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Verity Johnson: I calculated just how much being a woman costs me...

Newshub logoNewshub 10/07/2017 Verity Johnson

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Ask any woman and they’ll say it’s expensive to be a girl. It’s not just what you think. We’re not just spending thousands a month on getting the perfect shade of platinum. 

Of course sometimes accidentally slipping and falling into MAC might find us dining on tuna and rice in the lead up to payday.  But it’s not that simple. So with this in mind, I decided to see how much my female friends and I spend on ‘being a girl’ in a month. And the answer was (surprise!) significantly more than my male peers. 

I decided to focus on costs to do with ‘the female body’ - grooming, health care, fitness - as opposed to cultural ones that are harder to quantify eg. the amount of time I take Uber at night. 

So this is a cross section of girl expenses, not the whole sh’bam. I charted my spending against fellow well-groomed young man, Taylor. Together we tracked our spending and averaged them out per month. I also repeated the experiment with a number of other men and women to get a general average.

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What’s clear is that I need more self control in clothes department. But despite my indulgent spending causing a bit of an outlier, women I asked were still spending significantly more on average than guys are. The average monthly spend was $225 for a guy, and $517 for a girl. 

Firstly, that’s because women groom more. 

Worldwide, women spend five hours a week grooming, and 35 percent of women use one to two products daily and 17 percent use three to four. Meanwhile men spend three hours a week grooming, and 54 percent say they don’t use a single product. So this certainly explains the holes in our paychecks. And they’re big holes. Women are estimated to spend $382 billion a year globally in the beauty industry. 

I can hear a lot of mental eye rolling right now. So let’s look at why we splash on flash moisturiser. When they surveyed women worldwide, we said that we spend to feel confident in ourselves. The most commonly expressed reason was that we wanted to express our individuality and feel as though we were in control.

This certainly resonates with a story I wrote earlier this year on not wearing makeup to work. When I told women what I was doing, you’d have thought I’d have suggested stripping naked and rolling in pig blood. People were shocked at the idea of going makeup free, because “I just wouldn’t feel confident.” 

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I get it. If you recommended to me that I stopped removing body hair, I’d look at you as though you were the one with the pig blood suggestion. Not removing body hair would make me feel fragile and unattractive in public, even during a 3am ice cream run to Countdown. 

I don’t need to tell you that as women we still tie our confidence to our attractiveness. It’s a psychological trap that makes it very hard to want to cut out your spending.

There’s also the expectation from places like your office that you will wear make up, style your hair and jam on stilettos. The standard business look for men includes a clean suit and a face free of bum-fluff. Whereas the standard that we subconsciously expect from women is simply more expensive. Hair, nails, make up….And when we don’t do that, not only do we look less ‘professional’, we’re also told we look like we’re about to collapse with exhaustion. 

But even aside from the psychological reasons for it, there’s also the very irritating situation of uniquely female costs. Tampons, for instance, cost up to $16,000 in our lifetime. The responsibility for contraception still often falls more heavily on the women. How many guys have forked out $45 for the ECP? And while we’re talking about sex, 28 percent of millennial men have never been tested for an STD and 55 percent haven’t been tested within the last year. For us girls things like that can be a monthly, $27+ ritual. 

On a wider, societal level there still exist a number of cost biases towards women. The movement, ‘Pink is a Luxury Colour’, calls out a worldwide gender bias in product pricing. That’s when women pay more for a product because it’s wrapped in pink. For instance, there are laundries in the US which charge much more to launder a woman’s shirt that is identical to a man’s. Or for instance the cases of deodorant and shavers being priced higher than ‘male’ versions because they come in pink. So not only is there daily female running costs, there’s a lot of background bias there too.

But there’s also the build up of tiny, unconscious matters that all contribute to us spending more. Dry cleaning your clothes because you can’t stick a chiffon dress in with the dirty sock wash. Or splashing out on a clutch because your jeans pockets are deliberately shallow or outright stitched up. Which you then use to carry your unsubsidised tampons and a handful of lippies. 

So while we can agree that perhaps those $140 blush suede knee-high boots that you bought when hungover and hangry weren’t a good idea...there are still legitimate reasons why it’s expensive being a girl.

Verity Johnson is a Newshub columnist.

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