Friday, May 29, 2009

Domestic work, part 2 (by Suzie)

          I went out with T&P for a final dinner before P returns home. On a whim, I pulled in to a sex-toy store, thinking P might not be familiar with them. In the aisles of costumes, all for women, I explained that there’s a greater expectation that women will dress up for men than vice versa.
         Many feminists who identify with the third wave would say it’s fine if a woman dresses in a maid costume because anything that leads to sexual pleasure is liberatory. If a sex worker dresses as a maid to fulfill a man's fantasy, some feminists would say she has a right to do what she wants with her body. But if a woman hires another woman to do actual maid work, then the employer is a bourgeois racist who has bought her freedom at the expense of another woman, according to some people.
        This led back to last week’s topic. Because of the history and demographics of the U.S., it may be hard for people to see domestic work outside of the context of the exploitation of women of color. Last week, I tried to point out that people hire others for domestic work around the world, often within the same ethnic group. Employers often are not rich. It isn’t inherently exploitative – or, at least, not any more exploitative than any other labor. I think T&P show compassion when they try to find work for poor people, who are from their own ethnic group, but often rural. 
       I do understand that domestic work is ripe for abuse, especially when women work far from home, and men are involved. Here’s an article on that subject.
       Other jobs also are prone to abuse, such as ones in which workers travel a long way to work in sweatshops or in the fields. On the other hand, working in her hometown or inside her home is no guarantee that a woman won’t be abused. 
       Here’s an interesting article on who has been employed in domestic work in the United States. When women can find work that pays more, they often take it. If white women are blamed for shifting domestic work to women of color, wouldn’t individual women of color also be guilty when they move into better jobs? Progressives praise poor people for being resourceful and hard workers – until those people succeed financially, and then they become the oppressors.
        If white U.S. feminists bought their liberation at the expense of the women of color who did domestic chores, what about women of color here or in developing nations who pay for domestic work? 
        My mother had a bachelor's degree and worked as a Spanish-English secretary before she married. Afterward, my father didn’t want her to work. This was all about his status as a man who could provide for his family. It had nothing to do with household chores. It wasn’t like my mother stayed home all day; she did all sorts of volunteer work. When my parents divorced after many years, my mother faced age discrimination and could find only a low-paying job. She sold plaster figurines in a shop, and we kids sometimes helped by scraping the seam off the plaster with a special blade. One good thing about the job was it had down time when Mom could do creative writing.
        I’m sure there were white women who chose to have a professional career only because they could afford to hire a maid or nanny. But others wanted their own money, even if they had to continue to work inside and outside the home.
        By now, I hope I’m at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, telling doctors about sarcoma nonprofits. In a better world, I wouldn't have to do this work for free -- or at all.
        I’ll have a new topic next week.