Why I am against Bo-Tax…

After listening to some feminist arguments surrounding the Bo-Tax debate, I have decided to enter the ring. I have some fish to fry with Judith Warner and Alexandra Suich, whose recent pennings aim to marginalize young women and stigmatize women’s choices. In keeping with the generational debate mandate that many mainstream media pieces on feminism adhere to, both writers give younger women the shaft. Suich portrays young women as being disinterested in the feminist label and argues that feminist leaders who place their emphasis on cosmetic surgery may ruin their chances to recruit young women into the feminist fold. Warner aligns young feminist ideology with Alex Kuczynski’s quote, “Looks are the new feminism, an activism of aesthetics.”
These broad brushed statements tossed in the fray with their opposition to Bo-Tax covers the tireless work of young women who have advocated against Hyde, Nelson, Stupak and all other objectionable Amendments. But their overall sentiments on Bo-tax support the notion that is just for the state to stigmatize, and financially penalize, the personal decisions of mostly women. I am personally against breast implants, vaginal rejuvenation and all other iterations of plastic surgery that assert the notion that women’s bodies aren’t beautiful, as they are or as they age. But, it is important to not collapse one’s sentiments on a portion of elective cosmetic procedures that reinforce an unrealistic beauty ideal with the notion that the state can continue it’s trend on taxing medical procedures they find morally questionable.

Josh Barro over at Forbes.com refers to this phenomenon as the “Sin Tax.”

The Botox Tax is just the latest case of government using the tax code to pass moral judgment. Having children is good, so you get a tax credit. Smoking is naughty, so you pay an excise tax. Owning a home is what patriotic Americans do, so it’s the source of big tax write-offs. Gambling is foolish, so it’s taxed at punitive rates up to 50%. With the federal government needing hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenues for health care, it’s no surprise that “sin tax” hikes would be part of the financing.
At all levels of government, the sin-tax trend is accelerating. State cigarette excise taxes have risen 248% in real terms since 1983, and earlier this year the federal government raised its cigarette tax by 150%. States around the country have reacted to recent budget crises with higher taxes on beer, wine, liquor, cigars, gambling, luxury cars, furs, yachts and private jets. California may legalize marijuana just so it can tax it.

I agree with Warner and Suich that feminism is about fighting discrimination and that the reproductive rights attacks that have come with healthcare reform deserve feminist attention. But these writers fail to mention that on the question of healthcare reform, feminists — of all ages — have held the line on the reproductive rights attacks. Considering this, I don’t see a problem with making brief commentary that cautions policymakers against making women who have cosmetic surgeries the cash cows for healthcare reform. Arguing to extend affordable coverage to women, fighting against reproductive rights attacks, and speaking out against morally imposed taxes that disproportionately impact women are not mutually exclusive.

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13 Comments

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Exactly.
    The problem with any so-called sin tax is that it is incredibly regressive. Government increasingly relies on it to patch budget holes and finds it the path of least resistance to raise revenue in times of budget deficit, which merely reinforce the use of tobacco and alcohol.
    As for bo-tax, the basic concept is the same though only middle class and above women aiming for professional jobs would be targeted. As you’ve pointed out, though, the basis upon which this tax is set out is in the form of a kind of societal disapproval of vanity that caters to our desire to punish those who are theoretically obsessed with physical appearances.
    What would be fairer would be to raise property taxes, which usually fall heaviest on those who have more property, but that involves taxing the rich the most.

  2. dawn_of_the_bread
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    “Morally imposed taxes”? That sounds awfully like a libertarian position you’ve deployed out of convenience. After all, isn’t feminism essentially about employing state power for a moral end? And isn’t that exactly what public healthcare is all about??

  3. PDXHopeful
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Honestly? I disagree for the same reason I disagree with the idea of a flat tax. Someone making 100K a year can bear a heavier tax burden than someone making 15K, and necessary expenses (food, housing) ought to be protected from taxation before luxuries.

  4. daveNYC
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    The article combines the concepts of sin-taxes and luxury taxes. Booze, smokes, and the like are sin taxes because as society we consider those activities to be bad. Luxury cars, fur, and jets (seriously, private jet taxes is a good source of revenue?) would be luxury taxes.
    Botox, and most cosmetic surgery IMO, qualifies as a luxury.

  5. CzarSketch
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Comrade Kevin: regressive taxes are defined as taxes that put a higher proportional burden on lower economic classes than they do on higher economic classes. Those people who can afford cosmetic surgery are almost universally in the latter category. Thus, it’s not a regressive tax.
    Second, the fastest growing demographic that gets cosmetic surgery is MEN. The number of men getting these procedures increases in double-digit percentages every year.
    And finally, I’m just a bit confused about the mixed message that is being sent. I understand the rationale of providing choice, and I fully support that idea in the context of any NECESSARY procedure, but the frame of a “sin-tax” really bugs me. The examples given (smoking, having children, gambling, home-ownership) are all based not on moral decisions, but cold, calculated economics.
    If you tax an addictive product (cigarettes, gambling), you have a good chance of retaining your revenue base. In a word, it’s reliable. If you provide incentives for something (home ownership, having children), you expect those incentives to bolster both procreation and economic development (I’m pretty sure there are correlations between recent home ownership and having children). In a phrase, you are building a bigger tax base.
    That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with this and the behaviors it reinforces/burden it places on certain populations, but the population that pays for elective cosmetic surgery is not going to stop paying for it simply because of an added tax (see numbers for taxes on other luxuries such as hummers pre-GM-implosion, private jets, etc). There is a judgment being made in the formulation of this tax, but it is economic, not moral.
    So: I will continue to fight tooth and nail to help keep reproductive care in the health bill. I will do my part to fight for affordable care for all. But no one is being thrown under the bus by taxing elective cosmetic surgery, and it is certainly not a “morally imposed” tax. If this pays for millions to somehow receive care (and the jury is still out on that, because frankly the bill in Congress SUCKS), then I fully support this tax!

  6. Clairefish
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    There is one thing about the bo-tax that doesn’t seem to be being adressed here or anywhere else that I’ve seen; How will this affect transgendered people who want to get facial feminization surgery? Will they also be taxed?
    It seems unfair, especially on top of the already heavy burden imposed by the cost of hormone replacement therapy, sex reassignment surgery, etc.

  7. Salad
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I take issue with vilifying so-called “sin-taxes” :
    The Botox Tax is just the latest case of government using the tax code to pass moral judgment. Having children is good, so you get a tax credit.
    Having Children is not just some subjective “good,” it’s a reality that involves a significant financial burden to the parents. A burden that would be presumably lightened by a tax credit. It benefits everyone, not just families, for parents to have the financial means to give their children a quality upbringing. Furthermore, our government and our society have a vested interest in encouraging people to have children. Smoking is naughty, so you pay an excise tax…. Gambling is foolish, so it’s taxed at punitive rates up to 50%. It is not a stretch to argue that smoking and gambling (and liquor, another item carrying the sin tax) represent real costs to society, not just some abstracted moral failing. There’s health-care costs associated with smoking, people are put at higher risk for bankruptcies if they gamble a lot. And often the last resort for these people comes from social programs funded by the government and taxpayers. I don’t want to come off being petty, but it’s not so much to expect that people engaging in risky behavior pay their own way. Especially considering all these sins are complete luxuries. If one can afford to lose money gambling or buy a pack of cigarettes every couple days (they aren’t cheap!) they can afford to contribute to those programs. As for the bo-tax, if a woman can afford to have cosmetic surgery, there’s no reason she can’t kick some money down to support access to very basic health care that so many people are denied. I can’t get all that outraged about a tax targeting women, because it is only targeting incredibly privileged women who can afford thousands upon thousands of dollars for a completely elective procedure. It’d be like me getting outraged at being expected to tip at a fancy restaurant. I can afford to have someone cook a fancy meal for me, but I don’t want to kick down anything to the waitress and kitchen– hourly workers who rely on tips to buy their groceries! Taxes are not a punishment, they are necessary to fund our government and all those social programs we love. Tax revenue is needed to fund that basic health-care for poorer people who need it.

  8. Sibilance7
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    On one hand, I agree with CzarSketch – those who can afford cosmetic surgery are, by definition, wealthy, and those are the people we should be taxing to provide healthcare to poor people. But I also think that this tax is just another way to avoid REAL progressive taxation because the wealthy have so much power that taxing them more to help those in need is a ludicrous idea to our politicians. And the result is that we end up taxing some people who aren’t wealthy, like in Clairefish’s example. If we actually did just impose a higher income tax on the wealthy, we could provide lots of services with that money, and it would ensure that we don’t unfairly tax anyone. It’s just that anyone who suggests such a thing gets labeled a socialist and is discounted immediately.

  9. Nurse_PhD
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    “…taxing medical procedures they find morally questionable…”
    I don’t think taxing Botox treatment is based on morals, but instead on an “optional vs. necessary” calculus. I don’t like the slippery slope that could lead to also defining abortion as optional, but that does not change the fact that Botox therapy is almost always optional. In the case of transgender people needing facial surgeries to help alter their appearance, and in the case of those with facial disfigurement, Botox is indeed necessary. Those procedures should be exempt. But the simple fact that women make up the larger constituency of “voluntary” Botox recipients does not necessarily make this a feminist issue. Cigar smokers are mainly male, but that sin tax is not founded on gender discrimination.

  10. e-pro
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I am 100% for this tax.
    Beauty expectations are on the rise, and one reason is the availability of cosmetic enhancements.
    As these procedures become less expensive, they transform from an elective extravagance to an expected purchase. Yes – Botox et al will no longer be viewed as a dalliance, but rather another obligatory ritual for an aging population.
    ‘Tis true that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. But the society-imposed avatars of “beauty” – no wrinkles, full lips, a lack of cellulite, prominent eyelids, narrower noses etc – are determined by your genetics, meaning some are “gifted” with these resources, but most are not. Meaning that a “beauty gap” exists between the “haves” and the “have nots”.
    Each procedure raises the beauty gap, allowing the “haves” to have more, and serves as pressure for the have-nots to alter their purchases from life’s necessities to cosmetic procedures. A tax will not stop this – but it will at least allow those without the money for procedures to claim one positive feature from a a system that marginalizes them for nothing more than their genes.
    What is more important – providing legitimate health services to the working class, or making a microderm-abrasion cost 5% less?

  11. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    The bottom line is that we need money for health reform. We don’t have to pay for our wars as we go, but under the status quo, we’ve got to pay for health care.
    If Bo-Tax is a politically expedient way to raise money, so be it.
    Of course the push for the tax highlights the contradictions of a sexist society: Women must look good, but they must be shamed for trying too hard.
    That said, cosmetic surgery is a luxury. To the extent that it’s “necessary” to get a job or advance in the work place, the women who “invest” in cosmetic surgery are advancing their own interests at the expense of other women. If botox is the new normal, and you need to be normal to get a job, what happens to people who can’t afford the procedure or don’t want to stick needles in their faces. Now, I don’t blame or judge women who get work done. They’re dealing with oppression. By definition, oppression is something nobody should have to put up with. So, if they’re buying their way out of some of the BS that our culture heaps on them, I’m not going to cast aspersions. That said, a tax that funds health care is a way for them to give something back for the common good. Women stand to benefit disproportionately from health reform (because we’re more likely to be uninsured or discriminated against under the status quo, we live longer, special reproductive health needs, etc.). So, I’m not opposed to a tax paid primarily, though not exclusively by women who choose to have cosmetic surgery. A 5% hike won’t stop anyone from getting work done and if it’s really such a great career investment it will pay for itself quickly.

  12. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Funding health care is much more important than keeping plastic surgery as cheap as possible. Obviously, I’d rather fund health care by taxing capital gains or high incomes–but good luck getting an extra $6 billion in tax hikes past the Blue Dogs and the GOP.
    Sure, the botax is another way of sneering at women. But the sneer is symbolic and the cash is real. Ultimately, women will come out ahead.
    (Forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but my last comment seems to have been eaten.)

  13. willow33
    Posted December 22, 2009 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Not really to do with taxation or healthcare, but…
    Its interesting how often the word choice is conflated with internalization. These women are oppressed, like Lindsay said, and have internalized the persistant “beauty myth.”
    Something about the word choice, in this article atleast, rubs me the wrong way. Choice has become such a feminist word. Yet when the word choice is used in the same sentence as botox, a sexist procedure, it just doesn’t make sense. Yes, body autonomy is important. At the same time, when that “choice” is the decision (subconciously, most likely) to conform to sexist beauty standards, thats when it gets uncomfortable for me. Choice becomes so important in all cases that we accept all choices made by women in order to avoid criticizing women. Granted, it’s not their fault they fell prey to the patriarchy, but at the same time it’s not anti-feminist to criticize other women, in this case middle and upper class women who get plastic surgery. Dont you think?

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