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Is it more expensive to be a man or a woman?

Vive la difference, say the French. Of course, those romantic Frenchies meant the physical and social distinctions between the genders. However, they could have been talking about the costs of our appearances as well.

As if the battle of the sexes needs more fuel for the fire, we're going to examine the cost difference in maintaining appearances for men and women. From maintaining our body to cleaning our clothes, we'll find out which gender is spending more dough to look good.

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For a hint at the obvious conclusion: Men, plan on continuing to pay for that first date and beyond.

The sexes go shopping
Since prices vary across the country as well as across town, I went to a national source, the Web site Drugstore.com, for price comparisons on numerous everyday products. Surprisingly, prices are equitable for many items. Even when marketed to different genders, razors, deodorant, vitamins, shoe inserts, nasal strips and even hair coloring have similar costs.

But not everything is fair in beauty and money. There are a few things that are more expensive for women. In addition, women just plain have more to buy. To illustrate this, let's follow two fictional shoppers, Dave and Rhonda, as they fill their shopping carts.

Both want to remove unwanted hair. So Dave picks up an 11-ounce can of Gillette Regular shaving cream and a 12-pack of Gillette Good News pivot razors. Meanwhile, Rhonda has in her cart a 7-ounce can of Skintimate Shaving Gel Ultra Protection, and a 12-pack Gillette Daisy razors.

 
His cost
Her cost
Gilette Regular shaving cream, 11 oz.
$1.99
Skintimate Shaving Gel, 7 oz.
$2.79
Gilette Good News Pivot razors, 12-pack
7.49
Gilette Daisy razors, 12-pack
7.49
Total
$9.48
Total
$10.28

Of course, they both want to smell good. Dave throws some Axe deodorant body spray and a 4.25-ounce bottle of Old Spice Original in his cart. Rhonda picks up a much more costly 12-ounce bottle of Caress Body Spray and some powder fresh Secret deodorant.

 
His cost
Her cost
Axe Deodorant Body Spray, 4oz.
$4.99
Secret Deodorant, 2.6 oz
$4.29
Old Spice Original After Shave Lotion, 4.25 oz.
5.49
Caress Refreshing Body Spray, 12oz.
3.99
Total
$10.48
Total
$8.28

As Dave picks at his ingrown thumbnail, he grabs a Revlon deluxe nail clipper that's on sale. Rhonda decides to forego her bi-monthly $18 dollar manicure and do it herself. So she buys a pack of 10 Revlon Super Shape emery boards, a Trim buffing block, a Revlon cuticle trimmer, some cherry red Maybelline Wet Shine nail polish and a bottle of base and top coat and finally a 6-ounce bottle of Cutex nourishing polish remover.

His cost
Her cost
Revlon deluxe nail clipper
$2.29
Revlon Emery Boards, 10-pack
$1.69
a
a
Trim buffing block
3.49
a
a
Maybelline Wet Shine nail polish
3.69
a
a
Almay Organic base and top coat
6.99
a
a
Cutex polish remover, 6 oz.
1.99
Total
$2.29
Total
$17.85

Dave remembers his two-year-old socks have a hole in the toe, so he picks up a pair of black Futuro men's dress socks. In the interest of her own professional image, Rhonda picks up a pair of Futuro support pantyhose, which surely won't even last the month.

His cost
Her cost
Futuro dress socks, 1 pair
$11.99
Futuro support pantyhose, 1 pair
$14.99
Total
$11.99
Total
$14.99

In the interest of putting their best faces forward, both Dave and Rhonda pick up something to wash with. Dave's cart now includes a 3.5-ounce bar of Neutrogena facial soap. Rhonda's cart is loaded up with the same soap, as well as Oil of Olay beauty fluid, Mudd facial masque, Maybelline Expert Eyes makeup remover and bottle of Neutrogena Deep Clean astringent.

His cost
Her cost
Neutrogena facial bar Original, 3.5 oz.
$2.69
Neutrogena facial bar Original, 3.5 oz.
$2.69
a
a
Oil of Olay Beauty Fluid, 6 oz.
9.99
a
a
Mudd facial masque, 6 oz.
4.99
a
a
Maybelline Expert Eyes makeup remover, 2.3 fl. oz.
3.99
a
a
Neutrogena Deep Clean astringent, 6.7 fl. oz.
5.99
Total
$2.69
Total
$27.65

Dave heads for the checkout. But wait! Rhonda's not done. She continues piling stuff into her cart, adding Almay Amazing Lash mascara, Revlon New Complexion Even Out Makeup, a tube of Max Factor Lipfinity lipstick, an eyelash curler, a box of tampons, and a bag of cotton balls. Now she can push her overloaded cart to the cash register.

His cost
Her cost
a
$0.00
Almay Amazing Lash mascara
$6.49
a
a
Revlon New Complexion Even Out Makeup
10.99
a
a
Max Factor Lipfinity lipstick
10.99
a
a
La Cross eyelash curler
5.29
a
a
Tampax Pearl, 20-count
4.99
a
a
Johnson & Johnson cotton balls, 100-count
2.49
Total
$0.00
Total
$41.24

Blame it on society ... as usual
Of course, this is assuming that Rhonda doesn't pay three, four or even 10 times as much for her beauty products at a department store or a spa. As the ultra-female Dolly Parton has honestly admitted numerous times, "It costs a lot of money to look this trashy."

aHis costHer cost
Number of products
7
21
Grand totals
$36.93
$120.29

"Women view [these products] as a necessity," answers Wendy Lewis, a New York City-based beauty expert and author. "Women view beauty and personal grooming in a totally different way. We're willing to spend more. Men aren't willing to do it."

And it's not just money that women are spending on themselves. It's time too. "How long does it take a woman to get ready in the morning compared to a man?" Lewis reminds. "Women have a mix of beauty products that are part of our daily arsenal. A man shaves, shampoos, brushes his teeth and uses deodorant. He's got 5 products; we've got 50."

Beyond the drugstore, the department store cosmetic counter and the beauty product store in the mall, Lewis examines the cost of other costly maintenance for a woman. She lists spa services, manicures, hair removal, chemical peels, collagen injections and so on. Lewis also reports that while plastic surgery is not more expensive for men than for women, four times as many women go under the knife for cosmetic reasons.

If you choose to follow societal norms -- and it is a choice -- then you should expect to pay that price. Some women are willing to pay plenty to look how they're expected to. And our men better damn well appreciate it.

Discrimination in the form of price gouging
However, sometimes women pay more for no good reason. Gender discrimination in pricing is something both men and women should fight. Recent research by Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) found the same results as numerous previous studies: Women often get charged more at dry cleaners and hair salons for the same services as men.

"Under law they shouldn't be able to get away with it," says David Masur, field director for PennPIRG. "Unless you do research, you might not realize you're being charged more or less."

Hair salons often justify the price differences because women's hair is longer. Ahem, that's not always true. Besides the fact that hair length is no longer an easy indication of gender, length of hair has nothing to do with the complexity of a haircut.

Dry cleaners use a similar excuse -- women's shirts are more difficult to press or launder. But a Massachusetts PIRG found that women's shirts fit on the same presses as men's shirts, and men's pleated tuxedo shirts were not being charged more for their complexity. Everyone agrees that a business should be able to charge more for a more difficult or more time-consuming service. But those factors are not determined by gender, and gender, therefore, should not determine the price.

It's one thing for societal norms to pressure women to care more about their looks, requiring additional maintenance and additional costs for females. But this sort of nonsense can be stopped by consumer awareness. If you discover a shop is charging more to clean a woman's shirt than a man's shirt or more for a basic haircut, then take your business elsewhere. Masur says, "Be proactive to protect yourself and other consumers. When you find unfair gender pricing, report it to the attorney general [of your state] or your state legislature. Keep the pressure on the politicians"

Looks like a lady
Stepping off my soapbox, I turn to our final authority on this topic, Kathryn DuBois of Anchorage, Alaska. She says, "Based on what it takes to look good, I think it definitely costs more to be a woman."

DuBois has a unique perspective on the issue because she is a male cross-dresser. She gives this example, "As everybody knows, it's the accessories that make the outfit. It's also the accessories that make dressing as a woman so expensive. Take shoes for instance. In my closet, there are probably more pairs of black women's shoes than all of my men's shoes put together."

Willing to put up with the expense of appearing like a woman, DuBois says, "To me, given all the wonderful choices women have in fashion and style, it is a sacrifice worth making. Men's fashions are soooo boring."

On a final note, she comments, "I love being able to transform myself from drab to fabulous. I can sympathize, though, with those who often don't have such a choice and are forced into paying premium prices for being a woman. In the best of worlds we would all have that choice."

 

 
-- Updated: May 5, 2005
   

 

 
 

 

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