Aneesa Jones of Palo Alto likes her hair cropped short. Although she has a man's hairstyle, she often is charged more than a man's price for it.
"When I go to a barbershop, they sometimes kick me out, refusing to cut my hair. When I go to a salon, I'm charged more than men for the same haircut. It's not fair," she said.
However, a new law that took effect last week attempts to eliminate this type of gender-based price discrimination. Called the Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995, the new state law became effective Jan. 1.
"We found in our studies blatant examples of price discrimination based upon gender," said Elise Thurau, senior consultant to Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, sponsor of the Gender Tax Repeal Act. This type of discrimination is common in haircut, laundry, dry cleaning and alteration businesses, she said.
"Women in California have been found to pay on the average of $5 more for a haircut and $1.71 more to have a shirt laundered," reported a 1994 Assembly Office of Research survey.
The survey found that 64 percent of the surveyed establishments in five major California cities charged more to launder a woman's white cotton shirt than a man's.
Massoud Erfan, owner of Hair Galleria on University Avenue in Palo Alto. is concerned about the new law.
"The time and work required to cut a woman's hair is completely different than a man's. Men have just a few different hairstyles. The styles are simple and don't consume much time. We spend two to three times more time with women," he said.
Before the law took effect, Erfan charged $25 for a man's haircut and $35 and up for a woman's. "Now I charge $25 and up for everyone. I adjusted my rates to fit the law," he said.
Hairstylist Pat Magpantay, who rents a chair in the back of Peninsula Beauty Supply and Salon on University Avenue in Palo Alto, had not heard of the new pricing law. She charges $25 for a woman's haircut and $15 for a man's.
"However, if I have to charge women the same price I charge men, I'm not sure if I'll be able to pay my rent for my chair," she said.
Leslie Rapazzini, a hairstylist at Hair Society on University Avenue, learned about the new law through a newsletter put out by her trade association.
"What happened here is that rather than driving the price of woman's haircuts down, the law drove the price of men's haircuts up," she said.
"The new law won't affect us," said Wendy Furuichi, business manager of Yosh for Hair on University Avenue in Palo Alto, where the price for a haircut ranges from $39 to $62. "We've always had the same prices for men and women, regardless of the length of their hair. Yosh believes that it's only fair to charge men and women equally," she said.
The new gender-discrimination law was crafted with the support of the cosmetologist's trade association, along with the cleaners trade association, the California Fabricare Institute, Thurau said.
The trade associations had opposed a stricter gender-discrimination bill that was vetoed by Governor Wilson, she said.
"We have always been in favor of a no-gender pricing policy," said Cheryl Demetriff, account manager at the California Fabricare Institute. "We supported passage of the new law," she said.
Some cleaning professionals have argued that they needed to charge higher prices because of the difference in equipment needed to handle each article of clothing.
"Men's shirts are standardized," said Emmett Casey, owner of Cardinal Cleaners in Palo Alto. Men's shirts fit the special pressing forms, which allows cleaners to press shirts faster than with standard equipment or hand irons, he said.
"These pressing units are very expensive. They cost from $25,000 to $40,000. I don't think anyone manufactures this sort of press for women's shirts. Unless women's shirts are like men's, they cost more to press because there's more labor involved," he said.
Cardinal Cleaners charged higher price for women's shirts until six months ago, according to manager Margaret Akui. Now they charge $1.75 a shirt for both men and women.
"We changed our pricing because we noticed that most women's blouses fit on our pressing forms. It's $3.50 for either men or women if the shirt doesn't fit on the forms," she said. Pressing forms are the custom steaming equipment launderers use to press shirts.
But Akui has mixed feelings about the new law. "Being a woman, I appreciate the concerns about discrimination. But on the other hand, the law is not fair because there is often more work involved in cleaning women's clothes."
"Maybe customers would understand this if they were on my side of the counter," she said.
But others did not share her views. "It's not fair to charge more to clean a woman's shirt just because the buttons are on the other side," said Jim Kim of downtown Palo Alto's Emerson Laundry.
Emerson laundry charges $1.60 to clean a shirt and $3.60 if it requires hand pressing. Women's shirts are more likely to require hand pressing than men's because of their small size, ruffles, lace or puffed sleeves, Kim said.
Thurau of Speier's office is skeptical about claims of this sort made by the cleaning industry. "The cleaning industry may be hiding behind technical difficulties to disguise its practices," she said. "Why doesn't the cleaning industry get the manufactures to address their equipment problems? The industry will have to rethink current practices," she said.
--Alan S. Rubinstein
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