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.


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§ 2 Responses to Follow-up to ‘On the Backs of The Help?’

  • Val says:

    I am impressed Lourdes, with not only the debate but also with your response. I agree with everything you’ve said and of course, these discussions are so important between women. As for my experience with this particular occupation, I have seen the other side of this as well.

    When I lived in Bellingham Washington I met a Mexican woman in the battered women’s shelter there. Her story was tragic as she was an illegal but her children were citizens. Her partner/abuser had refused to assist her in obtaining legal status,(obviously to keep her powerless and maintain control) and as I was also an illegal in precisely the same situation, we were both without any safety net at all. For a while after she left the shelter she resumed living in her car with her four children of various ages including an infant, while I lived at the YWCA and searched for my abducted daughter. During this time we bonded and she told me about being a domestic and being paid under the table etc. Her experiences varied but we both concluded that slavery is now underground and wears a latino face instead of an African American face. My friend was feisty and resignation not part of her temperament and consequently she returned to the state she fled, dealt with her abuser and fulfilled a life long dream to become a nurse. 🙂

    In addition, I would like to expand on my own history. I have a number of relatives who are wealthy but sadly, I grew up poor and for the most part in a housing project/ghetto in Toronto. There is a photograph on my blog that depicts the conditions of my childhood and the childhoods of far too many! My experiences have made me a wiser more tolerant person and when I meet a younger woman like you Lourdes, who is so filled with passion for a better world it gives credence to the suffering many of us have endured. There is great value in the learning from one another and I have learned from you today Lourdes as I hope you have learned from me. Later I will write a post regarding something related to this issue and I would also like to link to your blog. My hope is to create more healthy dialogue here as well as to introduce your work to those who visit my blog.

    You have a precious soul Lourdes and working with you has been an enriching experience that I hope continues for some time to come. 🙂

    • Val– you have opened my eyes in so many ways and broadened my horizons. I cannot thank you enough for your invaluable collaboration. I too hope we can work together for some time to come. I know we will 🙂

      Thank you for sharing your most intimate details of your life. This makes your stories and points come vividly to to life, and we get to know you so well in a way that broadens our perspectives. Your comments have certainly opened my eyes to the lenses I am wearing, which originally seem clear enough so as not to skew anything at all.

      The situation you describe in Washington is so, so very familiar. The situation that you describe is exactly the kind of situation my clients found themselves in, more than you know. It just breaks my heart to know just how much this happens. I am so happy your friend finally became free of her abuser and realized her dreams. I am writing a novel with a similar story- based on a woman I knew in my practice. The capacity of women like this, and like yourself, for strength and resilience is just astounding, and it inspires me every day.

      Thank you so very much for your desire to write on this topic and to link to my blog. I would very much welcome more discussion, and, of course, more readership. Thank you!

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