detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Saturday, July 19, 2003


: . The World and the Home:

From Polly Toynbee's review of Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochschild:
    This is a book to tear at the heart and wrench with guilt many women who already feel they are juggling their lives on a knife-edge. Their own deep anxieties about their children and their high-pressured lives are all too often passed on to the women who work for them, making them exceptionally bad employers.
    In America this is a story of the mass importation of a precious new raw material - care and love - from the third world. Take one typical case: Rowena Bautista left a village in the Philippines to work as a domestic in Washington DC - one of about 800,000 legal household workers (plus armies of illegals). In her basement room she has photos of four children, two of her own whom she has left behind and two of her American charges to whom she has to some extent transferred her love and care.
    She left her own children in the care of their grandmother five years ago when the youngest, Clinton, was only three: she could find no work to provide for them. The children's grandmother is herself so hard-pressed that she works as a teacher from 7am to 9pm each day, so Rowena has hired a local woman to cook, clean and care for the family in her long absence. (In her turn, that woman leaves her own child in the care of a very elderly grandmother.) Rowena hasn't managed to get home to the Philippines for the last two Christmases, but the family relies on the money she sends.
    Rowena calls the American child she tends "my baby". She says: "I give Noa what I can't give my own children." Last time she saw her own son, he turned away from her, asking resentfully: "Why did you come back?"

Polly Toynbee is the author of Hard Work which, along with Fran Abrams' Below the Breadline, was inspired by Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. (Hard Work and Below the Breadline are unavailable in the US. Check the Guardian archives for lengthy excerpts from both books.) Three of the contributors to Global Woman -- Nicole Constable, Bridget Anderson, and Rhacel Salazar Parrenas -- have written full-length books on Filipina domestic workers: Maid to Order in Hong Kong, Britain's Secret Slaves, and Servants of Globalization, respectively.

The Guardian also provides excerpts from Nicole Constable's account of "Cathy" and "Jane," two Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong. Below is Constable's reproduction of The Maid's Rulebook:
    · You are not allowed to rest and lean on the parlour sofa or your employer's bed.
    · A maid must always be polite and greet the employer, his family members, relatives, visitors as soon as meeting them by saying: good morning, good day, good afternoon, good evening or good night (before going to bed), sir, madam etc. Don't forget to say thank you at appropriate times.
    · Do not use any nail polish on fingers and toes. Do not put on make-up, even when you are going out to do the family shopping. Your hair must be short and tidy. Do not wear tight trousers and low-cut T-shirts while you are working. Do not go to the parlour in pyjamas.
    · You will be required to sleep and attend the baby and elderly, even during night time.
    · Must take bath daily before going to bed. Handwash your own clothes separately from those of your employers and the children (especially the underwear), unless your employer allows you to wash your own clothes in the washing-machine together with theirs.
    · Use separate towels for different purposes, such as a) sweeping floor, b) cleaning furniture, c) cleaning dining table, d) washing oily dishes, e) washing cups, f) washing basin, g) washing toilet; you should use separate towel for each purpose.
    · Washing of car and caring for pets (eg dogs and cats) are part of your duties with no extra allowance.
    · You give a very bad impression to your employer if they see you chatting or laughing with your Filipino friends outside their house or down the street. Therefore, never gather with other Filipino maids near your living place, especially when you are bringing their kids down to the street to catch the school bus or going to the market.
    · Do not write any letters during your working days, do it on your holidays.


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