Alice Jones: Hairdressers, cleaners, insurers, they’re all levying a ‘vagina tax’


If you are a millionaire or a granny, the implications of this week's Budget are crystal clear. And thanks to all of those helpful, number-crunching tables, it takes only the click of a mouse to discover that if you're a single mother earning £35,000, with child benefit and tax credits, you will be £373 worse off next year. Thanks, George!

What, though, of the day-to-day expense of simply being a woman? Can it really be true that in 2012, women are expected to pay more than men for a wide range of services and products, from dry cleaning and deodorant to cars and health insurance, simply because of their biological make-up?

Well, yes. A report in Marie Claire's American edition this month has lifted the lid on the murky-to-the-point-of-inexplicable practice of "gender pricing", or, if you prefer, "vagina tax". It makes for a depressing read, mainly for the weaselly justifications offered for the oestrogen-inspired mark-ups.

Women's blouses cost three times as much to clean as men's shirts – because, apparently, they are more fiddly to press. Women pay $200 more for a car than a man would for the same model because, apparently, we are terrible at negotiating. Most shocking is the revelation that 90 per cent of the best-selling health insurance plans in America charge women more than men – in some cases 53 per cent more – because, apparently, women are in the irresponsible habit of going for regular check-ups and therefore use more healthcare services than men.

It's not just an American problem. A quick survey of hairdressers, dry cleaners and the shelves of any high-street chemist reveals the same gender imbalance here, while many insurance companies tailor their plans according to which box you tick. So not only must women wrangle with unequal pay and the ins and outs of maternity leave, they also have to pay more than men for the same product. Is it our fault for putting up with prices that men would simply batter down?

Perhaps. Imagine, though, a hairdresser offering two price lists – one for white customers and one for black – and "gender pricing" is shown for what it is: an absurd, discriminatory nonsense.


* Despite the awards and glowing reports of the fine performance by Meryl Streep, I still haven't been able to bring myself to watch The Iron Lady. I grew up with Margaret Thatcher's hectoring voice ringing in my ears, and I somehow don't fancy sitting through a straight 100 minutes of it now.

It seems that the ever-industrious pirates of Russia's black market in movies feel the same. An unofficial version of the biopic currently circulating in the country features a hilarious dubbing which replaces Abi Morgan's soft-soaping script with something a little more bracing. "Crush the working class! Crush the scum, the yobs!" runs Thatcher's manifesto in the translated version, which also makes the leader out to be a warmongering fascist who lives to destroy the common man. It was so convincing that one leading critic believed he was watching the real film and went on to review the pirate version in the respected broadsheet Kommersant. I happen to think he should be applauded, not castigated, for his mistake – he's brought to light a film I might now consider watching.


* Joy of joys, The Apprentice is back, and since it's now the eighth series of Siralan's quest to find the person most likely to misuse the words "myself" and "literally", the BBC has had to ginger things up a bit. As such,1 Canada Square has been elbowed out of those luscious aerial shots by the thrusting, twinkly upstart The Shard. And as for the incidental music, the doomish strains of Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights are now leavened with occasional bursts from the soundtrack to The Artist. I wonder, though, if this is an entirely good idea. Even for a diehard fan like me (myself), hearing that joyous plinkety-plonkety piano played out over the contestants' ear-splitting squabbling made me wish the directors had gone the whole hog and given us the silent film take on The Apprentice instead this year.

twitter: @alicevjones