Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The 'Help"

I read 'The Help' recently and found it really disappointing. I would not really recommend the book to people and don't plan on seeing the movie, which it seems is even more annoying than the book. Here are my problems with the book...

  1. It was badly written, I didn't like the style of prose
  2. It ended really abruptly
  3. I found the main character immensely annoying
  4. It made me uncomfortable about how it presented the relationships between the main character and the black maids but I couldn't quite put my finger on why

Then Cloud linked to this post by Dr. Bernestine Singley about what it was like to be the help in 'the help' which is awesome, you should totally read it, and all the comments. It is a very mature conversation happening with lots of interesting links. But Dr. Singley very succinctly summarizes and puts into clear prose where my vague feelings of uncomfortableness were coming from. This led me to a tangent of sorts on the issue.

I have encountered quite a few people that think it is inappropriate that I pay someone to clean my house twice a month. I am perplexed by the idea that employing household help is wrong on principal. (Live-in help I do find a bit weird though and need to think about some more). I personally don't think there is anything wrong with paying someone a proper salary to do a defined set of household tasks while treating them with respect. In fact, I don't think I could work outside the home and maintain a family if I didn't do so.

There seems to be this belief that household work (usually defined as women's work) is demeaning by definition and I think we need to make the distinction between the work itself and the way people who are doing the work are treated. I don't think that cleaning toilets or doing laundry or taking care of someone else's children is inherently demeaning work. Anymore so then mowing someone's lawn or taking care of their gardens is. I think the way that domestic workers have been treated, and continue to be treated in the majority of situations, is what is demeaning and explotative and wrong.

Anyway, it made me realize how much of the shame/guilt/wrongness of hiring household help is centered around the de-valueing of women's work. After all, as my husband said, working men don't experience all this drama over hiring a gardner. It is not as if they are somehow a bad person for asking someone to do the tasks that they don't have the time or desire to do.

1 comment:

  1. As you probably know, I've ranted on this subject multiple times, too. It infuriates me, because I think working women are getting hit from both ends of the political spectrum- the folks on the right think that I am destroying my children by not being there with them for their every waking moment, and some folks on the left think that I am exploiting the people who clean my house and work in my day care. I am hiring reputable companies, who must follow the laws. If some thinks that a job that meets all the requirements of the law is necessarily exploitative, then perhaps we should try to change the law instead of heaping extra guilt on working mothers.