guys can’t just buy regular bathroom wipes or baby wipes. They have to buy Dude Wipes to protect their masculinity. The list of gender-neutral products that are marketed to specific genders by using gender stereotypes is huge.
But what if you don’t fit into the gender binary? You don’t identify as a female or male, or you’re a mixture of both or a different gender entirely? Then what do you do? What razor do you buy? What candle or shampoo should you purchase? When did a trip to Wal-Mart become a litmus test of what gender you are or are not? Why do companies choose to take the time and effort making different colored products and different packaging?
Gendered products and the binary reinforcement stems back to capitalism. To understand how capitalism plays a role in the binary we have to look into the pink tax.
Companies take the time to make drastic differences in the identical products because they can charge females more for the female-marketed product, which is called the pink tax. Companies can choose to charge females more for female marketed products because our economy is based on capitalism. Capitalism means that corporations are privately owned so the government can’t technically get involved. Big businesses can do what they want to maximize their profits. Capitalism created the pink tax.
The pink tax is so prominent that females are now being persuaded to buy male packaged items to save money. According to the Washington Post article, “Why you should buy the men’s version of almost anything,” by Danielle Paquette, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, said that nearly 800 products had female and male versions. The product itself was identical, but the packaging was different. The report further stated that items marketed to females cost an average 7 percent more than the similar male products.
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs further delves into their study saying, “The largest price discrepancy emerged in the hair care category: Women, on average, paid 48 percent more for goods like shampoo, conditioner and gel. Razor cartridges came in second place, costing female shoppers 11 percent more,” according to Paquette.
Gender discrepancy isn’t a new capitalism chokehold. Females have been nickeled and dimed by companies for a long, long time. Female haircuts cost more, dry cleaning is priced higher for females and even life insurance prices were jacked up because females statistically live longer than males. The Affordable Care Act made it illegal for insurance companies in the United States to factor gender into their costs. But even the Affordable Care Act can’t stop all gender pricing.
Gender is the Red Sea, and Capitalism is Moses, dividing the genders into two categories to benefit themselves. Buying a gendered product is the equivalent of assimilating into that gender. John D’Emilio’s “Capitalism and Homosexuality” looks at how America’s capitalist greed has shaped gay life. I think this reading coincides with the notion that capitalism is enforcing the binary and erasing non-binaries.
D’Emilio writes about capitalism’s relationship to the gay community and how it was a positive and negative. The positive is that free-labor allowed people to live a life based on their sexual identity, therefore, letting the gay community explode. The gay community became visible in America because of free-labor. Before a capitalist economy, people’s living was made inside their home either making bread, farming, sewing, etc. etc. This economy enforced the traditional nuclear family, so a mom a dad and a whole slew of kids who helped with the labor.
Once capitalism happened and the economy moved outside of the home the nuclear family was dismantled. Having the nuclear family ideals gone it let people live their lives freely without threatening their finances. This led to the visibility of the gay community.
The negative affect capitalism had on the gay community is because the gay movement aided in the dismantling of the nuclear family. D’Emilion writes, “Ideologically, capitalism drives people into heterosexual families: each generation comes of age having internalized a heterosexist model of intimacy and personal relationships.” The gay community became scapegoats for the social instability of families instead of capitalism.
Capitalism is doing the same thing to non-binaries at the moment. The internalized heteronormativity that capitalism and the nuclear family created drove companies to market products fiercely to specific genders, genders that don’t apply to everyone. Visibility is a major key to social acceptance and self-love. Without products that are gender neutral it makes being gender neutral an obstacle in mundane errand runs.
The binary is rooted so deeply in capitalism it’s hard to untangle all of the causes, factors and reasons. The enforcement of the pink tax and the drive of the heterosexual family are just small factors of why gender neutral products aren’t marketed as such.