Paying the price–but for what exactly?

How capitalism weaponizes femininity for profit.

Andrea Lindner, Editor In Chief

I don’t think I have ever been treated as the smartest person in the room. Or the most experienced. Or the funniest, or the most capable, or the most talented. I don’t think it’s because these things have never been true about me, or at least a semblance of the truth, but rather because of my position within the social hierarchy of American society. Womanhood–whatever that means and however it is defined–is weaponized in order to create profit and a social structure in which women are viewed as commodities rather than human beings. But why are capitalism and womanhood so at odds? How do we reconcile this, if at all?

For years, for centuries, for forever, women have been treated as lesser than men. And beyond that, women of color, trans women, and women who fit into any identity that has been continuously othered, experience this to an even greater extent. This perpetual issue of objectification carries over into the capitalist system that the US currently has in place, through the infamous ‘pink tax,’ the sale and promotion of products that tell women how they and their bodies should look, and through the profiting of femininity. 

The ‘pink tax’ is gender based pricing which affects the costs of items targeted at women, as well as necessities such as tampons and pads. On, a bottle of men’s 2-in-1 Dove brand shampoo and conditioner costs $6.99. Women’s Dove brand shampoo and conditioner come in separate bottles at $6.99 each, meaning the market this product is targeted at is double the cost of the product with a target market of men. Similarly, a women’s basic t-shirt at Target is $5, while a 12 pack of men’s Fruit of the Loom brand t-shirts is $21.99– or about $1.83 each, less than half of the costs of the women’s t-shirt.

But it does not stop there. Razors, deodorant, even pens, with pink packaging almost always cost more, even though they are the same products as their blue-packaged counterparts. In addition to gendered pricing, several states also tax ‘feminine care’ products like tampons and pads– necessities for people who get their period. 

The simple solution would be to just buy the product marketed for men, but it isn’t always that easy and I shouldn’t have to do that. Women should not have to change to match the expectations of what the capitalist machine believes they should be, which stretches beyond simple products into the actual appearance of women.

American marketers have a very specific idea of what a woman should look like: white, slim, tall–but not taller than any man, big chest, big butt– but not too big, tiny waist– but not too tiny because that’s unhealthy, and eurocentric facial features. Even as a woman who in many ways fits the eurocentric standard, I am constantly bogged down by the parts of me that do not. We are stuck in a constant cycle of never being enough, rooted deeply in anti-blackness, colorism, fatphobia, misogyny, and white supremacy. And because no woman fits the beauty standard to a perfect T, we are marketed diet pills, skin lightening creams, hair products, make-up, shapewear, anything that will make women look the way we are taught we are supposed to look.

I do not have an answer for why this is the way things are, and it is something that I have asked myself for the past 22 years and will continue to ask myself for the next 60 or so. But I do know that the capitalist market has weaponized the concepts of femininity and womanhood in a way that creates profit, increases insecurity amongst women and anyone else who chooses to explore their feminine sides, and promotes the hatred of women or anyone who behaves in a ‘woman-like’ manner.

Before I am given any other adjective, I am given soft, needy, weak, woman. And the thing is that I am soft, and oftentimes needy, and I have my moments of weakness, but those are not the things that make me a woman; those are the things that make me a person. Women are pink, and feminine, and soft-spoken, and delicate, but women are also blue, and masculine, and loud, and built like brick walls, and every possible mix of character traits because there is no wrong way to be a woman; there is really no way to be a woman at all. 

We have to stop pretending that femininity means only weakness and that weakness is bad. Weakness is human, it is necessary, it is not exclusive to women. We have entwined the concept of femininity so deeply with the concept of womanhood, and have convinced ourselves on such a deep, unconscious level that to be woman is to be lesser, that we are robbing young girls, boys, and gender non-comforming people of exploring their more feminine attributes. And because we choose to only associate women with femininity, and convince women that they must explore the more feminine aspects of themselves, that the for-profit world of feminine items almost exclusively targets and affects women and feminine presenting people.

Andrea Lindner

Feminine people must then toe the line of feeding into a system that is profiting off of us while also maintaining the act of expressing femininity. I will continue to buy make-up, jewelry, and obscene amounts of clothing because those are the things that make me happy and allow me to express myself, but there is always a nagging in the back of my mind that I am aware of the fact that I am being targeted by a system that does not care about what these things mean to me, only the money it puts in the pocket of wealthy white men. And as a cisgendered, white woman with privilege, I cannot imagine the conflict this causes for women of color, trans women, and men and gender non-comforming people who air more on the feminine side of things.

To be woman is to be seen as lesser, and to be feminine is to be a means to profit. I do not think capitalism will ever operate in favor and support of women, or in favor and support of anyone who is not a straight, cisgendered, white, hypermasculine man. So what can we do? Is there ever a way in which capitalism can shift to another frame of mind? Or would this system have to be torn down at its roots in order to be changed? All I am sure of is that womanhood does not deserve to be both villainized and weaponized in the way that is, especially since the concept of womanhood is almost undefiniable. There are no traits exclusive to women, we are all just who we are, and that’s all you ever need to be. That is all it is to be a woman; to be a person.