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.