The Hidden Costs of Gender and Why You Should Care

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Some have called 2016 “The Year of the Woman,” no doubt referring to the historical nomination of the first woman for President of the United States. Of course, the world has other female leaders, Theresa May of Great Britain and Angela Merkel of Germany, for example, but women this year really seem to be hitting their stride. Why is this year different? First, I see women building up other women like never before. Second, I am seeing men realizing that many of the so-called “women’s issues” are not about women so much as they’re about fairness.

One of the most pressing matters to women right now is unequal pay for equal work. On its face, that’s an obvious problem. But when you look deeper, you see that in addition to earning 79 cents to a man’s dollar, a woman’s income diminishes even further simply because of the fact she was born female. Women bear the children, so that means getting your period from age 12 to age 52 or so, once a month, for five to seven days. On average, a woman spends roughly eight years of her life on her period. So what? Well, it costs money to buy sanitary products and in Florida, at least right now, those products are taxed. Many women also suffer from unpleasant to debilitating symptoms each month resulting in the additional expense of medication and doctor visits.

Women also miss work because of their gender. Whether it’s for period-related symptoms, attending prenatal doctor visits, or taking maternity leave, it’s costing them money. Most businesses that provide sick leave give the same amount of leave to men and women. Yet women use it more because of reproductive health issues. If a woman gets sick, is in an accident, or needs hospitalization or surgery, she’s likely facing a sick leave deficit compared to her male counterparts. She may have less paid time off and have to take unpaid leave. Or, in cases where employees are paid for unused sick leave when they leave or retire, that could be a substantial amount of money a woman loses.

Women who earn money based on commission or productivity experience even greater losses. When they take leave for several weeks or months, they may receive their same base pay and benefits, but they have lost the opportunity for those production bonuses that would be available to their male counterparts. For many, those bonuses represent the bulk of their pay. Those women cannot simply opt out and ask their lower-earning male partners to carry the children. For women who leave and then try to re-enter the job market, they are unlikely to ever catch up. Over the course of a lifetime, a woman’s gender can cost her an inordinate amount of money. That is, simply, not fair.

To be completely honest, until recently, I didn’t know I was getting taxed for sanitary products. Until I sat down, did the math, and thought it through, I had no idea how much further a woman’s income is reduced because of reproductive health issues. The men I’ve spoken with feel the same way; they were simply ignorant about it or had never really considered it. After this subject started getting some traction in the media, I noticed a an anonymous online commenter say something to the effect of, “With everything going on in the world, who cares about a tax on tampons?” I was so disappointed in that statement because the person was essentially saying, “This doesn’t matter to me, so it doesn’t matter at all.” Thankfully, I have found that most people, including men, feel quite the opposite. More and more, people agree with Dr. King that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. This isn’t a women’s issue; it’s a fairness issue.