Pink Tax Facts Michael's Corner - Who is Michael Cone?


"If there is no struggle there is no progress."
FredErick Douglass, 1857

The primary goal of  is to raise grassroots awareness of how women are disadvantaged by gender-based price discrimination affecting retail consumer goods and services like razors and haircuts, and to fight against this global phenomenon called the "Pink Tax". Its broader secondary goal is to identify, raise awareness about, and fight other gender-based financial discrimination against women (such as lower pay for equal work, known as the "Gender Pay Gap").  

My name is Michael Cone and I launched  on March 8, 2016 to coincide with International Women's Day when I appeared on CNN to inveigh against the Pink Tax. On that special day, this website also made the first public call for nationwide legislation prohibiting gender-based pricing in services such as haircuts and drycleaning.  

I come to my Pink Tax project honestly. I am a trade lawyer by profession, which means I help businesses engage in domestic and international commerce involving physical merchandise.  A lot of that merchandise consists of consumer products - things like bicycles, clothing, and children's toys.  

Michael's War Against the Pink Tax

While plying my trade over the past 25 years I have learned a lot about manufacturing processes, costs of production, importing, exporting, supply chains, markups, taxes, fees, prices, labeling, advertising, and rules of behavior in the marketplace.  In college and law school I studied economics, finance, taxation, ethics, and the U.S. Constitution. All along the way I've learned a lot about what the U.S. Constitution and state and federal statutes can -- and cannot -- accomplish to rectify economic discrimination and economic disadvantages in society.  

My awareness of the Pink Tax and the curious gender color coding that goes along with it was spurred by the birth of my son in 1999. We waited until the big day to learn his gender and many people who wanted to buy gifts before then were stymied because they didn't know whether to buy pink or blue. It didn't help when I assured them my child was going to enjoy all the colors of the rainbow.   

Right after my son was born, I discovered gender-based import taxes in the U.S. tariff schedule while working on a project for one of the largest footwear importers and retailers in the country (you would recognize the name but as a matter of professional ethics I can't tell you who it was).

When I saw that leather shoes and sneakers imported for women and girls are hit with a 10% import tax (technically called "customs duties"), yet the same kinds of shoes imported for men and boys are hit with only 8.5% import tax, I recognized it was wrongful gender-based discrimination. Especially since virtually all of the billions of dollars worth of shoes sold annually in the U.S. are imported -- which translates into over $50 million in discriminatory import taxes collected by Uncle Sam year after year on shoes imported for women and girls, including athletic sneakers. The fact that import taxes are sometimes higher on other types of goods imported for males (such as cotton shirts) does not cure the problem -- as we all learned growing up, two wrongs don't make a right.   

It took me nearly eight years of struggle to get the first lawsuit filed in January 2007, where I argued that gender-based import taxes violate the Equal Protection guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. Four months later the New York Times featured the lawsuit on its front page.

Unfortunately, throughout two rounds and over five years of litigation, the federal courts ruled that laws which impose different tax rates on goods imported for "men and boys" versus "women and girls" do not "facially discriminate on the basis of gender." Go figure. My lawsuits got thrown out and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to even hear the case.  

Since the Judicial Branch has turned a blind eye to gender-based customs duties, the Legislative and Executive Branches must now step up and revise the U.S. tariff so it jettisons archaic gender-based discrimination on imported apparel, footwear, and gloves.  

The federal government also needs to enact legislation outlawing different prices for services like haircuts and drycleaning based on nothing other than gender. While California, New York City, and Miami-Dade county in Florida have already taken this crucial step in fighting the Pink Tax, nationwide legislation is long overdue. 

Since I began this campaign nearly twenty years ago, gender identity and equality have broadly emerged as preeminent social issues of the 21st century. Tremendous progress has already been made, and I will continue to fight the Pink Tax from my home base in New York City until one of us is dead.

(P.S.  I don't look like my picture here.  My hair is actually really long right now.  I'm going to keep growing it until a barber tells me I have to pay for a woman's haircut, and then we'll have a little dance.  I'll let you know when that happens and what the result is - stay tuned!)  

Research Assistant:     Vincent Cone

Notes From Michael...

This website is dedicated to my mother. Like many of her female contemporaries she became a "housewife" in the 1950's after graduating from college because her husband did not want her to work. When she found herself divorced in her mid-thirties with two small children, she realized she had to return to college in order to retool and gain entry into the profesional workforce. It wasn't easy for her to succeed as an educator, but today at 81 years of age she still works every day tutoring high school students in my hometown of East Grand Rapids, Michigan. You go, girl! mailing list