A hidden camera caught it all. A man walks into a dry-cleaner's with a shirt. He is told that it will cost C$5 ($32) to clean. He leaves, passes the shirt to a woman, and she walks back into the shop. 'How much to dry-clean this shirt?' she asks. 'That'll be C$7.50,' says the assistant. It happens every day, in every city and town in Canada. Women pay more for dry-cleaning, haircuts, tailoring, car repairs, cosmetics and a host of other services - because they are women. 'I guess we're saps that way,' is how one female interviewer on Canadian public radio put it. By one estimate, gender pricing in hair salons alone costs women C$750 million a year more. A man who wants his hair cut may pay C$25; a woman's trim will come to C$45. It is the same amount of work, but nearly double the cost. How do merchants justify it? 'It's what the market will bear,' is the usual answer. But, as one women's activist put it: 'If a black man was charged more for a haircut because of the colour of his skin, there would be anarchy.' We live in an age of supposed gender equality, but fairness often stops at the door to the car dealership. A US poll shows that women do not trust car dealers, so almost 75 per cent of the time, they have a man accompany them to the showroom. Invariably, they get a better deal, simply because the man will lift the hood and stare knowingly at the engine block, or ask about compression ratios. This male bonding prompts the salesman to start listing discounts. Women outnumber men, and they make most of the buying decisions, but they still have to pay more, get poor customer service and have limited choices. Ask any woman with size nine feet or above; in most shoe shops, she is treated like a mutant. Or how about designer labels? A Giorgio Armani suit for men goes for C$1,200. A woman's Giorgio Armani dress - simple cut, far less material - retails for C$2,000 or more. Dry-cleaners are the biggest offenders. They say that they have to charge more because women's blouses are smaller than men's, and they require special care. Rubbish, say the critics. Women are by far their biggest customers, so why haven't dry-cleaners invented a smaller press? In an age of political correctness, you would think this kind of larceny would have been rooted out long ago. Legislatures in California and Massachusetts, in fact, have passed laws against gender pricing, but they are widely ignored. Now, Lorenzo Berardinetti, a politician in Ontario, has proposed a law that would outlaw the practice. But it may be futile. One female friend tells me that many women would not trust a 'discount' dry-cleaner or hair stylist. They would rather pay the higher price.