This post was inspired by an offhand comment overheard in the coffee shop I'm currently sitting in: one of the baristas, as she went out to clean the condiment counter, noted that she'd "called the maid about doing it." This was by way of a funny: we, the comment said, are the ones who do the cleaning-up. Household help is something so utterly foreign as to be silly. The foreign-ness comes partly from being a 20-something working in a coffee shop, but also, I suspect, from being a person living in this particular neighborhood in this particular city. Since this is the city and the neighborhood I grew up in, I felt myself included in the unspoken "we."
I thought most people in my peer group were like me. And here in Puddletown, they are. But do you know what? The four academic women I am closest to in my department all have someone clean their houses** once every one to two weeks. Granted, one of them only has a housecleaner because her husband had one, and when she moved in with him, the housekeeper was already installed. But honestly, I was shocked. Because all of a sudden, the thing I thought was a joke had become normal. I found myself an "us" on the "them" side of the line (or the other way around, depending on your point of view).
Now, "Why do people have housekeepers?" is a question with many answers. "Why do professional women have housekeepers?" is one I can answer myself: Because they'd rather be doing something else, and no one else is going to do it for them. And I can certainly appreciate that on an intellectual level, and don't begrudge any woman the choice of what to do with her own hard-earned money. If my friend is using her money to buy her way out of scrubbing the toilet, I can totally get behind that.
So, at this point, the question is: "Why don't I, when other people do?" Here's what I've come up with -- admittedly off the top of my head while on the second cup of coffee:
- I can't afford it.
- Okay, so maybe I could, but I'd have to give up something else that I value more than paid domestic labor.
- The Gender Thing: I have a hard time paying women in particular to do things that I've always successfully done for myself. This is why I only rarely get pedicures; the image of a woman more or less on her knees for me just to earn a lousy couple of bucks makes me want to scream with outrage.
- The Class Thing: I feel like I'd be exploiting the people I came from. Yes, I'd be providing employment, and any work is good work in these times. And I could pay a real living wage and tip generously. Yet somehow, it just feels wrong.
- The Race Thing: See both "class" and "gender" reasons, above. Since most "house help" in the Grit City area are immigrant women, all the above reasons apply here.
- I rent 500 square feet. Really, doesn't hiring someone to clean a teeny-tiny space that I don't even own seem like overkill?
- I'm the kind of person who takes perhaps unreasonable pride in doing for herself whenever possible. I can change my own bicycle tire; I can navigate my way solo around a foreign city's bus system; I can damn well sweep my own floors.
- I can't live in disorder, clutter, or filth, but do I really need floors I could eat off of at any given moment? If my bathtub or kitchen floors are only really thoroughly cleaned every two to three weeks, will something bad happen? Does anyone really look at the baseboards? The answer to all three, I've concluded, is: Probably not.
Happy New Year, everyone.
**For what it's worth: 1 full-sized house, 2 two-bedroom condos, 1 two-bedroom apartment; all are women living with their spouses, no children, and no pets. If that makes a difference.