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September 15, 2004

Comments

Anonymous

Whoa, slam on the brakes! This might be odd but the biggest yellow flag that went up thru my mind when reading this post was that: the thought of having strangers at the very least (even if they are "regulars") clean ones house is just unnerving.

I dont know, i can barely stand having friends go thru the chaos i have created in my own place, let alone let anyone clean it!

La Lubu

Hmmm...this is one of the classic critiques of western, middle-class feminism, that "freedom" can and should require the back-breaking labor of poorer people, especially women and those of color. It's why so many working class women are reluctant to listen to or read anything described as "feminist" because this is the image it brings to mind...."me, on the bottom, busting my ass, so some privileged rich-bitch feminist can climb the social ladder. While s/he climbs the ladder, I get to clean up the mess."

I have to admit my bias...I couldn't imagine hiring anyone to clean my house, even if I could afford it. If you can't manage your own house, it's probably a sign from the cosmos that you need to simplify...have less space, or have less stuff. I was raised to believe that one should clean one's own messes, period (exceptions made for those physically incapable).

Hugo

What about the argument that by paying well, I am providing employment for those who would not otherwise be employed? My inner socialist grimaces at that, but what else are undocumented workers with few job skills supposed to do? At least I pay them more than what the agencies pay, and my guilt makes me tack on extra.

kelly

This one is so totally loaded, I don't want to touch it. First of all Hugo, I want to say, I would love to have someone clean up my messes, but I never will, though I totally get the desire. It's all the questions that it raises that creeps me out, not to mention the fact that i'm one of those people who'd clean the house before the housekeeper gets there so he/she/them won't think i'm dirty. Okay, on with the aforementioned creepy questions: 5 people?! Please don't be offended by this, but 5 people to clean your house seems a bit extraneous, unless you live in some kind of manse. Why aren't the kids in school? Child labor anyone? Since their resident status is questionable, the amount that you're paying way over the minimum wage; is it enough for them to afford healthcare? What if their injured on the job, while at your house? Is the money they are earning off the books, enough to compensate for the benefits they'd be receiving if they were on the books? If they can't be on the books, because they are illegal, are you helping them by hiring them (there's no judegement in that question, I really don't know)? How many families do they work for? Doesn't it make you feel creepy? Would you feel differently if it were a black family cleaning your house, or a poor white family? I don't know Hugo, ouch. It's all to icky, I couldn't do it. Unless of course there were some cleaning company that employed people who used to be rich and treated everybody like crap with their "clean this, do that,f-you" exaggerated sense of entitlement attitudes, but who fell into bankruptcy. Yeah, they could clean my toilet.

Michelle

The NY Times reported that TODAY? They reported the same damn thing ten years ago! Some things never change, it seems. I would love to have someone clean my house, because I am an unabashed slob who would rather blog and take a second job than stay home and clean.

What if a housekeeper enabled me to do more work to serve my community? Would it then be justified? It is a moot point for me, since I do not have the money. I think if I cleaned houses, I would hate the people I worked for. I have a general dislike of "rich" people. So, I am worried about someone cleaning my house, because I know what I'd be thinking if I were them...

A wonderful lady did clean our house when we lived in Mexico, and I loved it. I did feel guilty though. I ended up buying her a washing machine because it freaked me out that she would clean my house and then go home and handwash the clothes for her family of six. It was hard to do that and not come across as some sort of "Lady Bountiful." Puke.

In any situation where someone is an employee, there are ethical delimmas. For example, perhaps you own a small restaurant and want to hire a part-time cook so you can make a larger profit. To make your profit, you probably don't provide your part-time employee with insurance or a very high wage. Such is business. It sucks. I would never make the profit because I would feel too guilty and end up giving the guy too high of a wage.

I feel bad that I make double digits per hour when others work harder and make single digits. What should we do? Things ain't right, that's for sure.

Back to the inequitable work hours...women need to take some responsibility for this situation. We have been raised to "do it all", or look bad in the eyes of others. Me, I don't really care to carry that particular useless burden. In my house, folks pull their own weight or nothing gets done. And if it's not the cleanest house on the block, or doesn't look like a spread out of Elle Decor, then too bad. Women, speak up! Make those guys clean up their own stuff and do more than take out the trash!

Fred Vincy

I understand that some of your readers prefer not to hire someone to do housework, whether for personal or political reasons. While I respect their viewpoint, I do not believe that paying for housework is inherently morally wrong or inconsistent with feminism.

In our society, people pay for all kinds of labor, pleasant and unpleasant, that they would prefer not to do themselves. In addition to housekeeping help, I pay people to make my coffee in the morning, to drive me places in taxis from time to time, to clean my teeth every six months, etc. I hate to sound like "econ guy", but these transactions only occur if both parties are made better off.

Now of course I understand that these things are not completely unproblematic. There are plenty of jobs that are so dangerous or whatever that we should make them illegal, even if people would agree to do them, and I can see as a next step that there are jobs that are so unpleasant that one might not want to participate in them, but I think that's where fair compensation and working conditions come in. I have done a fair bit of housework in my life. Sometimes I even enjoy it. I think it's fair to say that with long hours, low wages, and horrible bosses, housework would be a terribe job, but with reasonable hours, wages, and employers it is no worse than many jobs (like "barrista", cab driver, and dental technician) that we don't think twice about.

Another issue relates to the fact that housekeeping is a principally female occupation. Feminism (at least as I understand it) certainly requires opposing sex-segregation in employment as well as undercompensation of female dominated fields. However, I don't see how refraining from hiring household help would advance those goals (even assuming that help would necessarily be female). The woman you don't hire is not magically going to enter a less discriminatory labor market because a housekeeping job is not available. I'd rather fight discrimination directly, through education, raising awareness, etc. I'd also note that the wages from housekeeping may offer the housekeeper important bargaining power in her own domestic situation -- an issue that I think is also a legitimate feminist concern given the unequal economic power in many relationships.

Finally, on a somewhat related point, Mary and I have come to the view that it is human nature to overestimate one's own contribution to housework, childcare, whatever, so that the risk of dividing things up 50-50 is that both partners feel like they're doing 60%. Our view is that getting help with about 20% of the labor deals with this particular heuristic, and dividing up the work 40-40 feels about right. Your results may differ, but it's mostly worked for us....

Amy

I agree with Fred in that I see nothing wrong with paying for housekeeping. For me, the same standards apply as for any job: they should be paid a fair wage (which I think you certainly do) and treated with respect (which I know you do).

My dad has always done most of the housework and several years ago worked his way up to the majority. He does the dishes most often (with me being second), he does the most cooking, he cleans the floors, he does his and my mom's laundry (I do my own), goes grocery shopping, etc. My mom is usually the one to clean the bathrooms and sometimes will get in a cleaning mood where she starts several projects at once and leaves them all half finished for days until one of us does something about it. And my dad works full-time while my mom only works part-time. I don't think my father would consider himself a feminist, just a husband and father taking care of his family.

While, as the NY Times says, there certainly is a gap between the time working men and women spend on household duties, I think it is a gap that will continue to decrease as time marches on. Or at least that's what I hope.

La Lubu

Hmm...you know, I can see the need for housekeeping for a two-income couple with several children.....but for two adults??

How messy are you? Do you take food out of a package and drop the package on the floor instead of the garbage can? Do you take plates out of the cabinets, prepare and eat food, then leave the plates on the counter instead of washing them.....getting new plates until you've gone through them all? Are your newspapers on the floor after you read them?!

I mean, maybe I'm being a snark....but how difficult can it be so simply pick up after yourself? How much outside help could you possibly need?

I'm thinking that it's no solution to solve the "housework argument" by hiring someone to do the work. That someone who does the work can't opt out, you know? You feel guilty about this Hugo, because you know it isn't a life you would choose for yourself. You know that the person who does the work still goes home and does the same thing for herself/himself.

I'm a single person. There is no housework argument. I clean up after myself after a long day at work. I cook the dinner, I do the laundry, the grass cutting, etc. My four year old is limited in her ability to help. If I can do this, after a physically demanding job, you oughta be able to manage after a day in front of the class. You're able-bodied. I don't mean to sound harsh, but what is with the conscious choice to say "I'm too good to pick up after myself?" You clean yourself! You shave your own face! You put on your own clothes! I think of cleaning your own house as something one does for oneself.

Hugo

La Lubu, I could indeed scrub the toilets, vacuum the floors, dust the furniture, and so forth. I've done it.

But what makes hiring someone to do one's housework different from hiring someone to make one's coffee at Peet's? Or paying someone to deliver the newspaper, when one could walk to the newsstand? Is it a particular squeamishness about having other folks in one's house, cleaning up one's mess?

What other employment can be offered to unskilled non-English speaking labor? I offer my team free sodas; they work in an air-conditioned environment, and yes, I have a liability policy on the house that protects cleaners and maids.

I don't know why the children aren't in school. The price I pay is the same regardless of how many folks show up (once or twice, the kids have not come, but we really need them to translate). Should I demand of the adults that they put their kids in school? Should I demand to see their documents?

But I know damned well that I pay better than a sweatshop. I've known folks -- more than a few -- who have worked as housecleaners on their way to a better life. Yes, we had housecleaners growing up -- and that does make a difference.

I don't think economic justice requires one to be self-sufficient; I think it requires one to pay folks a just wage and provide comfortable, safe working conditions.

elizabeth

I tend to agree with most of the posts here. First off, I can't even dream of being able to afford someone to clean up after me. I do have to spend a day of my spare time once in a while to just clean and scrub. Secondly, I wouldn't hire someone if I could. I was just raised to clean up after myself. I think hiring someone to clean up after me has many troubling implications. I'm uncomfortable with the idea as a feminist, as someone who is trying to help low-income people, etc.

I just couldn't justify hiring someone to clean up after me. Now if I had a huge family and still worked a full-time job, it might seem more plausible.

DJW

To those who think it's weird to have people come over and clean up after you (and I admit that's my gut reaction)--what do you think about going to restaurants? What's wrong with you that you can't feed yourself? And I bet Hugo's housecleaners are paid better than some of those dishwashers.

And for those who are concerned about economic justice--I don't think anyone would be on Hugo's case if he spent that money on, say, a bigger, nicer wedding, a new washer-dryer set, fancy-pants running gear, etc. You can make the case that middle class comfort in this world of poverty is unjust in itself, but if people have it, what's wrong with spending the money on more leisure rather than more things? Especially since in the former case, it's a lot easier to make sure the labor producing your good is being treated well?

kelly

Hmmm, with the exception on one gal and assuming that the anonymous poster is female, it seems that the women concur that hiring a housekeeper is somewhat creepy, where as the guys (okay, so there are only two of you, hardly a scientific sample) don't have a problem with it. Do you think maybe this could be indicative of something?

kelly

Hmmm, with the exception on one gal and assuming that the anonymous poster is female, it seems that the women concur that hiring a housekeeper is somewhat creepy, where as the guys (okay, so there are only two of you, hardly a scientific sample) don't have a problem with it. Do you think maybe this could be indicative of something?

Mumcat

I'm female and have no compunction about having people clean my house. I grew up with cleaning ladies in our house. Not only did they help Mama keep things really pristine when Mama was healthy but after she got sick it was even more important to have their help.

When we lived overseas we had a housegirl to clean the house. It was the established custom and also contributed to the local economy in the poorest province on the island. It also was a touch of luxury I wouldn't have had in the US, that's for sure, and once in a while it's nice to have a little luxury.

I'd love to have one now and if I could afford it. I'm rather surprised at the scorn I see for people who can and do have housecleaners. It feels as if some see those who hire them as oppressors of the poor and lazy SOBs. That housecleaners are willing to work for money is really no different than someone who serves food in a restaurant, does dry cleaning, washes cars, or even collects stinky, smelly, dirty garbage. For some, it may be the only skill they have. For others, there may be the language problem that dictates when they can work. But for many, I have a feeling it is because it is a job that pays money that helps them get more and better food for their kids, clothes, a roof over their heads, transportation and such things as lights, water, heat, air conditioning and the like. There are many who do it for the same reason other folks do their jobs -- they like it and they get something out of it, not to mention that they can pretty much dictate their own hours and make sure they're there to get the kids off to school and still be home when the kids get home. In order for them to have that job, there have to be folks who need their services, no matter what the reason.

Jennifer

I don't know, the issue of the children not being in school troubles me. Isn't this child labor? Aren't there laws against that? You asked should you demand that they put the kids in school. Why not just find out why they aren't, to begin with. Do you need to have documents to register your children for school in California? Is that possibly the issue?

Someone referred to unskilled labor. Just because someone is cleaning a house or working in another domestic capacity doesn't mean they're unskilled - I have a friend who came here from Mexico who works as a nanny and at Home Depot, but was an architect in Mexico. Many people who come to this country have skills but can only find "unskilled" jobs to support them for various reasons.

La Lubu

I think it's indicative of the fact that we (the women) have had housework dumped on us, and have seen housework dumped on our mothers. By "dumped", I mean the lion's share of (especially) the real shit-work.

Yes, I think hiring a housekeeper is an unnecessary extravagance. And I would say the same thing about going out for coffee every day rather than grinding and brewing your own pot and taking a thermos, or going out to eat all the time when you could save tons of money by cooking at home. I don't think that's true of every service; some things (like haircutting, auto repair, plumbing, etc.) it makes more sense to hire out, because those activities either require special skills and abilities, or an expensive investment in tools that only makes sense if you plan on doing it professionally.

Cleaning house is like bathing or wiping your own butt---it's something you do for yourself, if you have the physical ability to do it. Housecleaning doesn't require any special skills....it's just good old fashioned elbow grease. It's not difficult. But it is dirty work. There's no glory in it. It's mundane. And that's the rub for me....that someone else should do the dirty work. The "I'm too important for this" attitude.

blackkoffeeblues

I spent years and thousands of dollars so that I would not have to do manual labor. Well, that’s not the only reason, but definitely one of them. I have a housekeeper and a personal assistant. Both are well paid and have my appreciation for the job they do. Neither are poor or illegal. My housekeeper is a young lady who has her own housekeeping business because she enjoys domestic tasks and is very good at them. She and her husband own their own home and she arrives at my home in a brand new Honda CRV with a hot cup of Starbucks once a week. My assistant is an undergrad who wishes to earn a good living while receiving some mentorship while she completes her degree. She has flexible hours so that she can attend her classes and study and it beats working in the cafeteria, I should know that’s where I worked as an undergrad.

I get paid a lot for each hour I work and I work a lot of hours. I refuse to fill up those hours that I have left with laundry and waxing the floors. Economically, it would be an unwise use of my time to “work” on house chores instead of working or just playing. Instead I spend what free time I have with my family and friends, those same people who spent years being understanding that I was busy studying or working and continue to be understanding of my schedule.

I was brought up by my parents to clean my room, clear my plate from the table etc., mostly because I had a working mother and my father traveled extensively for work. These days my mother reminds me that I shouldn’t waste my time cleaning the house, doing yard work or picking up dry cleaning. She reminds me that I should be spending my time enjoying my husband, my pets, my home and taking care of my well-being.

I don’t throw trash on the floor and I am not particularly messy. If anything the opposite is true, I have some obsessive-compulsive habits actually. But there is a different in the amount of time it takes to strip and wax hard wood floors vs. washing the dish I just made mac & cheese in.

Finally, I will never understand the backlash against people who choose to do well monetarily. All people start from different points, we don’t have control over where someone else begins or what their decisions are in life. I can only determine where I am, what I am doing and going to do. My grandparents came from little monetary wealth and did well; they wanted a big family and lots of stuff. My parents started out in a better place and didn’t move much; they wanted a family and didn’t care much about stuff. Maybe your housekeeper (family) is starting out at the bottom, but they are doing what they can to improve, and improvement for them is subjective. Their future and their successes are up to them. Hugo, your starting point was nicely upper-middle class. Its your decision to improve your status, stay the same or chuck it all in an join the Peace Corps. You should not get beat up for your life decisions and your values. Having a housekeeper is all about your values. And It appears to me that this family has some pretty substantial values, they are all working together for their common good…I wouldn’t discount that.

Amanda

I am afraid that the rejection of hiring a housekeeper has as much to do with the personal nature of it--it's easier to feel like a good liberal as long as poor people aren't in your house. Nevermind the clothes on your back or the food on your plate picked by people paid crap--you don't see them, it's easier to pretend they don't exist.

djw

La Lubu--you're asserting an ethic of populist self-reliance rather than defending it in our current economic context. If all middle class people lived as you recommended, many, many, many more poor people would be out of work and much worse off than they are now, especially with our ever-fraying social safety net. I'd like a world in which people didn't have to depend on that kind of work, too, but until we get there, we should do what we can--politically and personally--Middle class in this country means being able to indulge in some sort of luxury. Why is indulging in a moderate luxury (as Hugo is doing) and making sure those who provide it are relatively well taken of a worse option than your proposed ascetism?

Castiron

Housecleaning doesn't require specialized tools or skills? Then how come I couldn't get my carpets cleanly vaccuumed until I got a vaccuum cleaner with a beater brush in place o the one without? And how come, given the same available tools and supplies, my mom can get my counters much cleaner than I can?

Seriously, the plumbing analogy is actually pretty apt. I can fix my leaky shower, no problem; the tools are basic, and it doesn't require special training. I don't enjoy doing it, but it makes financial sense for me to spend half an hour myself rather than spend $75 for the plumber (and miss two hours of work).

With a major leak that requires ripping out walls and seriously specialized tools, though, I'm better off calling a plumber. Similarly, I could easily see someone doing the day-to-day laundry, dishes, and sweeping themselves, but hiring someone else for the deep once-in-a-while cleaning.

But if I made a high enough income that I could afford to call a plumber for the minor repairs, most people wouldn't see that as a problem. Why is replacing a shower faucet so different from scrubbing the shower walls? Is it just that the plumber is paid more for his time than the housecleaner is for hers?

Or is it more than the pay? I never hear anyone say "oh, I would never pay someone to mow my lawn; I can do that myself!" Why are mowing the lawn, trimming the dead branches off a tree, painting the house, removing the wasp nests, etc. acceptable to pay someone to do, while washing the windows, scrubbing the bathtub, or deep-cleaning the carpets aren't?

(For what it's worth, I don't hire housecleaners, because the simple stuff I prefer to do myself, and the fancier stuff I don't care enough about to shell out money for. I do, however, cut my own hair.... And more relevant to the discussion, I pay other people to help raise my child while I'm at work, indirectly through school taxes and directly through daycare costs.)

La Lubu

Asceticism? Please. I lead far from the ascetic life. Hugo is right in his next post, that where we approach this subject has a lot to do with our cultural and economic backgrounds.

I do manual labor for a living. So, when I read blackkoffeeblues talking about how much she paid so she wouldn't have to do manual labor, I bristled. At the same time, I could relate. Especially when I saw the part about hardwood floors; what a pain in the culiddu. I have hardwood floors, and while they look nice, they require periodic polishing and it ain't no fun, kids. But that's not what I think of when I think "housekeeping"; I think of the mundane stuff...doing dishes, doing laundry, folding and putting away the clothes, picking up after yourself. The everyday stuff that doesn't take much time or heave-ho. Where I come from, no one ever had a housekeeper; some people were housekeepers, ya know?

I never cleaned houses for a living. But I've waited tables and worked in child care, two other notoriously low-paid and female-dominated professions. I was proud of the work that I did--always was. But I couldn't wait to leave it, and prayed like hell I'd get into the apprenticeship. That opportunity was like do-or-die for me. What's different? Well, duh...the money is, for sure. I can actually afford to eat every day now....I couldn't when I worked in day care (it took damn near three weeks pay just to make rent...then I still had phone, electricity, and heating). I can afford a vehicle in a town with very little public transportation (and no evening public transit)...very necessary. I have health insurance. I have a pension. I have the kind of life now, that I can honestly say I would want for anyone else. I may not live on the "nice" side of town, or have a new truck, or be able to take vacations....but it's a decent life.

I've been poor. I know what it feels like. And I still see sneers when I show up somewhere in public after work in my dirty overalls. But look, I make what I consider to be a decent living, and I know there is no way that I could afford to pay someone a decent wage to do housework. When I was poor, I didn't necessarily want to do different work (I loved working with kids); I just wanted to be able to make a decent living. There are fast food places that brag about paying more than the "going rate" for line workers, but hey, eight bucks an hour might be "more", but at that rate it's still "do I pay the electric bill or the gas bill this month?"

Shit. If education was free and open to all, you can damn well bet there wouldn't be anyone going into housekeeping for a living. You can go to my daughter's (or any other kid's) early-start class, and ask the kids what they want to be---no one will say housekeeper. Because even at three and four, they know it's a low paid job, with no security, no future, no hope. No one wants their sons or daughter to grow up and be a housekeeper....because it's a life on the economic skids. Housekeeping is what you do when you have no other options. I'm not out to demonize Hugo or anyone else for hiring one. I'm just a firm believer that there needs to be other options for people. I wasn't stupid or uneducated when I was poor. I was just poor. I don't want that for anyone else.

Hugo

La Lubu:

I don't want "poor" for anyone else. I know domestic work can be a foothold "up" if well-compensated, and I want to offer that "up". For those who might for whatever reason be domestics for their entire working lives, they deserve just compensation and access to benefits. I don't see how my doing the work myself, and not hiring my team, benefits the poor.

djw

la lubu, fair enough. If we lived in a world where no one had to take housekeeping work to get by because there were always better options, I'd be just fine with the profession disappearing (as a side note, I've never had a housekeeper, and growing up, I don't think any of my friends did either. We were poor-but-comfortable, but most of my friends were really well off. It would seem really weird to have someone come in an clean up after me, and I don't think I would like it). But it's really hard to understate just how far away we are from that world.

Amanda

The ugly fact of the matter is that a lot of housekeepers are hired to help women do housework they simply do not have time to do themselves. What do we say to the "privileged" women who have to choose between having their own job or having a house that's remotely clean?

mythago

Hugo, from a lawyer's point of view, what you're doing is extremely stupid. I'll elaborate if you really don't see why.

As somebody pointed out in the other thread, the problem with housekeeping is that it becomes invisible. The messes you make magically go away. You needn't deal with the difficulties of your own crap, figuratively and literally. There's a lot less incentive to pick up your underwear, dust your TV, or scrub tomato juice off the tile when the Magic Fairies take care of it for you.

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