My mother was a hotel chambermaid for almost a decade when I was growing up. She would come home with gifts--the one I remember most was a red Nike jumpsuit circa 80's rapper style--that guests would often leave for her. But more than presents, she came home with stories about the guests, her coworkers and life cleaning up after other people's s**t. Some of those stories were not pretty and involved how grossly messy, rude and humiliating people could be to the faceless and nameless women who clean up after them. Many more stories were beautiful too as they involved sisterly bonds that took place in the employee cafeteria in the basement. Mother was responsible for cleaning up to 16 rooms in a Holiday Inn in northern New Jersey in a 7.5 hour work day. Many times the rooms were such a gross mess that she wasn't able to finish scrubbing floors and toilets and her coworkers would come to her rescue. Other times, she pitched in for her colleagues. Mother was reminding me of those stories this week as we talked about the two housekeeper dramas recently in the news--Arnold Schwarzenegger's sexual affair with his housekeeper, Guatemalan immigrant, Mildred Baena and the alleged sexual attack against an African immigrant hotel maid by IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Wanting to get her impression into a world she once worked in, I interviewed my mother. Shockingly, at least for me, was that my mother had no mercy for either women! My mother never experienced the horrors that the victim of allegedly attack in the NYC hotel or had affairs with her bosses. She said simply because she followed protocol at all times--if a guest was in the room, she would not go in to clean. She had lines and borders that she did not cross with male colleagues and bosses. Mother protected herself-- and had a silent form of self defense. Pity the man who would try to cross the line against my drop dead gorgeous mother. But, mother is also a US citizen and was not very fearful of getting deported so I assume that that fact gave her confidence that she exuded that must have kept the perps away far away from her. Yes, my mother has a don't f**k with me attitude that radiates far and wide. Love that!
I interviewed another housekeeper in the building where I live. I was doing my laundry and bumped into her, and as Maria, a Salvadoran immigrant, and I folded clothes in the laundry room, we spoke of her job and the cases at hand. Maria said that she has worked for a couple in the building where I live for the last decade. Both are lawyers, straight and she says that never any of the jefes or jefas crossed the line, cheated her out of wages, or humiliated her. She too was not very generous with both women.
The two housekeepers I spoke to blamed Baena and the hotel chambermaid and NOT the men. They question the women's motives nothing of the behavior of the males involved! That made me sad because the reality for millions of housekeepers not in the news is very dangerous. And many are missing the point.
Diana Velos of American University says that we will really never know the numbers of domestic workers who suffer at the hands of their not so famous perps. Many of these workers are Latinas--in fact, Latinas constitute the largest group of women entering the domestic labor force in the US according to Velos. And many of these women are undocumented. She writes that this legal situation sets them up for all kinds of abuse--low and unfair wages, horrid working conditions, harassment and even rape. Many of these women are invisible and feel they cannot go to authorities for fear of deportation so if their patron pats their asses, breasts, ask them to strip, slap them, spit on them or sexually proposition them as some have told Velos, many live with the abuse.
These female domestic workers are powerless and powerful men love to pray on their vulnerability. In both the ex Governor and ex IMF chief, the law and press must not be blind and should investigate their actions. The blogosphere and talk shows so far have been having a field day talking about the ex Governors penchant for ugly women. Others questions the maid's motives. But not so much about the underlying conditions. The story behind the story.
But lets be clear, the reality of the every day nameless female domestic workers in this country is just as dirty as the bathrooms they have to clean. And in the midst of Terminator jokes--a real discussion about these horrors should be taken place.