There was an article on cnn this week about the pink tax. I wasn’t familiar with the term, but I had an idea what it meant. That article coincided with the receipt of my high school transcript, and the two combined have my feathers ruffled.
The pink tax is the reality that women pay more for goods and services than men. A few examples include razors, hair care products, and ear plugs. You heard me, ear plugs. Wow. Women have been paying a higher price for haircuts and dry cleaning for years, but I had no idea it went as far as squishy ear plugs. Shame on everyone. The manufacturer, the retailer, and in this case, the consumer for perpetuating the cycle. Yes, there are some products we have no choice but to pay the price, but ear plugs? Buy the non-specific plugs, and send a clear message that the manufacturer can stuff the overpriced pink plugs in their ears!
But none of this is new. It is a continuation of sexism that we can’t seem to shake no matter how much progress we have made since the incredibly intelligent and brave pioneers who claimed our right to vote in 1920. There is still a wage gap. Women are still asked about their familial status when it comes to job interviews or promotions. Women are accused of being emotional rather than caring. We overreact rather than address issues. We are mean rather than astute business people. And when we are deep in thought creating, solving, or serving for less pay than the man next to us, we have resting bitch face. Seriously.
Now, the part about my high school transcript. In the 1980s when I was a young girl who thought she knew everything, I believed the feminists had done their job and women were pretty much treated equally. I thought the fight was over. Pfft! Not only was it not over, but I personally (albeit unknowingly) signed up for the most sexist high school curriculum one could imagine. I recall requesting a woodworking class one year and being denied, but I don’t recall questioning that decision for long. Nor do I recall anyone (my family, faculty, or school counselor) raising an eyebrow to it or counseling me on my class schedule that followed.
Even though it’s been over 30 years since I claimed my diploma, and although I am getting older, I don’t think of myself as old. I think of myself as a modern woman, so it was shocking to see in black and white what my scholastic preparation for adulthood looked like. Hold on to your pink-taxed seats, ladies, because this will blow you away.
I took a total of 50 classes over four years. Some were what you would expect: English, History, Algebra, and so on, and I took a handful of art classes. However, take a peek at what was woven throughout:
Shorthand, Personal Typing, Beginning Typing, Typing 1, Bookkeeping, Office Practice, Stitchery, Clothing 1, Freshmen Home Economics, Foods & Nutrition, Meal Management, Consumer Economics (I could be mistaken, but I think this was the “family finances” version), and Child Development.
Over 25% of my course load was geared toward childcare, homemaking, and office work. The message was pretty clear as to what my life should look like after graduation. The irony is that two thirds of that s@*t didn’t stick. One can argue that Child Development was a well-intended effort to cultivate good parenting skills. Sure. But why were no boys in that class? Why were only the girls cradling 5-pound sacks of flour for a week, changing their powdery diapers? Did that not send the message that boys didn’t need to be good parents? That they really didn’t need to be parents at all—that was women’s work? Folks, this was 1984, not 1894! Even though I attended a rural school where we were bussed in from five towns to make up a graduating class of 46 students, we should have known better. I should have had an inkling, and the adults should have flat-out known better.
To be clear, I admire mothers and fathers who stay home to raise their children. I admire mothers and fathers who choose to, or must, work to support their family. And I admire people who choose not to have children at all. But the key here is choice, equality, and support from society rather than something as abhorrent as a pink tax. Furthermore, we surely should not be pigeonholed from childhood into which role we will assume. Nor should any child be guided toward a career based on gender or lowered expectations. Often, children will become what you tell them they can be.
I hope today’s children are a generation being taught that little girls and little boys can grow up to be involved, thoughtful parents. I hope that little boys and little girls are told they can be whatever they choose—whether it be a doctor, an author, a homemaker, a carpenter, or a neuroscientist. It is frightening that society was still guiding children into centuries-old, gender-specific stereotypical careers just 30 years ago.
I own my life and take full responsibility. I was a head-strong young lady who could have made better choices, but I did not. That is on me. I sometimes beat myself up about not having had higher aspirations than to “work in an office,” but all things considered, I am happy and thankful for everything I have, office job included. Still, I occasionally wonder where I would be now if anyone had told me I could be anything I wanted. Would I have cured cancer rather than be diagnosed with it? If you scoffed at the notion, even a little, ask yourself why. Then ask, what message am I sending to my children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews? I promise you, delivering that message is the most important thing you’ll do in your life.