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.
The labor of some people (male and female) is worth more than the labor of other people (male and female). Why? Because people have different knowledge, skills, and abilities. They bring different talents to the table. I pay my dentist far more per hour than I earn per hour. It's not that my dentist devalues my labor, it's that she has abilities I don't have. She sacrificed years of her life to learn how to take care of teeth. I chose a different path.
A cleaning lady may not need an advanced degree. (And while men can clean just as well as women can, Howard makes this about devaluing women's work, so I'm sticking with the cleaning lady title.) But, the work is valuable and has a place in the market.
If you are trying to launch your startup and working 80 hour weeks, or are managing a busy project, or if you work 35 hours a week but want time to focus on your kids, your hobbies or even Netflix, hiring a cleaning woman is a great idea. You exchange money for a service--and that service is a clean toilet and a sparkly kitchen floor.
The cleaning lady takes home a paycheck.
This values women's work. Every year at Mother's day, all sorts of organizations publish the value of a mom, trying to push the point that women's work does have value. And now, Howard wants to say that paying for that value is wrong.
It's not wrong. If it's wrong to pay someone to clean your toilet, it's wrong to pay someone to make your dinner. It's wrong to pay someone to mow your lawn, paint your house, grow your food, tend your children, or fix your car. It's not.
It is wrong to pay people under the table. If you want to hire a cleaning lady (or anyone else) do so above board. Pay the required taxes and insurance. It is wrong to treat your employee (any employee) poorly. It is wrong to not provide the proper tools for a job. But, it's never wrong to hire someone for legal work, who wants to work, and to whom you give a fair paycheck.
Right now, I don't have a cleaning lady. I made this decision for financial reasons--I can't afford one right now. I have in the past, and I will again (I hope!) in the future. I always pay all taxes and conduct everything legally. Many women who clean do so because they have the flexibility to take care of their own homes and families when they do so. Why would you want to take that away from someone?
So, yes, a feminist can hire a cleaner. A non-feminist can hire a cleaner. Anyone can. No guilt involved unless you're not treating her with respect.