Sometimes it's hard to be a woman

It costs a lot to look cheap, and even more to look expensive - if you're a woman.

Items such as deodorant, disposable razors and haircuts routinely cost more for women than they do for men.

When California banned "gender pricing" in 1994, it found women paid more than $1200 in extra costs and fees each year. But what is banned there is accepted in New Zealand.

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin says it is "without doubt" discrimination.

"The price is based on whether you're a man or a woman. There's no excuse . . . but what can you do?"

At a Wellington drycleaners a man's business shirt costs $7 to launder, while women pay $13 for a similar garment. Aucklanders are better off, with the service costing men $6.90 and women $9.50.

The businesses spoken to said women's blouses could not be processed by their machines, and required more hand-pressing - standard industry practice.

Hairdressing salons in Wellington charge women about $20 more for a haircut than men, regardless of style and length, or the time taken.

"These days, men do many of the things women do with their hair, so why is there that discrimination?" Chetwin asked.

One salon charged women from $75 to $107 for a cut and blowdry, and men from $59 to $79. Another charged women from $85 to $130 for a cut and style, but men only $75 to $90, and a third $62 for a woman and $44 for a man.

One hairdresser said an hour was allocated for women's appointments, but only 30 minutes for men, although that did not meet all their clients' needs.

"We have ladies who take us only half an hour because they've got short hair, so we just charge them for a guy's cut. But in other cases, if we've booked out the full hour, there's nothing we can do with that extra time, so we charge them $85. It is a bit of an issue."

She had never considered unisex prices for short, medium and long cuts. "It's not about how much you take off, it takes as much time to do a short cut as a long one."

But some consumers object to prices determined by their gender. Julia Hollingsworth, 22, said she was charged women's prices even when she asked for her hair to be cut like a boy's, coughing up $80 for trims to maintain her pixie cut when she was a university student.

"I'd get charged the same as if I had really long hair, but it was being cut to the length of the average man's."

Men's barber Brendan Blake said women were simply prepared to pay more. "I'm in the wrong trade."

The Consumer Affairs Ministry recommends consumers concerned about gender pricing raise the issue with the service provider or manufacturer: "If you complain to your drycleaner, for example, and say you'll go elsewhere . . . that often has the most effect."

Sunday Star Times