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#I want to be a drill instructor, I want to cut off all my hair - John C. Kirk

Nov. 9th, 2007

11:45 pm - #I want to be a drill instructor, I want to cut off all my hair

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One of the minor characters in Star Trek: The Next Generation was Mr Mott, the ship's barber. The notable thing about him was that he was Bolian, i.e. bald. I think this was just intended to be funny, but looking back on it now there is an interesting implication: if his entire species is bald then he'd never be able to get any work on his homeworld, so he'd basically be forced to go off-planet to follow his chosen career.

I was reminded of this today, when I read an article about a Muslim teenager who was turned down for a hairdressing job because of her headscarf, so she's sueing the employer on the basis of religious discrimination. A few sources:
Headscarf hairdresser brings case (BBC News)
Hairdresser sued over Muslim headscarf ban (Telegraph)
Hairdresser sued for refusing to hire Muslim woman in a headscarf (Evening Standard/London Lite)
Hairdresser sued for refusing to hire Muslim woman in a headscarf (Daily Mail)

The standard disclaimers apply: I don't know any of the people involved, and the media could be distorting the facts. However, all these reports seem consistent (in fact the Evening Standard and Daily Mail articles appear to be identical!), so I'll consider this as a plausible hypothetical situation. The company in question is Wedge Hair.

In this case, the owner of the salon (Sarah Desrosiers) says that she wants all employees to show their hair to customers, presumably as an advert for their services. I don't think that this would indicate a particular stylist's skill, since I wouldn't expect them to do their own hair; it would be easier to get a colleague to do it for them. It might still provide a useful illustration of the general skills within the salon, but that's then more a case of modelling work.

In fairness, I'm not really the target audience for a salon like this. I haven't paid for a haircut in 11 years; I bought some clippers from Argos for £15 in 1996, and I've been trimming my own hair ever since. Mind you, it helps that I have a pretty simple haircut (grade 5 on top, grade 4 back and sides), so I can do it by touch; I take a "lawnmower" approach and move the clippers across the same area several times until no more hair comes off. Even when I did pay other people to do it, I'd normally expect to pay £5 a time, and it amazes me that women will pay £50.

Anyway, I'd be quite happy for a bald guy to cut my hair, although I might be a bit put off if someone had really dirty/tangled hair. In this case, I think that someone who wears a headscarf can still be good at her job, and the scarf itself looks neat and tidy, so I'd say that it's just neutral rather than bad. If the stylists have to do double duty as models then that may mean that some talented people don't get hired, but ultimately that's a business decision for the owner to make. In a similar way, if someone had several nose/ear/lip piercings and a big spider web tattoo on their face then this would probably count against them in interviews for City jobs, even if they were a highly skilled accountant; I think that's a reasonable attitude for the companies to take.

So, my basic view here is that the salon were within their rights to turn down Miss Noah, and it's not religious discrimination if they have the same policy for all hats etc. I don't agree with their decision, but it is their decision to make.

Some might wonder why a strict Muslim wanted to work in a place like this at all, if she feels so strongly about the importance of female modesty. However, I don't necessarily see that as a problem; I knew a girl in Durham who was vegetarian but worked in a butcher's shop, because she didn't try to force her views on anyone else. Really, it depends on whether Miss Noah was trying to find a compromise that suited everyone or whether she just wanted an excuse to whine. As with Mr Mott, she may be in a position where she has to go outside her "community" to pursue this line of work.

The related issue is legal action; quoting from the Telegraph article: "Miss Noah wants £15,000 for injury to her feelings plus an unspecified amount for lost earnings." I don't like the "compensation culture" that seems to be growing in this country, but if the salon was wrong to reject her then the claim for lost earnings seems reasonable. However, claiming £15,000 because someone's hurt your feelings is just ridiculous! For one thing, how exactly did she come up with that figure? Is there some formula, e.g. £100 for each minute that you spend crying? Similarly, will the money make that pain go away? If this was intended as punitive damages against a millionaire then it might make sense, but Miss Desrosiers says that this is more than she earns in a year, so this seems quite extreme. Really, I think someone just needs to tell Miss Noah: "That's life, shit happens, get over it."

(I discussed a similar case last year, when Jack Straw asked his female Muslim constituents to remove their veils.)

Edit: The tribunal ruled in favour of Miss Noah, and awarded her £4,000 damages for "injury to feelings". (Source: BBC News, 16-Jun-2008.)

Comments:

[User Picture]
From:bazzalisk
Date:November 10th, 2007 07:40 am (UTC)
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It's not religious discrimination, Islam doesn't require women to wear headscarves.

End of Story, as far as I'm concerned.
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[User Picture]
From:johnckirk
Date:November 10th, 2007 10:25 am (UTC)
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Yup, that's fair enough; I'm not an expert on Islam myself, but I've been reliably informed that that's the case.

More generally, though, what if a Sikh male was in a similar situation, i.e. refusing to remove his turban? According to the SikhiWiki, Sikhs don't have to wear helmets on construction sites.
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[User Picture]
From:dynix
Date:November 19th, 2007 02:17 pm (UTC)
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Or in combat in WWII. But that has more to do with the fact that they are adequate as protective gear.

Religious discrimination aside, what is Miss Noah was bald, would she be disqualified from applying for the job? What if during her career her hair fell out - would she be expected to accept the sack? What if she just has really ugly hair and understandably wishes not to inflict the sight of it on her customers?

If Miss Noah was ugly but a fine hairdresser, would the salon owner be justified in telling her she wasnt qualified to apply for the job?

Was the advertised job for a hairdresser or a 'hairdresser and hair model' ?

Aspects of this case are clearly ridiculous. But I am finding it rather hard to see why a person cannot wear a hat/headscarf/wig without it impairing their ability to cut hair.

I think I'd have less of a problem with it if the job (as advertised) was for more than just a mere hair dresser. Which it doesnt sound like it was.
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[User Picture]
From:johnckirk
Date:November 19th, 2007 05:23 pm (UTC)
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I think there are a few different aspects to this case:

a) Do you need to show people your hair in order to be good at cutting their hair?

I'd say that the answer is obviously "no" (i.e. I side with Miss Noah).

b) Can someone model hairstyles without showing their own hair? And is it [religious] discrimination to refuse someone a job if they cover their hair, or don't have any?

Again, I'd say "no" (i.e. I side with the company). This would also be an issue if someone wanted to do shampoo adverts - the whole point is to show off what your hair looks like.

c) Do the two jobs (hair cutter and hair model) automatically go together?

I'd say no, but I'm not the target audience. It's interesting that you would say "no", since I've seen other women saying "yes" (discussing those news articles).

I don't think you necessarily have to list all the job requirements in an advert if some are implicit, given that you normally have to pay per word; for instance, if I was advertising for a helpdesk person then I might say "You have to be good with Windows XP" but I wouldn't explicitly say "You have to talk to people on the telephone" because that seems obvious. If something turned out to be a problem later on, e.g. someone who said at the interview that they'd never be able to work late nights or weekends (to do server upgrades), then I wouldn't hire them, and I'd count that as "no harm, no foul" - they're not right for the position, so they can look elsewhere for a new job and I'll look elsewhere for a new employee.
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