The Girls You Hire To Make You Free

Mani

Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march
discussing the problematic girls
they hire to make them free.”
– Audre Lorde, Who Said It Was Simple

 Women have journeyed a long way in the struggle for rights and respect. From suffrage to education to work, we have progressed tremendously and it is cause for us to celebrate, even though the battle is far from won.

But pause, and look over your shoulder for once, instead of looking straight ahead in the marathon you are running. Who have you left behind?

“Women” with a capital W may have progressed as an abstract whole, but what of the women who we include in this abstract label, but are far from considering equal to us? You know who I’m talking about. Even today, as you celebrate being able to be free of dusters and dishes, it’s an empty victory. It is rare for the task of the upkeep of a household to be shared at all – forget equally – among the members of the household. Most of us can’t say our fathers or husbands do half the work our mothers or wives do. But you do have a helping hand.

“discussing the problematic girls
they hire to make them free.”

Your burden has not been shared by an equal stakeholder in the house. It has been passed on – to another woman. The maids that work in our houses don’t look like they’ve been shackled to subservience or subjugation. Rather, the opposite. They look like independent women finally able to work and earn money for their labour. But this is deceptive, not because they probably live in patriarchal families where the men head the house irrespective of who is the major breadwinner, or because you don’t know their personal lives, or even because they’re likely managing two households – yours and their own.

One of the worst things about oppression as a woman is disrespect. The belittling of “womanly” jobs as “menial” or “petty”, the lack of consideration for your opinions, and the lack of courtesy in conversation. You know that feeling of just knowing that the person in front of you doesn’t think of you as an equal, irrespective of how rude or polite they are?

I had never considered what would happen if my parents could not afford to hire maids to do the washing and cleaning that I hate to do. What would happen to my privileged life of trying (and failing) to keep my room clean, making my bed and bringing in dry clothes once in a while? What would happen to the time I spent studying, socialising, learning things on the internet or making myself and my family proud with my skills and accomplishments?

Every time I achieved a milestone I cared about, I only thought to thank my family, friends and teachers. That someone had lifted me onto a ladder before I even began my climb never occurred to me, until I realised I was making more money typing away behind a screen at an internship than the maids in my house did for the tasks that were taken care of to enable me to be able to type away behind a screen. And thanks to them, I had the opportunity to develop the awareness to ask for fair pay with respect to my work. That’s when it hit me.

It isn’t as though they’re doing charity for me, so why should I think these things? Their work may be invaluable to the entire family but due to the ways of the world (read: capitalist market forces), abundant supply of labour desperate for work translates to low wages. And that I understand. But social status is a whole different ball game which I never questioned till I began to notice it. Why do maids and their children generally sit on the floor? Why do we question their hygiene profusely when our own mud-stained germ-infested children can dirty furniture as much as they please? Why do we instil the virtues of politeness and respect for elders in our children when we call maids older than us “tu”? Money can buy things, but why does it buy social standing? Because everyone is poorer than someone except the richest person, and we would most certainly take offence at being treated as less than an equal because of our class status. Is it their lack of “education” or “grooming” or being “cultured”?  Because that sounds an awful lot like traditional “reasons” men had for not considering women to be of equal stature (“uneducated”, “stupid”, “ignorant…”)

Respect is a cornerstone of equality of any kind. And to celebrate victories of true progress, maybe we should begin with respect for the women who carry our burdens to set us free, because their work is not menial, it is integral to our success. And maybe Women with a capital W should start to include in our awareness and not in our abstraction, women from all walks of life.

This one is for all the didis known and unknown to me that I owe my privileges to, who I can’t yet find proper ways to thank..

“and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.”

–  Audre Lorde, Who Said It Was Simple

By Sanya Sharma

sanya.jpg

Sanya is a second-year undergraduate student at Ashoka University uncertainly exploring the inseparable realms of history, politics and literature. As someone with an insatiable curiosity who is always at a crossroads, she loves the interdisciplinary in every field of life and so she indulges creating various forms of art. She writes to make sense of the world.

 

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