Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that women are fighting a perpetual, invisible, battle with the historically ingrained characteristics that attempt to define them. The mannerisms and routines that have been passed down to us from women for centuries still filter into our present day thoughts and actions. This filters into women’s hopes, desires, love and even guilt. On top of this, because all of these feelings are going on for each individual woman everywhere, to momentarily solve our own frustration we use what privileges we have to oppress, instead of empower, the other women around us. Within the modern era, upper and middle class women have begun subjecting other women who experience professions of lower societal status, essentially anything within the domestic labor workforce, to harassment and objectification.
In the short story, ‘Maid to Order’, Barbara Ehrenreich speaks about the lives of maids and opairs. She said, “If women were the domestic proletariat, then men made up the class of domestic exploiters, free to lounge while their mates scrubbed.” When it comes to housework, women generally are the ones in charge of the hiring process. Upper class women are hiring lower class women to do the jobs in which they don’t have the time or desire to see through. Does this make the woman in the hiring position feel like she is stepping out of her minority because she can, in turn, oppress another woman? This begs the question that turns a gender issue into a class issue, not to say that they are not inextricably interwoven. What oppresses these women? What overlaps? Are the dynamics between the woman and the employer the same wherever these women are, nationally or internationally? We find these entitled women falling into roles that inherently help perpetuate the vicious cycle that has led them to feel oppressed and therefore want to oppress others. Because even though they do not have to do the housework anymore, they are still managing the housework, and they are still hiring women to do it, not men.
While these maids and nannies do their work, one parent is usually around within the home while this person is cleaning or caretaking. And within most modern families, the parent that is around is usually the woman. Why are western women put on such a high pedestal? “…this does not change the fact that someone is working in your home at a job she would almost never have chosen for herself- and the place where she works, however enthusiastically or resentfully, is the same place where you sleep.” Another important issue related to this situation is the care crisis, the void within the home and a child’s life that created, perpetuated and also helped become filled by the word of a maid or nanny. Why do so many well-to-do women feel un-obligated to take care of the children they’ve brought into the world? It is tragic that women who have reproduced and created human beings cannot follow through by caring for the individuals they’ve created. Conversely, if you think of all the societal pressures put on women to have children, especially well-to-do women, then maybe these women are doing this out of sheer ignorant acceptance of what they feel their role is within the world. “It is also the place where your children are raised, and what they learn pretty quickly is that some people are less worthy than others.”
If this cycle domestic labor must continue, then I believe it should at least be addressed in the same way as any other type of labor. It needs to become more regulated- this could be a place to begin providing protection. Work permits need to become more accessible so that if a woman is in an abusive labor-induced situation they can at least move to another job. However, the most vulnerable woman is the undocumented woman. She cannot work through agencies, has no recourse because she can’t go to the police, can’t go to a neighbor and is thoroughly on her own. Unless we have a safe place for these women to go without being deported then I don’t think there is a solution, because there literally is no place for them within society so nothing can change.
While under-privileged women are being hired to maintain modern homes, other women are fighting to feel safe within their homes and inside their own heads. In another short story ‘Betrayed by the Angel’, Debra Anne Davis writes about the personal rape she experienced earlier in her life and the way it has effected her as a woman ever since. This story highlights ideas behind violence against women that society forgets and ignores. She writes, “I was 25 when I was raped. I’m 35 now. This happened last week.”
We live within a rape culture, a culture of girls who have been raised to be kind and polite young women. This culture has created generations of girls who do not feel angry if they are violated, instead they feel shame and guilt, questioning what they did wrong in order to allow their attack. “Mostly I’d just endure. This is what is happening; there’s nothing I can do about it.” This internalized sense of responsibility for whatever wrongdoing has happened to them must end.
Archetypal women are supposed to fit into this polite mold and having the fear of stepping out of that and not following those particular rules can sometimes be too intense to actually acknowledge something negative that has happened to someone and therefore allow them to create a change. “The problem, I think, was that I simply wasn’t mad at him. When I went to tell the teacher, my voice wasn’t loud in a burst of righteous anger; it was demure. I didn’t want to bother her.” Feeling like society will look down on you for writing about violence and assault as a woman is one of the biggest reasons women do not speak up. Subtleties that exist within each person’s individual experience with assault and violence are all just as important to shed light on as another. Especially considering we are brought up being taught to be polite and to smile and kind and not a strong woman who says no, we’ve internalized so many messages about what a woman does or does not do- we’ve been taught inherently not to be angry about things. It is so important to continue validating the women who are brave enough to share their stories. “The police, the lawyers, the judge — the state, the legal system — even he, the criminal, the rapist, thought he deserved decades in jail for what he’d done to me. Why didn’t I?” The voices within our heads that tell us to ignore our instincts, that tell us we are at fault for not acting sooner, or the voices that simply forgive our violators and remain quiet- these voices are not protecting us like angels are supposed to do. We have to acknowledge these individual experiences but remember that they are not as personal as we think they are, that these attacks are not only happening to one or two women. The personal is political, and these personalized experiences are occurring at such high rates because of he unjust system in which we are living. Politically, we must take back the night. Society must validate and heal each other, women and men, through marches and candlelight vigils and bearing the weight of as many mattresses as we can carry. Davis writes, “Had I not killed her she would have killed me.” This statement is made in reference to her own polite inner voice. If we do not externally politicize women’s wounds then we will never see a change.