Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Separate and Still NOT Equal

Photo from Brazilian Film Domesticas

I am surprised by how many people consider the lack of a maid's bathroom a deal breaker. Our apartment doesn't have one. We took it out to make our kitchen larger and chose to instead keep the good sized maid's room. I'll tell you this, many of those in the market for a 3 bedroom are not pleased.

And I don't get it! It's so separate but equal kind of crap. I have two other full bathrooms in my apartment. There is no shortage of places to drop the kids off at the pool. I felt it was excessive to keep a bathroom just for my maid. Who is she Madonna?

But many Cariocas do not approve, and I'm not just talking about the older ones. Families with small children have openly expressed their dissatisfaction in our decision. It has been discussed to the extend that I have started pointing out that our maid's room is large enough to have a small bathroom put in. That way it will feel extra prison like.

Ok, I don't say the last part.

Honestly though, it's starting to piss me off! These women are clean enough to cook for the family and feed the children but heaven forbid if they shower in the main bathroom?! Oh my Goodness, the insanity! And if anyone tries to say it's a convenience thing or that maids prefer it, just bite me. That is total bullshit. It's not like there's a line of impatient family members forming in my hall because my maid has decided today is her day to wax in my bathroom.

It's a freaking bathroom! Get over it!


  1. Have you read The Help by any chance? Get it on your Kindle and I swear that even though the book was written about the US in the 50's it applies to Brazil today. It really is crazy the similarities....


  2. I think I am starting to forget how brazilians are like. i agree with u Rachel, and it is such a hypocrisy...
    Good luck!

  3. I haven't read that. I'll look into it! Btw, it was great finally meeting you!

    Karina- It is a hypocrisy...

  4. ahahaha its true
    I remember when we were looking for a beach apartment and my mom wouldnt even consider a place without a maid's bathroom and we never had a live in maid at the beach...

  5. I have an idea! You can include a chamber pot in the price of the apartment! It would make everything legit again.

  6. Is it hard to hire maids if you don't offer them their own private bathroom? I would love to have a private bathroom, but otherwise, what's the big deal?

  7. Prejudice is indeed a very sad thing.

  8. Wow. And I agree with Sara. It's a fabulous book, and you will be shocked at the parallels between the story in the book (set in the 50s) and your bathroom situation.

  9. I am so confused, you have a room for your maid???? What does she do in this room? Like a bedroom? Why?

    Why does she need a bathroom? What the butt of the help cant touch the same space as the client???

    So strange, it´s like another planet.

  10. Nina, Rachel,

    The separate maid's bathroom and bedroom is mostly for the live in maids.
    It gives the maid and the family more privacy. And for the "faxineiras", at my mother's house, they always used the maid's bathroom to hang their work clothes. They always took a shower before living for the day, put on make up and left kinda dressed up.
    I guess the maids could use the family's bathroom with no problem, but the extra bathroom is definitely an added convenience.
    Having said that, there is definitely a prejudice/separate but equal factor in the whole situation.


  11. I thought you did not have a live in maid? why would u then need a room and bathroom for her?

  12. oh and do you recommend that film?

  13. I don't have a live in maid. I don't even have someone ever day. That being said, I have an AMAZING woman who comes in twice a week and totally busts her ass cleaning up this place! She is great!

    My apartment was built in the 60s so has the room and had a bathroom. In support of what Ray said, when we bought this place the kitchen was in the original condition, the rest of the place had been modernized. Basically the kitchen, laundry area, maid's room (or small room as the politically correct are saying now) and maid's bathroom were the maid's domain. So there is a separation for the live ins and family's comfort but a live in maid is becoming quite rare!

    I haven't seen the film but I want to rent it now that I know of it :)

    And I'm getting that book!

  14. Brazil is one of the racist country in the world. More than the US. Look around and you will see who lives on the slums, cleans the tables. Look at the soap operas there is no minorities and the same is in power. It is sad but undeclared Apartheid still lives in Brazil. Why would someone want to live in a place like this?

  15. Anon,

    I have to disagree with you. I don't think Brazil is the most racist country in the world.
    I think there are different types of racism.
    Brazil never had segregated water fountains, restrooms and restaurants. The US and South Africa for example were much more brutal towards racism at one point in history.
    African Americans don't live in slums in the hills but many of them live in the American equivalent of slums. Remember Katrina? What's the first image that came to your mind? Definitely not one of white people waiting to be rescued on the top of overpasses and the downtown football field.
    If I would summarize the different types of racism in Brazil and in the US, I would say that racism in Brazil is more subtle and hypocrite and in the US more violent and blatant, both are equivalently bad and disgusting.


  16. At least the minorities here have more protection and access to become mainstream than Brazil. Look at our TV programs and they are more diverse than any of Brazilian soap operas or programs. The difference is that we are developed and Brazi is still a banana republic!

  17. I know my people who do need a maid's bathroom...
    if your apartment has 3 en suites bedrooms (which the bathroom inside) and a half bathroom ....where is she going to take a shower?? in this case its better to have a separate area for her...

    If she is live-in and its her time off , the maid doesn't want to go all the way to the kids bathroom to shower or use the toilet
    She should have one near here her bedroom..

    I don't think its prejudice , its convenient for her to have a place where she has privacy and its always available for her to use.

  18. Sure, that's a good point. Sadly, I doubt it's the situation 90% of the time.

  19. Rachel,

    Definitely read "The Help", I also saw many paralels with Brazil. I also remember reading the black feminist sociologist Patricia Collins in grad school while on a trip to Brazil. To research race relations she took a job as a maid in the South and commented on the invisibility she experienced. At one point she just took out her notebook and started writing fieldnotes in the kitchen and her employers did not even notice. I read that particular part as I was literally watching my former boyfriend's maid suffer the same invisibility on a visit to him in Rio. And I am sure that the same people who asre aghast at not having a miad'd bathroom are the ones who say that their maid is "like a member of the family".

  20. I think the maid should have a bathroom for convenience and privacy for the maid and also for the family.

    I don't think she is a member of the family but she should be treated with respect and be paid well.

  21. In an ideal world, yes. But in a small apartment all space is a luxury.

  22. Rachel ,
    I think most buyers want the maid's bathroom but people have different needs so I am sure you will find a buyer who doesn't have a live-in maid and will appreciate the extra space in the kitchen.

  23. I'm sure I'll find someone soon enough. The thing that gets me is that the vast majority of them don't have live in maids. The closest is a maid there from Monday to Friday. Only a few have mentioned live ins. It's becoming a lot rarer here. Maids want their own lives and more power to them.

  24. We joined our "cuarto de empleada" with a small study behind it and turned it into a mini-apartment to rent out (we're lucky enough to live in a pretty big house).

    My maid only comes 3 days a week, and she showers and changes in my bathroom, which is fine with me.

    I was stunned when one of my English students lectured me on letting my maid sit and eat with my kids. The maid should have her own little place to eat in the kitchen, according to him, not at the table with my kids. The same guy told me it wasn't racist to make jokes about indigenous Peruvians smelling bad because "they actually do smell bad".

  25. An elite that never cared about its own people, now wants to say it is a benefit for their maid to have their own separate quarters. What a hypocrisy?

  26. Brazilian racism is alive and well...

  27. Subtle or violent, Brazilians have always been in denial when it comes to their racism.

  28. Hmmm, it seems like if the building area in the kitchen is modern for the needs then you did the logical thing by taking out the bathroom. Even though people are complaining hopefully the people who scope out the apartment and end up buying it will be forced to become more open minded. So maybe your lack of bathroom will transform the world.

    If I asked my cleaning woman to use another bathroom I would be so ashamed of myself. Isn't is the same idea as blacks in the U.S. being asked to use a different bathroom?

    Ok, live-in I can see the purpose or function. I guess I would want my "help" to have their space. But from what it seems today that in Brazil live-in "help" is only for the extremely rich.

    Anyways, Rachel good luck on selling the apartment! I think it would be really interesting if you did a post on your apartment hunting in Rio, I keep hearing the prices are crazy. I would love to know more.

  29. Hi Rachel, congratulation on a great blog

    I guess for an American the greatest cultural shock is the that middle class maid thing...

    I really don't think it's a situation based on race (not all maids are black, I doubt the majority are if you count the whole country), therefore don't think it's racism. It is just some relic of a time that the middle class could afford live in maids. It just a feature that you expect on a house/apartment for middle class and up...

    Brazil unfortunately isn't a racial paradise. there is a lot of prejudice and even racism. but it isn't a racist country there isn't and never was much segregation in our society, but we didn't went thought any rights movement so no affirmative action.. economically blacks in Brazil (6.84% of the population) make 70% of the poor population with very few policy to diminish this sad picture but to really claim is one the racist country is a joke... Just take a look in out genetic pool can you be a racist and marry/partner and have kids with other race?

    Good luck selling your apartment, I don't think it will be very easy I for one would never consider buying an house/apartment without "banheiro de empregada" simply because it would be tough to sell it later and it does devalue it a bit...

  30. Our tiny apartment has a separate bathroom for the empregada. We use it as the bathroom you use when you are bursting and someone is in the other(main) bathroom. But to suggest it is somehow a convenient place for the amid to shower or change her clothes -- give me a break. It is TINY (opposite of large CAPS).

    It is definitely a relic of a time when the maid had NO status.

    I always tell the woman who cleans our hous that she is WELCOME to use the household bathroom to change her clothes or to shower.

    This is a scandal for my MIL.

  31. Let me see if I understood correctly: economically blacks are 6.84% but represent 70% of the poor population and Brazilians say this is not a racist country! The mixing occurred between the Portuguese, natives and blacks along time ago…Reality is there are not many interracial marriages among middle and upper class. Have a middle class kid show up with a black boyfriend/girlfriend to see what happens. Hell breaks loose! I guess they could learn something with their oppressed poor population where this is not a big deal!

  32. It's so true. 4 years ago when we were in the market to buy an apartment we found a really great one, the perfect balance of older charm and modernity...but they expanded the kitchen and took out the maids room, just the left the bathroom, my husband said, "what, are we going to hang the clothes in the kitchen to dry" and he did have a point, but I rebutted that we should just fork out the money and buy a dryer, problem solved. But, we bought another place, with a maid's room and bathroom (the maid's room is actually our office now). Also, the first apartment that I lived in here in Rio, my husband expanded the master bedroom by knocking down the wall to the maids room. The person who bought that apartment from us put the wall back up and restored the maid's room. It's a big deal here it seems. Our faixineria comes a total of 10-12 hours per week, I don't see the need for a whole room/bathroom, but there is the need for room to hang clothes, iron and sort of a catch-all place for stuff.

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  34. @ Anonymous 6:51pm

    Yes, Blacks are the majority of the poor population and we need strong policies to address this disparity.

    No, interracial marriages isn't a taboo it was never against the law and it was never frown upon (As it was in any country of English descent)... It would raise a few eyebrows if a Upper Class dated a lower class - Class is still much alive and very present

    How can black Brazilians be over represented and we still claim that Brazil isn't a racism country?! simple, just read a bit about our economic history... For a long time it was based on Monocultures which concentrate wealth and power on the hands of very few, we never had much of industrial park where you could have jobs that paid a decent salary, capitalist system and long periods of high inflation did the rest (the effects of high inflation on people that don't had bank accounts and the ones that had bank accounts is brutal - high inflation alone did create a huge wealth gap)... Even today in Brazil if you don't have a college degree your economic prospect are very limited...

    Only 11% of Brazilians have a college degree so the salary/wealth gap between the white collar workers and the rest of the population was huge, that why the middle class could afford live in Maids...

    This is changing (to slowly I might add) with the recent growth and stable inflation the have nots experience a huge leap in the standard of living and economic prospects, it will be a defining moment to see if the over representation of black brazilians in the poor population decreases with this economic grows, if it stays the same or increases them the only explanation is that indeed Brazil is very racist

  35. Anon,

    You sound like a you have a lot of bottled up anger against Brazilians, or white Brazilians I should say.
    I can asure you, the issue in Brazil is much more a CLASS division and less of a racial divide.
    I grew up in a middle/upper class neighborhood of Sao Paulo. We had neighbors that were Black and upper class, potiticians, lawyers, judges and they were treated as equal. Race was not a matter at all.
    However, there is a strong CLASS separation in Brazil. Your accent, where you were born, the neighborhood you live in, the car you drive and the brand of clothes and shoes you wear will be much more important to be accepted in Brazilian society than your race.
    Talking about race, I don't know of any country in the world that has treated minorities in a decent way.
    Japanese are probably the most racist people I ever met. I grew up with many of them. They DO NOT MIX, with anyone, but themselves.
    If you are American, don't even get me started, KKK, Mississippi burning, Interacial Marriage phrohibition, Katrina...should I go on?
    I guess not, as Marcio said, Brazil is not perfect, but it's not worse or better than the US when it comes to racism, or any other country for that matter.
    If you live in a glass house...


  36. My folks lived in Copacabana and had to remodel their apartment which hadn't been updated since the 40s. They left in the maid's bathroom and bedroom although they used the maid's room for storage. They redid the bathroom so that it was nicer, it had an enclosed shower which made it nicer. They didn't tear it out because of resale concerns.

    A trend I saw when I was in Vitoria was the maid's bathroom and bedroom getting smaller and smaller. I saw one in which the maid wouldn't be able to lie down because of the size. The homeowner's are using is as a closet and folding station for laundry.

  37. We kept our maid's room for storage as well. It's actually a really good size because our building is a little bit older. I hate the new buildings with their tiny rooms...

  38. This is a case of hygiene and class clash.
    Everyone knows how freakish brasilians can be with cleaniness, but that doesn't mean we take care of our overall health situation. Cleaning it up does not cure diseases.
    Lower classes tend to not treat their illness as much, either for not knowing how to, not having money or lack a usefull health system. Having said that, personal hygiene takes a lot more then showering 3, 4 times a day.
    Would you let a stranger use your toothbrush or your panties? I'm thinking not. It's the same concept applied to toilet seats and shower. Do you use public bathrooms like you do at home?
    You can make up politically correct sentences like it's for your maid's benefit, but it breaks down to personal hygiene.

    Yes, the maid is a stranger coming to your house. You know nothing about her background surrounding the hygiene field. And although they can cook and clean, if you are a real brazilian, you are constantly telling her how to clean and cook right. YOU double check everything she does. Unless, of course, you care nothing about this things.

    And also, it's not only for the maid use, at one point or more in your home life, you'll probably hire someone to fix, repair or intall something and they will need to use the toilet as well. Another stranger. Now picture your handy-man, all sweatty, smelling like crap (CC, good heavens) taking a dump in your kid's bathroom, washing his hands (we hope) and using their towels to dry off. Yeah, nice.

    In the old times with bigger apartments it was normal to have a guest's bathroom, a small one usually near the main room for anyone droping in your apartment to use. No need to mix your hygiene with stranger.

  39. What does sharing a toilet have to do wanting someone to use my panties or toothbrush? Red haring statement much.

    My apartment has two bathrooms. There is a more social one so it isn't a big deal. And you risk more hygeinically by allowing someone to cook your food. Do you make sure your maid washes her hands after using her tiny bathroom? I mean, if it is about hygiene. Btw, following this line of thought, how do Cariocas go to the bathroom in restaurants? Do they pull a madonna and bring their own seat?

  40. That's a great point, Rachel. Do Brazilians tend to avoid using public restrooms because strangers have used the same toilet? I don't think so, based on my experience. I can't remember if bathrooms there have disposable seat coveres or not.