Follow-up to ‘On the Backs of The Help?’
August 18, 2011 § 2 Comments
I would like to thank Val B. Russell for her insightful comments to my last post. It sparked a great discussion about the goals of feminism, and our assumptions about women and work. As a follow-on to my last post, I will post an excerpt from my response to Val, which will serve as a clarification to the previous post.
What I mainly wanted to call attention to, was the fact that by and large (at least here in the U.S.) house cleaners are not those with their own businesses, they work for referral agencies which often take a significant cut of their earnings. A large percentage of cleaners (difficult to know how large because of the underground nature), at least here in the Southwest U.S., are undocumented women, because this is one of the only types of employment they can get without papers.
I used to represent many women as survivors of domestic violence in immigration petitions under the Violence Against Women Act, and the vast majority of them worked as house cleaners and nannies. These women are exploited every day. Those who employ them regularly “forget” or postpone paying them, pay them diminished amounts, refuse to pay by claiming they did something wrong and more.
I should have clarified that the women I was thinking of that seem to be outside of feminism’s goals are those who do not do this work as their own, profitable and rewarding business, they are those in the underground economy that are being exploited, as well as those in the above-board economy who wish to do other work but have not been afforded other opportunities. I should have been more specific that women who work in domestic positions are not a “class” of people, and the work is certainly not meant to be construed as menial and ghetto, they may simply be a group of women whose rights may not be respected. All too often the work is very low paid, and these women do not make a good living with their own businesses as you do…
Feminism first and foremost should be about choice, and about respecting the rights of women, and freeing women from violence and exploitation. But also included in feminism is the chance to live balanced lives professionally and personally, as men have been doing for years. This is where, those of us who can do that, can be seen to be achieving this type of success on the backs of other women, assuming those women are not completely fulfilled doing the work that they do, and that they cannot have balanced lives themselves. I believe the unfortunate truth, Val, is that at least here, too many of these women are still exploited, and cannot rise above the poverty line.