RogerBW's Blog

Maid, Stephanie Land 03 October 2020

2019 non-fiction, Stephanie Land's description of raising a child without a partner while working as a cleaner.

An American is someone who calls their cleaner a maid. Maybe it's just a linguistic quirk, but it feels to me resentfully aspirational.

The point of this book, I think, is to tell you that it's entirely possible to be poor and not lazy. That is a thing that people need to know. But I've already read Emily Guendelsberger's excellent On the Clock, which came out a few months after this; it makes the point rather better, and about jobs which are much worse in terms of dignity if not in terms of black mould.

Too often this feels self-exculpatory. Land blames her boyfriend for not wanting her baby just as much as she did, but she never suggests that they'd agreed to have one; she found she was pregnant, she planned to get a termination, the hormones took over and she decided to keep the child, and Nasty Partner said he wanted no part of it. There's a big gap there, and for all Nasty Partner later became abusive I can't help a feeling that there are things not being said. (Maybe they were just elided from the Book of the Week abridged version.)

More seriously to me, there's not much here about the job; it's much more about Land's feelings about the job. She is surprised and sad that working 25 hours a week as a cleaner isn't enough to pay the bills; I don't think there are many jobs that let you work 25 hours a week and make enough money to live at all comfortably. She is treated as a domestic appliance (this isn't explicit but it's an obvious conclusion to draw: the thinking presumably goes along the lines of "I don't see the cleaner, she isn't really a person, therefore I don't have to clear up my embarrassments, and hey she's the cleaner anyway, cleaning is what she's paid for"). She has to pay for her own cleaning supplies and the cost of getting to the job sites (capitalism: externalising costs since the concept was invented). It's all a bit superficial.

And of course unlike many of her colleagues she has a way out: she eventually manages to take out a huge student loan, and get a degree in English and Creative Writing. (Hmm. Given the state of publishing, I don't think that's any guarantee of not living in poverty. But having a bestselling book – this one – probably helps.)

I think in the end this is simply not as good a book as On the Clock and I'd rather have read more of that. Which is not this book's fault, but is a reason I can't really recommend it.

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See also:
On the Clock, Emily Guendelsberger

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