Sunday, September 12, 2004

Renaissance Woman?

Today's Greenville News has a profile of a woman who has started her own business. Here is an excerpt:

"We have a different way of life in Brazil," she said. "You always had time for family. You could sit down an have a drink and conversation before sitting down to a meal with your family and then having coffee in another room after dinner.

"Here it's always stressful. As soon as dinner is over, you clear the table and run the dishwasher."

Rogers said she grew up in a family that employed six maids, and added it's not unusual for middle-class Brazilians to have at least one or two servants who do the normal cleaning duties and more--like polishing silver, shining shoes, etc.

So she has started a business to supply such services to Greenvillians. But don't be fooled: SHE won't be shining your shoes, but rather training employees--who she employs in her own house for six weeks before she sends them out on jobs--to do so.

I don't mean to imply that this business is necessarily any more questionable than any cleaning service, although the owner of the company does insist that her business is "more than just a cleaning company. We do the things that people don't have time to do"--like polishing silver, ironing, and detailed cleaning.

Any time we employ others to do our housekeeping we are buying our free time at the expense of those without the economic luxury to buy their own in a similar manner. I wonder, for instance, when the person doing the washing up for those who employ this service (called "Brazilian Butler") has a chance to relax with (presumably) her family.

And I do wonder why this article presents her business as if servants were a great innovation, and a business breakthrough worthy of the article's title, "Renaissance Woman." What the article (and its subject) see as culture differences between the US and Brazil are actually more rooted in the ways that class inequality is manipulated in the two contexts.

What does it say about our culture that when we earn enough to pay people to do our dirty work, we do so?

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