• Social class before beauty

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    The first time I heard about the tax on cosmetics, it had already been framed against the hashtag #DontTaxMyBeauty. But as with many things that happen via hashtags, there was little fleshing out of what this so-called Vanity Tax was going to be about.

    A day after the hashtag happened, the three-page House Bill No. 4723 was uploaded online, but many remained disinterested in what it contained: it is easier to jump on the bandwagon of calling something anti-woman, than to actually sit down and read about it after all. Media fed the frenzy – the better to get hits with; days after, there is still little critical discussion about this proposal and the backlash against it, even as politicians weigh in using big words like “sexist.”

    This, in a country that has allowed the Miss Universe to happen at such a large scale, using government resources and the face of Chavit Singson. One can only wonder what we actually mean by sexist – or feminist – these days.

    Personal hygiene, NOT vanity
    House Bill 4723 seeks to amend the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 to include under the Section “Non-Essential Goods” a subsection that will tax cosmetic products 30 percent more than it is already being taxed via VAT. What is critical is the definition of “cosmetic products” here. It states:

    “Cosmetic products, or any substance or preparation intended to be placed in contact with the various external parts of the human body or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity, with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance and / or correcting body odor, and / or protecting the body or keeping them in good condition.”

    Under this bill, cosmetic products include not just make-up, but practically everything we put on our skin, hair, and teeth, including products that keep these “in good condition,” and which “protect the body.” This means a tax on everything from shampoos and conditioners, to toothpaste and dental floss, sunblock to insect repellants, bite ointments and lotions, moisturizers and deodorants.

    In fact, this bill is talking about products everyone uses: men, women, LGBT, from childhood to adulthood, and even senior citizens.

    This is not a vanity tax, it’s a personal hygiene tax.

    Some taxable beauty
    Partylist Representative Rodel Batocabe, the proponent of this bill, had the backlash coming, especially given the premise that cosmetics are non-essential products that women buy as a matter of “pampaganda.” Not a need, but a want. This is primarily what has fueled #DontTaxMyBeauty: because why can’t we be pretty if we want to be?!?

    But as with many hashtags, it also misses the point. After all, there is a grain of truth in the fact that for a certain sector of women, make-up IS a want, not a need. Many on social media proved this true when they asserted that oh no, they can’t just live with one lipstick! They need 10!

    These are precisely the consumers that this bill wants to tax, and it is these consumers that prove that make-up is a luxury, at least for a specific group of women with the wherewithal and capacity to spend on make-up. This is not a judgment as it is fact: while we wish it were not true, make-up can be nothing more than an indulgence, ultimately non-essential.

    Of course, the bigger and more important point is how this is not true for a majority of women in this country – even as they might use make-up.

    Class, not gender
    Tax proposals such as this one are not so much about beauty, as it is about social class.

    This part of it much of social media missed, focused as #DontTaxMyBeauty was on how it was anti-woman, because we deserve to buy as much make-up as we want.

    But those of us who buy cosmetics we don’t need – we are totally different from those women who are required to wear make-up so they might keep their jobs. Waitresses, salesgirls, guest relation officers, secretaries, government employees, receptionists – these are some of the women who need to maintain a certain made-up, put-together look that is considered “presentable” for these industries.

    These women spend on make-up sure, but they spend on it as a matter of need, not as a matter of want; it’s a necessity, not a hobby; it’s a job requirement, not a tool of the trade. This distinguishes them from freelance make-up artists, celebrities, models who need this for work, and who should (if a tax like this actually happens) get a tax refund for these.

    The Pinay minimum wage worker meanwhile is expected to wear make-up, regardless of whether she has the money to buy make-up or not. To her, a tax will be a burden, not a matter of buying one less tube of lipstick, or a matter of picking a cheaper brand. Neither will she get a make-up allowance, or a tax refund.

    But probably the more important question we all evaded, given all this talk about a vanity tax, is why can’t tax reform be trained on big business and the indisputably unnecessary beauty and aesthetic clinics, spas and high-end salons? These are already only affordable to a specific sector of society, and a hike in prices wouldn’t affect a majority of women who don’t avail of these services anyway.

    Meanwhile, here’s hoping that while we’re already talking about women’s rights and sexism, we can all gather together and build a real campaign – and hashtag – against Miss Universe. Now that’s something worth doing.

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    1 Comment

    1. Miriam Defensor Santiago, whom I voted for even though I knew then she would die soon (but it was a matter of principle), said during the campaign NASAAN ANG PERA? I think she was the only candidate who admitted that there was no money to fund the promises of her opponents. I remember Cayetano boasting that they can double the salaries of policemen if they got hold of BOC. I said to my mom, there are too many subsidies for the poor (the votes) that the taxes they collect are not really enough since we also have a lot of poor people. It is not only corruption that eats at our taxes. There are also repercussions when you increase the salaries of government workers like their retirement benefits which are higher than SSS member like me, grrrr. Their salaries come from our taxes and the government’s contribution to GSIS also comes from our taxes and yet the government does not want to subsidize the 2k increase they legislated without the aid of actuarial science (SSS is not only about retirement since there are other benefits that entail money). Now this vanity tax kuno just add to the treasury because the government wants to subsidize other sectors like the drug addicts that need to be rehabilitated and the youth who need to be given condoms instead of letting the barangays follow Flavier’s style before on how to educate and give condoms to the poor. Taxes are needed because they want to continue the cash transfer for the poor, free college, free Philhealth coverage, drug rehabilitation, the new pautang system for the poor, etc. The poor middle class cannot taste any benefit for paying their taxes and had to shoulder all the taxes plus the new SSS hike and yet the government used our contributions to benefit rich businessmen in the past, good grief! Some of Duterte’s ideas are okay but I have predicted before the elections that there will be more taxes in exchange for the lowering of income tax of the middle class and working class because I agree with MDS—Nasaan ang pera? The middle class takes a hit again!!!!