Is it ethically wrong to hire a maid? Readers respond to a review of "Global Woman."

Published January 31, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

[Read the review of "Global Woman."]

Wonderful. Another reason for working mothers to feel guilty.

This is just what I was looking for, as the reasons I've relied on for so long have been wearing thin.

-- Lynn Evans

While I can see that domestic workers are likely to suffer abuses, I agree with the reviewer that something should be done to protect these women as a group. I don't understand the argument that it's immoral to hire someone else to do something I am not good at doing myself, that I have too little time to do, or that I find myself physically unable to perform. Should I stop going to restaurants, too, because I don't like or don't have time to cook?

-- Leslie Claire

I spent four years of college working for one family. Five days a week, four hours a day, I picked up the kids, helped them with their homework, changed diapers, fixed dinner and sometimes even put them to bed. Once a week an older woman, Margaret, would come by and do the heavy cleaning. This family lived in a house smaller than the one I grew up in. They drove used cars and there was not a designer piece of clothing between them. My friend worked for a single mom who manned the cosmetics counter at a local department store. Because of the crazy hours of retail the mother mostly saw her child while she was sleeping. There was no family to help out. These are the people hiring domestic help in the modern era. People who are doing what they can to live the best life they can.

-- W. Pfeister

Thank you for the excellent review of this work. While I have found Barbara Ehrenreich's opinions interesting in the past, it's always difficult to separate her points from the sidebar surface judgments and self-righteousness. Her book "Nickel and Dimed" could have been an amazing, thought-provoking work if it were not mired in her condescending remarks about her co-workers' clothing and conversation topics and her clients' reading choices. Her shallow focus and confusing ramblings will lead to the ultimate dismissal of her as a scholar.

-- Claire Parkinson

What is most amazing to me is Ehrenreich, et al's apparent ignorance of the fact that domestic work, however low paying and unfulfilling, is not particularly difficult. It's inside work and involves little heavy lifting. In short, there are many, many other jobs to which domestic work compares pretty favorably.

If the authors don't believe me, I suggest they come to Houston, preferably in the summer, and sign up at one of the longshoreman's locals. There they can get a job in the open hold of a freighter throwing 100 lb. sacks of grain onto or off of pallets. In full sun and with no breeze, it's about 120 F down there. I don't think it would take the authors a full eight-hour day to appreciate domestic work a bit more fully.

-- Robert Franklin

So "kindness, pity and charity" are a demonstration of power? Maybe, but the use of that power is called humanity, and if you're doing it right, you do it without thinking.

I don't have a maid, but I did have some guys rebuild my fence a couple years back (and I don't feel like less of a man for having three men doing it for me rather than doing it myself). It was in the middle of a heat wave and the guys were staring at the pool all day, so I told them once they finished, they could rinse off with the garden hose and use the pool. Left out some towels and swim trunks on the lawn chairs and didn't even think about it till a year ago when I ran into my carpenter at a street fair and he bought me a beer, telling me that my common-sense kindness had made the day for him and his crew, and how few employers would even think to do something like that.

It seems a reasonable way to do things: Pay people a decent wage, treat them the way you'd like to be treated, use common-sense kindness like offering water or sodas on a hot day.

As for the woman from Ghana being kept as a slave and being called "the Creature," I think aside from testifying in court, she should sell her story to Hollywood.

-- Kevin Andrew Murphy

Much as I admire Barbara Ehrenreich, her diatribe against hiring housecleaners is woefully misguided. Ms. Ehrenreich seems to be unaware of the reality of middle-class families (I cannot speak for the poor or wealthy). For example, my wife and I both work full-time jobs and as a result, we're lucky if we sit down to dinner by 8:00 p.m. By the time we're done eating, putting away the dishes, and feeding the cats, we have at most two hours to relax before going to bed. Weekends are spent grocery shopping and doing other chores, with maybe a little light housecleaning thrown in. And we don't even have children! I can only imagine how little free time people with kids have. We plan on hiring a housecleaner soon, and have no qualms about it. Put simply, we do not have the time to clean our home.

Instead of vilifying time-stressed families for hiring people to clean their homes (which to my mind is no less ethical than paying people to cook food for you in a restaurant, or wash your car, or do practically anything else, for that matter), Ms. Ehrenreich should use her substantial talents to attack the underlying causes that compel people to hiring housecleaners: lack of time! Society changed for the better after "women's liberation," in that women were finally afforded an equal opportunity (or almost equal) to engage in employment beyond that of homemaker. But the revolution ended halfway. One would think that, with two people working, work hours would decrease by half, or at least a third. Instead, both partners are working, and hours have stayed the same, or even increased. That makes no sense.

With everyone working, and with all the technology at our disposal, it is time to cut the working week down to 30 hours -- for starters. True, this may mean less filthy lucre for the wealthy minority that sits on top of the economic heap, but too bad. What is the purpose of progress if not to create more leisure time for people to live their lives?

-- Michael Gurwitz

By Salon Staff

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