Among 'dos, don'ts of haircuts: women here still pay more

January 25, 1995|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

Charging women more to have their hair cut than men may no longer be in vogue in the nation's capital, but stylists in the Baltimore area don't seem to be rethinking their pricing policies as a result.

Responding to a complaint filed with Washington's Department of Human Rights late last year by a George Washington University law professor and four students, six D.C. salons agreed Monday to stop routinely charging women more for haircuts than men. A seventh salon said it would ask the department for a ruling on whether its pricing policy was discriminatory before deciding on whether to follow suit.

Stylists at several Baltimore-area salons, however, said they would continue charging women up to twice as much as men. Most claimed the charges are justified because a woman's hair takes longer to cut and style. One said a uniform price scale would result in prices for men's haircuts going up, rather than women's coming down.

And several women getting their hair cut yesterday said they doubted men would pay the higher price.

"I laughed about it," said Patrick Hagen, the owner of Patrick's Hair Design salons in Mount Washington and Columbia, who read newspaper accounts of the settlement. "The moment that we get lawyers involved in the hair fashion world, I feel that is a little bit ridiculous."

Mr. Hagen charges an average of $20 to $22 for a man's haircut, and $35 to $40 for a woman's. He said it would be ludicrous to charge both sexes the same, since it takes far longer to cut most women's hair.

Randi Gordon, a stylist at Studio 1612 in Mount Washington, said it may not be fair for men to pay less, "but I can't imagine men paying $40 for their hair."

Linda Hark, who was having her hair cut at Studio 1612, said it didn't bother her that women are charged more and agreed that most men would refuse to pay higher prices.

"I know my husband pays as little as possible," Mrs. Hark said. "I think men don't care enough to spend more."

John Banzhaf, a professor of law at George Washington University who joined his students in the D.C. complaint, said he had no plans to pursue the issue beyond Washington. But he would be glad to see others follow his lead.

"We hope that the publicity surrounding this may trigger others -- women's rights groups, students at other law schools -- into filing very similar complaints, and in that way it could spread across the country," Dr. Banzhaf said.

The complaint, he said, was part of a larger effort to do away with marketplace distinctions based on gender. An earlier action he helped initiate pushed Washington dry cleaners to charge the same for cleaning men's and women's shirts. His next goal, Dr. Banzhaf said, is to eliminate ladies nights in bars and nightclubs.

"Women object to it because they find it contributes to stereotypes, it stigmatizes them, and they object to being used as bait to lure men into a bar," he said. "To the extent that we tolerate open, blatant discrimination based on gender, we send a message that discriminating against women is less important, less wrong, less illegal, than discriminating against Jews or blacks or Hispanics."

Jennifer Burdick, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Human Relations, said she could remember only one complaint in recent years of women being charged more to have their hair cut than men. More common, she said, are complaints that African-Americans are charged more to have their hair cut than whites.

Prices based on the time it takes to cut hair, or other such "business necessities," could be justified, she said. But prices based solely on race or gender violate Maryland Civil Rights Law, and such complaints would be referred to the commission.

Usually "we get the salon to agree to charge similar rates," Ms. Burdick said, without resorting to legal action.

Paula Keefer, president of the Baltimore City and County chapter of the National Organization for Women, applauded the Washington decision. While her organization deals more with political issues, she said officials are concerned that such price discrepancies exist.

Adopting uniform prices would do more than just address an injustice, she said. It also could prove to be good marketing.

"I think if I see [a salon] that says $9 haircuts across the board, I'd be more apt to go in there," she said.

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