Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Who Is Exploiting Who?

One of the interesting little side notes in the housework study that I wrote about in my last post was a mention of the idea that some people have been advancing recently that hiring household help is somehow exploitative.

I don't really understand this argument. How am I exploiting someone whom I pay to do work? I chose my housecleaning service carefully, and found one that provides a decent wage and benefits to their cleaners. Does the woman cleaning my house make as much per hour as I do? No, not even close. But she makes more than she would make working at a typical fast food restaurant, and I don't hear anyone saying that eating fast food exploits the people working in the restaurant.

I have even seen arguments that I am exploiting my child care workers, although, to be fair, those are usually aimed more at women who use nannies than those of us who use day care centers.

Yes, we have a problem with low wage jobs in this country, and with the use of illegal workers that are more easily exploited than legal workers. Some people who employ housecleaners and nannies are no doubt bad bosses, perhaps even exploitative. But I don't think these jobs are necessarily exploitative. Let's address the real problem of low wages and lack of work place protection for these workers, and not heap more guilt on the working women who employ them.

I also don't think that it is the natural order of things for a mother to have to raise her children without any help from other members of her community, be that paid help or otherwise. In fact, as I have written about before, there is at least one anthropologist who thinks that humans are naturally "collective breeders" who rely on our larger social group for help in raising children. I am thoroughly tired of people looking back at a relatively short period of time in which all child-rearing and housework was done by a single woman in each nuclear family and crafting arguments that imply that this is the one "correct" way to raise children.

I think there is something more than concern for the nannies and housecleaners going on here. There are almost certainly some class issues bubbling under the surface- do I think I am too good to clean my own toilets? (Answer: No, and either Hubby or I in fact clean them once a month.) I suspect there are also some issues with powerful women at work here. Afterall, the families who hire nannies and housecleaners usually have women working in fairly high power positions, and maybe that makes some people just a little bit uncomfortable. We must have gotten there by exploiting someone else, right?

Whatever. I try my best to avoid exploiting anyone, but I won't claim my life would stand up to careful scrutiny by someone determined to prove otherwise. But do you know who I think really exploits other women? The women who make careers out of writing books and articles that tell other women that they shouldn't have careers, or that they shouldn't use the resources available to them to enable them to thrive in those careers while also having a reasonably clean home.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:29 PM

    YES to this: "But do you know who I think really exploits other women? The women who make careers out of writing books and articles that tell other women that they shouldn't have careers, or that they shouldn't use the resources available to them to enable them to thrive in those careers while also having a reasonably clean home."

    I'd add to that, people who write sleep books preying on sleep-deprived moms who don't know any better.

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  2. I think I feel more guilt than worry over exploitation since I pay my helpers directly and pay them WAAAY more than the going rate in this city.

    I just feel that I'm not up to snuff sometimes since my mom raised four kids by herself and never had outside help. We lived in a total pigsty and I never really noticed or cared until I was in high school.

    I've just got to let go of the New England Puritanical self-sufficiency, stoic (never ask for help, suffer silently) mindset I grew up with.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you!! This is a great rant.

    And by the way, I am loving Pink Brain Blue Brain

    ReplyDelete

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