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The pink tax, child version

“…and so now she’s doing competitive cheerleading,” I said to another mom as we watched our kids at soccer practice. I could write a dissertation about competitive cheerleading, but that’s not the point of this post, the point is that Sonya has started a new activity. “That sounds like it’s right up Sonya’s alley,” she said. “But isn’t it expensive?”

I mean, duh, it’s all expensive, the minute your child is able to express preferences it’s like you turn on the money fire hose and then forget where the off switch is.

But no, it’s not more expensive than dance was (she quit dance to start cheerleading), and it’s much cheaper than gymnastics. As my mouth started to form those words, I saw the lack of comprehension in the other mom’s eyes. Then I realized: she has all boys.

There’s a lot of talk in my circles about the pink tax (picture a Venn diagram, one of my circles is “women” and one of my circles is “people who can’t shut up about money,” so the overlap is 100% talking about the pink tax) – the idea that it’s more expensive to be a woman than a man. This comes out in things like “men don’t have to buy tampons” and “women’s clothing is more expensive than men’s” but also “women feel societal pressure to get $400 haircuts and spend buckets of money on night creams and mascara while men might feel societal pressure to use sunblock.”

At any rate, I looked at my friend and she looked at me, and we both understood, in that moment, the inequities.

Gymnastics: $185 a month, plus competition fees, plus insanely expensive leotards (the competition leo for our gym was $195 this year, but at many gyms it can be $300-$400), and warmups and accessories add another $100 or so. Probably about $3000 a year.

Dance: $90 a month, but last year Sonya had 8 different dances with 8 different costumes, each between $50 and $100, plus the shoes and the tights and the exactly-the-same makeup and hair pieces. And the competition fees. Probably about $2500 a year. Could have been another $2000 if I hadn’t put my foot down and said we wouldn’t go to “nationals,” which is a total scam. Another dissertation topic for another time.

Competitive cheerleading: $70 a month, the practice uniform and regular uniform new would be something like $500 (I got them all used, so I felt lucky to only pay about $150 in total), shoes and competition fees and some of the moms were talking about hairpieces which I hope to avoid. Approximately $2000 a year.

These are not requirements for every girl, or any girl, but they are almost primarily stocked with girl children. There aren’t rec leagues for these sports, and maybe it’s my kids or maybe it’s my subliminal messaging (my non-subliminal messaging goes something like this: “why don’t you quit cheerleading and go play in the dirt instead?”) or maybe it’s girl-related peer pressure, but these are the things they are drawn to.

They are also drawn to sports that are more likely to be co-ed (soccer, swimming, basketball), so I have a sense of what they cost – soccer was $100 for each season plus the uniform, so we’re looking at maybe $300 a year. Basketball was $25 for the season plus shoes. The local swim team is something like $200 for the year.

It’s not just that there aren’t rec leagues for the girly stuff, it’s that the girly stuff is so…girly. The flashy bling on the costumes costs money. The hairpieces and the cherry red lipstick and the earrings and the hair bows – none of it is cheap. And in competition, apparently, all of it matters, because the judges want to see things that are extra extra.

In the co-ed sports, I did spring for a one-time Nike headband that was $14 to hold Sonya’s hair out of her eyes better. She uses it for all of the co-ed sports. So I guess there’s that.

I don’t know the cost of the other sports for boys, but I do know that there are community-run versions of nearly all of them – football, hockey, baseball.

As a human being who has been subjected to the pink tax for her whole life (well, kind of, I don’t really give a crap about haircuts and makeup, but I do buy clothes sometimes), I thought I was prepared to teach my daughters to walk that fine line between “using money wisely” and “living out your femininity” or whatever. But by the time those topics will even come into play (“let’s buy a reusable razor and swap out the blades”; “Cerave lotion is just as good as the expensive stuff”; “your inner beauty is more important than lipstick”), I will have literally spent tens of thousands of dollars on my daughters, just letting them follow their interests.

I am all in on letting kids participate in activities, and letting them choose the ones that fit them best. If I’m being honest with myself, Sonya was built for competitive cheerleading, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. But boooooooy it would be nice if she could follow these interests for the same price as what it costs to do soccer.

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