Think of your colleague on the next computer, or the person who lives in the house opposite. What do you know about them? Their immediate family’s names, probably. Pets, maybe. Jobs, interests, what they got up to at the weekend? Bar a few gaps, you could probably give a pretty good potted history of these acquaintances.Yes, probably. They are, after all, my colleagues and neighbours.
So if I did have one, they'd be like my window cleaner or car mechanic - a professional I pay to do a job. Not a colleague.
It is a question that many of us should be equipped to answer, given that one in three UK families are now employing someone to take on their domestic labour…Really? Gosh. I wonder if this is the cause of the rise in the Black Economy?
While there’s nothing inherently exploitative about domestic labour as a concept, the reality of gendered capitalism in the UK is that women make up the workforce in the majority of low-paid jobs: a staggering 90% in the domestic and care industries. Undocumented migration and cash-in-hand payments mean accurate data is hard to come by, but it is estimated that migrants made up 27% of workers in elementary cleaning occupations in 2014, disproportionate to their 13.1% share of the UK’s population.Yup. Like I figured. It is.
Cleaning is work that women should do for free, so goes the logic, and so it’s left to those most desperate for jobs to pick up the slack – often at less than minimum wage and with no guaranteed hours.Presumably this is, however, better than their options in their home countries? So why should we worry?
This presents a problem for high-flying feminist women who see the rejection of domestic labour as liberation from tradition and a chance to further their careers and ambitions. Why clean the bedroom when you could be sitting in a boardroom? But this individualistic model of equality focuses on women gaining power rather than feminists gaining influence, and it does nothing to improve the material lives of less privileged women.Ah. I see. This is yet another paradigm shift in feminist policy making.
The unfortunate fact is that mess and dirt will always exist, and someone will always have to clean. The feminist response, then, isn’t to keep shifting undesirable domestic labour to one another but to challenge the perception that it should be negotiated between women alone. Only then can we really start to question why domestic jobs should be valued at a lower premium than any other labour, resulting in work that is insecure, inflexible and isolating.They are valued at that premium because they are jobs that the unskilled can do. And as soon as the Roomba or its like can cope with stairs, and is cheap enough, they won't even have this. As I pointed out elsewhere.