"how much for a haircut?" i askthe pre-teen helper in a Parkdale salon."Eight dollars."
The lady hairdresser's lack of English means we don't have to argue over what I want. She snips away at the top and back, and when I can't decide what to do with the rest, she stops, leaving big goofy flaps over the ears. I thank her and pull out my precious $10 bill.
"Nine dollars," says the proprietress, whose scrutiny of me throughout the session has been anything but discreet.
"But she said eight," I protest, pointing to the kid.
"Eight for men. Women pay nine."
There ensues a futile round of Whys? followed by an unsatisfactory series of Becauses.
Obviously, the kid thought I was a man, but my feminine wishy-washiness over the ear flaps cost me my honourary dick. Now I'm to be penalized, and so is the cutter, whose $2 tip is being cut in half by her boss.
Charging women, who earn less money than men, more for haircuts is a common and seemingly accepted discriminatory practice. A $1 difference is a relative bargain. The discrepancy in favour of men is often in the double digits.
The line about women's hair being more difficult is pure hoke. I had one price on my head when they thought I was a man. The head didn't change -- just their idea of which body type was carrying it around.
Can you imagine salons posting signs saying "All Asians add $5," with the claim that Asian hair is harder to cut? How about "Blonds, add $10"?
"Unisex," boasts the ad for House of Lords, where rocker dudes get styles way fussier than any gal would ever want. What is "unisex" about a two-sex price scale? $21.40-$25 to trim the hair of a genuine female, $15 for Alice Cooper clones.
"Because it's guys," comes the answer from the clipper.
Then I try asking, "But why?"
"I have no idea."
"It's not fair."
"I know," she sighs.
Canada is behind the American state of Georgia, which has declared the pricing of goods and services based on gender discrimination to be an unfair practice.
The Washington state chapter of the National Organization for Women has issued a position paper calling for the prohibition of billing women more than men for haircuts and dry cleaning. New York mayor Rudy Giuliani signed a bill banning the public display of discriminatory prices. (Presumably, hairdressers will still be free to outline the two-tier system verbally.)
Australia and New Zealand are acting to rectify the gap, while I am launching my solo protest in Toronto by wearing a shaggy mop on top of a dirty "dry clean only" dress.
Major dry cleaning chains have a standard big difference in the charge for cleaning a man's shirt ($1.49) and a woman's blouse ($7.25), although the gent at Sketchley's said he would charge the lower price if a blouse were enough like a shirt.
The area of women-specific garments is much murkier. To have an extremely simple sackcloth frock and jacket cleaned I was once charged three times as much as a man would pay to have his suit spiffed -- and this at an environmentally less horrifically detrimental cleaner's.
They claimed my suit was more complicated to press, as if a pleated pair of pants were easier to handle than a burlap bag with a neck hole. I would advise ladies to send their fancy gowns to the cleaner's in the care of a drag queen, who may get a special deal for dresses worn by men.
An informal survey of Parkdale turns up only one establishment, Camille's Beauty Lounge, that advertises a single haircut price for both sexes.
A whole new subsection of economic hair crimes against women lies in the Hair Extension Zone, where men's braids start at $30, but those vain big-headed women have to put out at least $45.
I talk to Lee, a lawyer at Parkdale Community Legal Services who has never before questioned why she has to pay more for a haircut than a man does. She confers with others in the office and comes back with the limp consensus that women are more willing to pay for vanity. Women have no choice. Salons charge women more because they can.
What does the law say about it?
By my deadline, Lee has not received any answer to the queries she kindly sent to other legal organizations.
My amateur guess is that this thing requires a class action lawsuit. I will leave that to good women of conscience who operate on a daytime schedule. Until then, it's go shaggy or get clipped.
Research assistance by Stephen Wicary