Is Hiring a Domestic Worker Dirty Business?
Twice a month, I have a “domestic worker” (no one says “cleaning lady” any more) come help at my house. By that I mean, she does all the tasks I stink at: removing the excess cat hair of three cats; de-griming the tub; and sweeping Cheerios from the bizarre places my two-year old drops them. Each time this woman comes, we sit for a little while, and share parenting stories and laugh. And even though I pay her well, I still feel guilty when she comes. Is there some reason I can’t manage to clean my own home? Am I spoiled?
So I read with great interest Alice Sparberg Alexiou’s article in Lilith called “Who Cleans Your House?.” I’d never seen this topic covered, including all the mixed feelings that come with it, let alone written about from a Jewish perspective.
On the one hand, many Jewish women feel it’s socially unjust to bring women in to clean the house—especially given how many of these women are immigrants and/or people of color. According to Domestic Workers United, virtually all domestic workers today are immigrants. Because so many of them come to the States with no official documents, they are often totally exploited (often making as little as $2/hour and getting treated terribly). As Jewish women who believe in compassion and treating everyone with dignity, is this something we want to support?
On the other hand, any woman who is a working mother knows that there is simply not enough time in the day to handle daycare shuttling, work, making dinner, retaining a relationship with her husband, paying the bills, and doing story time with her kid(s). How often can she stay on top of vacuuming cat hair?
So if one treats a “domestic worker” well and with dignity, does this make hiring one okay? Or is that just a justification for passing off our “dirty” work to someone less privileged? Am I to blame for "using" another woman to do my traditional "wifely" duties so I can climb ahead professionally? Or am I perhaps "doing good" by making sure this woman is treated kindly and paid fairly?
Not sure of the answers. What do you think?