On the Backs of The Help?
August 17, 2011 § 6 Comments
Before I started my daily meditation this morning (my shower) I read Rilke. I happened to read the introduction to his Sonnets to Orpheus this morning, which described how Rilke wrote this collection in “absolute solitude” at the Chateau de Muzot, a tiny medieval castle-tower near Sierre in the Swiss Valais. He was in solitude to write these poems, except for “one wondrously efficient housekeeper.”
The blogosphere and Twitterverse and airwaves are abuzz as we speak with talk of the new movie The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel. The film adaptation of this novel about black maids in the American South, and a white woman who writes their stories, has been much-awaited by book clubs nationwide.
But there is much criticism of the book and the movie as well, for glossing over deep issues of racism and making it seem so easily remedied. It has also called attention to the plight of domestic workers, and caused some to question the stereotypical (and blithely celebrated) portrayal of certain races, especially women of those races, in Hollywood.
I have been thinking about domestic workers in the United States such as house cleaners, nannies and babysitters. I have been thinking about feminism’s goals, and the glass ceiling, and the manner in which so many women of the privileged class- we who have advanced degrees and professional careers- are getting ahead. It is not just Rilke and a class of men who rely on women to get ahead.
We, too, are getting ahead on the backs of our sisters.
We are working towards equal pay and equal respect in jobs our grandmothers could not necessarily have pursued. But how can we work long hours away from the home (or, like me, in a home office) and keep a tidy house, and spend time with the kids, and have date nights with our husbands without ‘the Help’? Many of our mothers and mothers-in-law are likely still working and/or do not live near us. We rely on women (many of them women of color, only some of them documented citizens) to help us get it all done– to live the dream of balanced, productive, successful lives, the kind of lives men have been able to live for centuries
It makes me wonder, is feminism only for the privileged few?
I know this question has been asked many times before. I am not sure what the answers are. If we do not want to be, or cannot be stay-at-home moms, we will have to rely on someone to take care of our children. Perhaps a better world is one in which this most important responsibility is shared by men, and is a fairly-paid, respected position, with benefits. This better world would, of course, also carry more opportunities for more women to work in other non-traditional realms if they so chose.
Wow, does it sound like I’m dreaming, or what? What a testament to how far from that world we are now. For now, I will call attention this disparity of goals for women, and welcome your thoughts.
** Please see my follow-up to this post here for clarification of the ideas expressed here **