Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Hiring a Cleaning Lady–Or Any Other Kind of Employee

In honor of National Women’s Day, working women are supposed to fret about other working women who happen to work for us. 

Let me explain.

Sally Howard researched cleaners, by working with them. Fair enough. There’s plenty of things to say about how some people treat their house cleaners and nannies to argue that all these people (usually women) deserve to be paid fair wages, and treated with respect. This is the same way we should treat all our employees–from Senior Vice Presidents to Interns. Everyone is worthy of a fair market wage.

But, Howard draws the opposite conclusion and decides that having someone else clean her house devalues women’s work and sets a bad example for her son. She writes: 

 The clincher, in the end, was my three-year-old son, who quizzically followed Jurate around the house as she squeezed her mop and brandished her ever-present Viakal. I did not want him to see the labour of some women as less worthwhile than the labour and leisure of other women and men. Middle-class women’s emancipation from housework has come at the cost of reinscribing poor women’s ties to it.

Did I find I could hire a cleaner with a clean conscience? No, but I found I could ease my feminist conscience by scrubbing my own toilet.

To keep reading, click here: Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Hiring a Cleaning Lady–Or Any Other Kind of Employee

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8 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Hiring a Cleaning Lady–Or Any Other Kind of Employee

  1. I don’t really understand Sally Howard’s self-imposed guilt about using a house cleaner or what was going on that caused her to fear that her 3-year-old-son would somehow see Jurate’s labor as “less worthwhile” than someone else’s. Seems pretty neurotic.

  2. The male equivalent, I suppose, is a handyman/lawn care expert. My wife and I hired a man to take care of our yard for us–the mowing, the gardens, trimming bushes, etc. I was worried about similar things as Sally Howard. My father and grandfathers tended to their own property; what was I teaching my sons and daughter?!

    The reality, though, is that the guy taking care of the yard likes this work more than I do. He is an expert in his field, and he, my wife, and I work closely together to do what’s best for the house. And there are still things I do with the yard. Given that my job requires me to be away from home 5 days a week, having someone else handle routine maintenance frees me to spend more time with my children, too.

    And we’ve taken steps to ensure that our kids don’t view any work as beneath them. The boys sweep, dust, and mop the floors. They help with laundry and dishes. They help with the yard work I take care of. They’re learning that there’s no “less worthwhile” work, only work that needs done–and that there are multiple ways to do it.

  3. Howard is paranoid if she thinks her 3 year old son will grow up de-valuing woman or the work we do. If that is how her kid grows up, that’s on HER for not teaching him otherwise. When we have hired help, we shake their hand, offer them a beverage if it’s hot, give an enthusiastic thank you and praise their work – in front of our kids – to show them how we treat hired help. My son saw a guy in a restaurant snap his fingers at a waitress and asked why. You can bet we made that a teachable moment about how we treat workers who take care of us. Kids learn by example. All you have to do is not treat the help like “the help” and you can be free to hire out for anything you need.

  4. Also, whilst it’s one thing to advocate for good working conditions, reasonable and fair pay and teaching young people that this is honest, honourable work…

    Exactly what does the author think is going to happen to her housekeeper when she loses all those clients who have decided that a job that she either likes, or absolutely needs to feed her family, or both, is going to do when they don’t hire her? Does she have the education, skills, clothing, transportation, etc. to get a job the author thinks is a proper job for someone?

  5. I read her the linked Howard article and it makes no sense to me whatsoever. Housecleaners make a choice to exchange their services for money. Firing her housecleaner because she doesn’t want to devalue the work is nonsense, and I’m sure the housecleaner would rather have kept a client that pays her well. So, what the author is saying is that woman should only do the paid work that SHE believes is “worthy” of them. That’s blind privilege right there. And, yes, I do believe that different work merits different pay. The more specialized skill and education that a job requires, the higher a wage it should command because there are fewer people who are qualified to do the work. I cannot perform heart surgery, but I can scrub a toilet. Heart surgery requires a great deal more skill and education, and fewer people can competently do it, so it should command a higher wage than scrubbing toilets. And I see that as a GOOD thing. It means that not everyone needs to have 8 years of college and pay thousands of dollars for their education to earn a living. It’s how I worked my way though college — by getting paid less for work that required less skill but allowed me to make ends meet.

  6. When I was a college student, I occasionally accepted housecleaning jobs from some families. I worked only a few hours per week (I did not clean the entire house). I was treated well by these families. In two of these families, the husbands were professors at my university. In one case, the wife drove down the hills to pick me up, because bus service was infrequent to her neighborhood. She also served me lunch, during my break. After completing my work, she drove me back to my student house.
    My boyfriend at that time suggested that I get a job in a bank; however, I did not have much money to invest in proper business attire at that time.

  7. As long as you are paying a fair wage to the person who is cleaning your toilet (that is, way more than minimum), then how are you devaluing her as a human being or as a worker?

    1. Housekeepers are either (1) self-employed, or (2) employed by an agency. Either way, the housekeeper or agency sets the rates. If you’re working with a self-employed housecleaner, they set their own rates and they get to decide what is a fair wage for them.

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