Opinion: It Ain't Easy Being Female

Before leaving for college, I went shopping at a department store to buy a few last-minute items. I picked up a raincoat in the women’s section, checked the price tag, made a face like I’d just swallowed a mouthful of wasabi, then immediately hung it back on the rack. Later, while passing the men’s section, I spotted the same raincoat and checked its price out of curiosity: same brand, roughly the same style, but $30 cheaper.

I am now the proud wearer of a men’s raincoat.

A California study found that women pay $1,351 more a year due to "gender pricing", the practice of charging one gender more for a product. Women are charged more for dry cleaning, haircuts, mortgages, and, until the passing of the Affirmative Care Act, insurance.

Overall, gender markups amount to roughly $151 billion annually across the country—more than the federal budget for education for 2014. As a stereotypically broke college student, the fact that I have to anticipate spending more than my male peers on everyday items because of my gender is something that should be a source of outrage, but seems to have been accepted as normal.

Photo courtesy of Uilke / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Uilke / Flickr

The University of Central Florida compared the prices of commonplace items designed to appeal to either men or women and discovered that women pay an average of 30 cents more per ounce of deodorant, 16 cents more per ounce of shaving cream, 50 cents more per pack of razor blades, and the list goes on. When pressed, spokespersons for the companies in question claimed differences in prices were due to packaging, though I don’t recall women ever demanding that our products be presented in pretty pink boxes.

When lawyer Michael Cone dug into U.S. tariffs, he found that women were subject to higher taxes on clothing shipped to the U.S. In response, he gathered 100 companies and filed a discrimination lawsuit against the government that is still pending. Beyond this lawsuit, however, there has been surprisingly little outrage over this blatant bias against women. It seems that we are willing to accept that women will pay more than men for the exact same goods and services despite the fact that we are still only making 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.

The discrimination college-aged women face isn’t only monetary: affirmative action for men is an increasingly common practice. For years, there has been a rise in women opting for higher education and a decline in male applicants. Two-thirds of colleges report that they have more female than male applicants, causing admissions officers to dread the “tipping point” of having more than sixty percent of one gender and to fear that too many females will lower interest in the school.

Admissions officers even own up to this practice. Jennifer Delahunty Britz, Dean of Admissions at Kenyon College, published an editorial in The New York Times entitled “To All the Girls I’ve Rejected,” recounting the story of a female applicant who was borderline and, had she been male, would have been a definite admit.

A balanced campus is more appealing and more diverse, but is it better academically? A study by UCLA found that campuses with more females had higher grades for both men and women. It seems, however, that colleges are willing to sacrifice academic quality to achieve mass appeal and a lower acceptance rate.

Affirmative action based on race is an attempt to level a historically unequal playing field, but affirmative action for men is not correcting a moral wrong in our country’s history, simply an effort to improve the campus cosmetically. While Title IX prevents affirmative action for men at public institutions, favor for men in the admissions process is pervasive in historically female schools and liberal arts schools.

Alex Krowiak / Gavel Media

Alex Krowiak / Gavel Media

Boston College, a research university, is currently 54% female: a fine ratio indeed. While it is unclear whether that percentage would be higher if the aforementioned admissions biases were eliminated, it is clear that gender discrimination rears its ugly head in other facets of BC life. If you’ve ever applied for a volunteering or leadership position here, you know what I’m talking about. Though there are usually far more female applicants, such organizations strive for members with diverse backgrounds. When there are, say, 40 females applicants and 20 male applicants, “diverse backgrounds” can easily equate to “diverse genders.”

Once a woman is lucky enough to be admitted to college, she then has deal with the expenses afforded to her by her gender. Gender pricing and affirmative action for men are examples of blatant sexism that affect students at Boston College and across the country, and it’s time that we begin to respond.

Combating gendered pricing may sometimes be as simple as buying the black box as opposed to the pink, but discrimination in college admissions is a more complex issue. While it is true that men are vital for the diversity of a campus, the problem cannot be solved through discrimination against women in the college admissions process. Rejecting qualified women in favor of less qualified men undermines the quality of an institution. What is a school whose priority is not education, but an improved reputation?

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Kate Rogers