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Wednesday, September 16,2009

Real and fake men

An iffy job posting for a barber almost violates the Lansing Human Rights ordinance

by Neal McNamara

On Aug. 21, Kevin Lusby, who operates the Old Town Barber Shop in the trendy north Lansing neighborhood, went to the Web site Craigslist to post an advertisement for a part-time barber to work at his shop.


The
posting — unedited — read:


“wanted real man to cut real mans hair in
lansing,mi old town,must be able to talk G M, hunting, fishing and all
other sports sissies need not apply, this is a part time postion (sic)
with a great pay scale call old town barbershop …”


Lusby has since
removed the job posting after questions about whether it violated the
Lansing Human Rights ordinance because it specifies that only “real
men” can apply for the job and that “sissies need not apply.”


Lusby explained that the posting was not meant to discriminate. He got the idea for the job listing from the book “The American Barbershop”
by Mic Hunter, a copy of which he owns. In the book is an excerpt of a
job posting used by a Wisconsin barbershop from long ago:


“Wanted:
Real man to cut real men’s hair at real barbershop in northern
Wisconsin. Must be able to talk hunting and fishing with customers … .
Weekends off to hunt for deer. Sissies need not apply.”


Both
his and the Wisconsin job posting, Lusby says, are in the spirit of the
way barbershops used to be in days past. Lusby wants his shop, located
near the corner of Washington and Oakland avenues, to be a community
meeting place.


“It’s supposed to be funny. I’m not trying to discriminate against anyone,” Lusby said.


The
word “sissy,” among other uses, has been a derogatory term for gays.
But Lusby said his definition of “sissy” is someone who is “not a
crybaby.”


Terry Boedeker, who is gay, worked as a barber at the Old Town Barber Shop up until July. He said he was shown the Craigslist advertisement
by a friend and found himself feeling “hostile” toward his former
employer. However, both Lusby and Boedeker described the separation as
rocky.


Penny
Gardner, president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights, who saw
the ad, felt that the intent might be beyond antigay: in asking for a
real man, women are discriminated against.


“Who’s
to say who’s a real man?” Gardner said. “That may violate (the human
rights ordinance) based on gender rather than something else.”


Lansing
City Attorney Brigham Smith said the ordinance does speak to
discriminating in job advertisements, saying that no employer can
discriminate based on “irrelevant characteristics.”


However,
the ordinance defines an “employer” as a business with more than five
employees, which the Old Town Barber Shop does not have. If confronted
with a similar job posting for an employer over five employees, Smith
said, his office could seek to have the posting taken down under the ordinance.


At-Large
Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, who wrote the ordinance and saw it adopted
in 2006, said that in this case, a conversation would work better than
punishment (there are monetary punishments under the ordinance).


“Maybe
the course of action here is just to meet with him and explain the
consequences of this ad, which he may not have intended, and ask that
he rephrase it,” Dunbar said last week, before Lusby took the posting
down. “There are ways to educate the public about discrimination that
aren’t punitive. A conversation would be more likely to get results.”


In response to the post, Dunbar added, “There are lot of women out there who can talk shop about GM, hunting and sports.”




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