Barber sets off 'PC gone mad' debate after turning away female customer

A local barber shop refused to give a woman a haircut because of her gender. Source: Getty

Plenty of ladies like a sleek, no-fuss hairdo, and a lot choose to go to a barber since it’s a lot cheaper – and often provides a better result – than a hair salon.

Starts at 60 blogger Jennifer Lockhart is one of them. “Years ago I had a very short hair do,” she says. “I’m a hairdresser by trade but chose to go to a barber for my haircut as the barber was way better at shorter style cuts.”

But some might be in for a surprise if the experience of one short-back-and-sides fan is anything to go by. Vivien Houston was left shocked after Jimmy Rod’s Barber Shop in The Gap Village Shopping Centre in Brisbane refused to cut her hair because of a lease agreement that prevented the barber competing against women’s salons in the shopping centre. 

Houston’s lodged a complaint with the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission, and Hair and Beauty Industry Association (HBIA) chief executive Sandra Campitelli says she suspects the shopping centre doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to the lease clause.

“Quite frankly, in a court of law I don’t think that lease would stand up,” she told Starts at 60. “The landlord is forcing the barber shop to be discriminatory.”

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A local hairdresser, however, thinks the lease clause is fair, saying that many barbers hadn’t been trained to cut women’s hair so shouldn’t be working on it. Barbers provide a spartan 15-minute haircutting service, the hair stylist went on, while a service at the hairdressers is more of an experience. 

Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender when it comes to the provision of goods ad services. But is it fair for the landlord of a private property should try to ‘even out’ customer competition among its retailers?

Commenters on Reddit that were discussing Houston’s complaint saw both sides of the argument.

“If you look at shopping centres as one big shop, not lots of little shops, you’ll understand why such clauses exist. They spread/share business across different shops, so that each business has a bit of a niche (or at least, only a few competitors),” keyoardqueeny said.

But LillianH pointed out that it wasn’t unfair of Houston to want a haircut from a barber rather than a hair salon, given the cost difference and the relative expertise in short styles..

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“Price is a big difference, the barber costs $26.50 Vs $57+ at the 3 hairdressers I checked at that shopping centre,” the commenter said. Dee_ess agreed: “She is wanting to go to a barber for the same reason that men choose a barber over a hair salon. Barbers do a better job at mens style haircuts than hair salons”.

Others reckoned that Houston’s complaint was a sign of the compensation culture gone mad.

“Remington hair clippers $25 at Target. Five minutes before showering at home, done. No waiting,” Frank9567 said. “Why do people have to make such a big f*****g production out of everything?”, while Theduncan added, “Misplaced hysterical hyperventilating feminism strikes again”.

Starts at 60 contacted Jimmy Rod’s, The Gap Village Shopping Centre and Vivien Houston for comment.

Who’s right here? Is such a lease clause fair, or is it blatant discrimination?

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