BEIJING — Li Yi prefers to buy products in pink when possible – she just likes the color.
But she held back recently when she went to buy a pair of dumbbells. in southern China’s Guangdong province, as roses cost 90 yuan ($12.50) compared to 40 yuan ($5.60) for regular black ones.
Li is not the only woman in China, the world’s second-largest economy, who has noticed that goods and services aimed at women are often more expensive. Feminists in the country call this phenomenon the “pink tax”, a term originating in the United States and increasingly known in China.
The hashtag #PinkTax has attracted millions of views on Chinese social platforms, where women share their experiences of refusing higher prices. The issue came to the fore again during a major annual online shopping event in China, known as Singles’ Day, or Double 11, which ends on November 11.
“I think buying pink means intentionally being treated differently depending on gender,” said Li, a 22-year-old student. “I can’t give up my preference, even if I don’t want to pay more for the premium.”
Not just about roses
The pink tax isn’t just about color. It can be used to describe a wide range of discrimination against female consumers.
In China and elsewhere, women’s anger is particularly focused on the cost of menstruation. An online campaign this fall encouraged the Chinese government to drop a 13% tax on menstrual products as it considers a new value-added tax law, arguing they should be considered premium products. need.
The rate of 13% is the same as for tobacco, and it is several percentage points higher than that of products considered essential such as cereals and water.
For women on tight budgets, the added cost may mean going without menstrual products at all, said Nancy Qian, an economics professor at the Kellogg School of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences at Northwestern University.
“Instead of being able to use the sanitary pads sold in modern stores, a lot of women have to resort to things that women used historically and that lead to health problems,” she said.
“This means it costs more for women than men to be healthy,” she added. “It’s very unfair.”
Previous calls for the government to get relief from the menstrual tax have been rejected.
In the United States, menstrual products are tax-exempt in about two dozen states, including New York, California and Texas, according to Alliance for Period Supplies, a nonprofit group that aims to end this This is called “period poverty”.
Raising feminist consciousness
Opponents of price inequality in China are discussing potential strategies in a group called the “Pink Tax Resisters Alliance” on Douban, the country’s equivalent of Reddit and IMDb. Created in 2020, the group has nearly 30,000 members.
“Women define the feminine,” one group member wrote. “What is not feminine defines women.”
China’s feminist movement has grown stronger as more women enter the workforce: the number of employed women in China’s urban areas has increased by almost 40 percent over the past decade.
But even as feminism advances, China’s government is taking a more traditional stance, driven in part by concerns about the country’s record birth rate. Last month, President Xi Jinping told the All-China Women’s Federation that women played a crucial role in society and should usher in a “new family trend.”
The decline in the “pink tax” coincides with the slower-than-expected recovery of the Chinese economy since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions late last year, which has made consumers “more attentive than never at their expense,” Qian said.
The urban unemployment rate for people aged 16 to 24 hit a record 21.3% in June before Chinese authorities announced they would stop publishing the data.
Some women say they already bear additional costs resulting from deep-rooted gender bias in China, where, as in many societies, “women are more likely to be judged by their appearance,” said Sun Xin, a master of business conferences in China and East Asia. at King’s College London.
As a result, products like cosmetics can become “almost indispensable” for women, leading them to be less price sensitive and feel obligated to spend more on these products, he said.
“I have to wear makeup when I go out for formal dinners, especially around older men. Otherwise, they will think I don’t respect them,” said Chen Haiyu, a supermarket supplier in her 40s. from the coastal city of Qingdao. “Makeup is a necessity for me, even though I think it’s expensive and damages my skin.”
“Every dollar spent is a vote”
Some consumers object, calling for boycotts of retailers who charge women more for essentially the same products men buy.
Two of China’s largest e-commerce platforms, JD.com and Taobao, have drawn backlash this year following annual shopping events dubbed “Goddess Day” and “Queen’s Day”, which take place on March 8 , International Women’s Day. Critics have accused companies of using the terminology to entice women to spend money and pointed out that there is no equivalent shopping event for men.
Although both events are estimated to have brought in billions of dollars (JD.com and Taobao have not released exact figures this year), some merchants said sales grew more slowly, including those of products intended for women.
“This year’s sales data have increased gradually. But compared to the doubling of growth in previous years, this is too low,” the owner of an online women’s clothing store wrote on social media.
Most Chinese consumers also plan to limit their spending on Singles’ Day this year, CNBC reported, citing a Bain and Company survey.
“Every dollar spent is a vote for the world,” said Lancc Lan, a 21-year-old student. “I will not contribute another cent to brands that blatantly deceive or are hostile to women. I believe that the efforts of women’s groups can bring about change.