I love barbershops for the banter and cruisy atmosphere that seems to go with the territory. This morning before work though, I walked into a barbershop in central Melbourne and had an exchange which damaged this love affair considerably. It went something like this:
Me: Can I please get a buzz cut? (to the three barbers sitting around chatting to the one customer)
Barber 1: No. We don’t do women’s haircuts
Me: Okay. I just wondered if you would give me a buzz cut
Barber 1: (looking at me like I’m deranged) I said we don’t do women’s haircuts
Me: (pointing to the one customer) Isn’t he getting a buzz cut?
Barber 1: He’s a man
Me: But you don’t look very busy. Could you please give me the same cut as him, on a blade two? (Here it’s worth noting that a blade two buzz is my normal monthly haircut, and my current cut, while this exchange was going on, was about a grade five blade all over)
Barber 2: Umm… he said we don’t do women’s cuts.
I probably should have walked out then and there but I, perhaps stupidly, decided to pursue the matter.
Me: The thing is, you list a buzz cut on your board and I want a buzz-cut. What you’re saying is I can’t have the cut listed for the price listed because I have ovaries. (I know, I know, but it was Monday morning and I’d been up half the night writing and was in a foul mood)
Barber 3: (under his breath, but deliberately audible to me) Bloody hell.
Barber 2: (under his breath, but deliberately audible to me) I think she’s some kind of feminist or something
Manager: (appearing from the back room where he had obviously been eavesdropping). Just do the cut
Barber 1: What?
Manager: I said just do the cut.
The result of all this was that I walked out of there with a very sharp grade two and feeling very happy with myself for so fiercely smashing through the gender barrier.
Seriously though, the encounter brought me back to my time working as an intern at an Anti-Discrimination Board. I was totally green, and excited to be finally getting a shot at saving the world from bigotry. One of my tasks was to (wo)man the incoming calls. The first call I took went something like this:
Me: Hello, Anti-Discrimination Board (and I dutifully informed the person I was an intern, but that there was a qualified complaints handler listening in, and ask whether they minded me taking the call).
Caller: (after she got over me being an intern) Umm… I work in this factory, and my boss has brought in all of these kind of, well, Asians to do work, and some of my colleagues don’t like them.
Me: Okay…(the staff member allocated to monitor me gestured wildly at me not to speak yet,but I was getting over-excited because it sounded like it would be a meaty one)
Caller: Actually, I don’t like them either, if you know what I mean. They just don’t belong there and they speak their own language and their food smells and well, we want to know whether we can do anything about it. Like get rid of them or something.
This wasn’t a prank call, the discriminator was actually complaining, and asking for assistance to discriminate. At this point, the call was taken over by the complaints handler, who painstakingly explained exactly what discrimination was, and what the Board’s role was.
Over the course of my time there, I came to realise exactly how many calls were of this nature. A man once rang in and said his daughter was going out with a Tongan, which he professed he didn’t have a problem with, but since his daughter was ‘not much of a looker to say the least,’ and the Tongan boyfriend was quite handsome, could I please give him advice on how to check out whether the boyfriend had Australian citizenship or was just using her to try and get a passport or something.
There were also many clear cut David and Goliath instances of discrimination, and in these cases, multinationals would sometimes send corporate reps into friendly ‘mediation’ sessions with individual complainants, including those for whom English wasn’t a first language and who had no kind of advocacy or representation. Needless to say, I left the place wondering about the effectiveness of the complaint, mediation and tribunal system. Had the barbershop refused me, I really question whether I would have bothered reporting it.