Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Help

I'm sick today so I am on full lazy mode. I have been spending every moment possible in a horizontal position behind my Kindle.

I've just started reading The Help. Finally right! It was so highly recommended on my maid's bathroom post that I had to check it out.

Ironically, it's Thursdays. Thursday is one of the days that my maid comes in. So there I am reading about all the social injustice in the 60s while my maid cleans my place.

And it just rubbed me the wrong way. I have always felt awkward about that. I mean, I am here and should be cleaning my own damn house. At the same time, she does need the work and I really do appreciate the help.

The thing is, there is a stain from slavery still left in day to day life in Brazil. Just look at how the middle class is reacting to the rising cost of full time nannies. It's as if they entitled, like the maids are supposed to be cheap and come and raise their family. It's how it's always been and how it should always be.

Then there's the name for the bosses. Just like Miss so-and-so in the book, here they call us Dona so-and-so.  I have always found that odd. Why should my maid use a special label of respect when saying my name? She is here working and getting paid. I don't see Mr. Rant referring to anyone at his job as Dona anything. I sure as hell don't call my female students Dona Leticia or Dona Susi.

Sadly, the more I read the book the more similarities I see. The issue with selling my apartment without a maid's bathroom for example. Like they said in The Help "Colored Diseases." It makes me sick to my stomach to even imagine that people still think that way. I'm really going to have a hard time keeping my mouth shut if anyone comments on it now.

And I just don't know what to do with this. I feel like the naive character, all full of good will and no common sense or reality behind it. I just don't get how people can treat other people as if they are less than everyone else.

On a side note, I 100% recommend The Help! I'm only 30% through it (or already seeing I started reading it last night) but I can already tell you that it's an amazing read!


  1. Really good huh...and I see your point.

  2. I'm going to pick it up soon myself. Wish I had a trip to go on, I would loveit for a plane ride or the beach. The movie just came out here but I want to read the book first.

    I don't have any "help" here which you can clearly see when you walk in the front door, but if I did I would probably kiss her feet every day to show my appreciation paid or

  3. People are raving about the movie that just came out.
    Yes, Rachel, sadly Brazil has some strong "bad" cultural marks from the days of slavery. It is still present.
    But I was able to realize it even more after staying away from Brazil for a while and being able to visit back after some time away, it hits you in the face like a ton of bricks...but it kind of blends in the day to day life when you are there...
    Perhaps this movie will bring some people to think about the way they treat their maids.


  4. I loved this book! And there's one character in this book that totally had me wondering what the heck was goin' on?...I won't say more but it's a great book, with some surprises in the end. And yes, tons of parallels here living in Brasil. Feel better!

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  6. I've been shocked by a lot of the things that go on here, but I came from NYC where nannies make $750/week under the table, have up to six weeks vacation and get paid for weekends, etc. A babysitter is $15/hour and if they leave after 9 p.m. you pay their cab fare home in addition to the hourly rate. At least NY'ers understand that good help is worth paying for.

    The thing is, I am not going to argue about money, most of the time which is a small sum, with the person taking care of my child. I mean, it is a little like getting discount plastic surgery. Isn't that something you generally don't want to get the Wal-Mart version of? Same thing with someone cooking, cleaning and caring for my child. I want them happy and taken care of because they are helping me take care of the most important thing in my life.

    My husband and I are constantly shocked by little things that make me feel terribly uncomfortable. Recent example includes a 'baba' from school coming to babysit on a Saturday night for us and asking where the maid's bathroom was located so she could change into her white uniform. What in the world? Not only are we opposed to the whole nanny wears a white uniform at all times, but Sam was asleep and all she was going to do was watch television or read a book! Of course we insisted she NOT change. Thankfully she agreed.

    “Never take a person's dignity: it is worth everything to them, and nothing to you.” Frank Barron

  7. Rachel: Like you said your cleaner is working and getting paid. You shouldn't feel guilty about doing whatever u want while she is cleaning. It is her job. You can ask her to call you by your first name.

    Mandy: nyc prices are not the normal. it is an exception comparing to anywhere else in the world. I have never seen a nanny getting six weeks vacation per year in NYC (or even 4, most of them get 2 weeks off).

  8. Perhaps the "Dona" title is sort of a code to establish boundries in a society that tends to be so very casual and where women tend to be overbearing. This is not Finland and two alpha females in one house just won't work.
    Other than that the way some people treat their help is hideous and utimately reflects on how backward that employer is. I once witnessed such an act in a lobby and could not help myself and said to the lady "você é realmente uma madame de terceiro mundo". She was shocked, hurt. I was actually sad to have said it because in the end the whole situation is very depressing for all involved.
    Slavery is a sin and we are paying for that one huge sin up to this day.

  9. Its a great book, I just finished and really enjoyed it. Its amazing how much can change in half a century and how so much can also stay the same. Not sure if you saw the man killed in Jackson just recently strictly because he was black, where the story takes place. Sickening. I was just having this discussion with some americans here about going to see the movie and wondering how brazilians will react. It comes out here in SP next month...

  10. "I just don't get how people can treat other people as if they are less than everyone else."

    I think anywhere in the world u will see this happen in the past and now..
    e.g. Japanese thought they were "above" other asian nations , how a doctor is a "better" person than a driver in any society , how people from SP think they are better than Nordestinos , how some white people think they are brighter than africans , how a person w blue eyes is considered more good looking than a person w brown eyes , taller better than shorter , try going to a valentino store looking trashy ....they will look down on you no matter how much money you might have , a fat person is considered lazy ,if a muslim lady is wearing a burka she is considered oppressed or a fundamentalist nutty , latinos jobs in the us : cleaner , babysitter , constructor or gardener. and the list goes on and on...
    Prejudice is everywhere unfortunately in different shapes: race , colour , job , appearance , nationality , religion , ethnicity.

  11. I recommend it as well - I read last year. There is a different between having help and treating them badly and having help and treating them with respect. Of course, in the case of Brazil, there is a cultural twist that you must wrangle with - if you treat them well, they may "take advantage." I've had a couple incidents recently where I was more than fair, and I was taken advantage of. All I can say is - let the market dictate the price and set the terms in advance. If both parties agree, proceed and stick to the rules.

  12. I think BAB has hit the nail on the head: treat the help professionally since this tends to foster the best atmosphere for work. I think most of us are "the help", we just do different things. Wouldn't you agree that the best work environments you have experienced were all run professionally? BTW there is nothing unprofessional about complaining of a job poorly done as there is nothing wrong with congratulating and financially compensating someone who has not only done well but gone the extra mile and accomplished even more than stipulated.

  13. While I really enjoyed reading The Help and saw many parallels to Brazil, I read this letter this morning from the Association of Black Women Historians ( and am beginning to think a bit more about the book (and now movie). Just as reading the book makes some of us reflect on our relationship to "the help" in Brazil, I feel that the book also serves this purpose (understanding the white relationship to help rather than the black perspective). That said, I really liked the book and would (and do) recommend it highly

  14. There does have to be mutual respect. I myself have been "take advantage" of by a maid who obviously no long works for me.

    There's also the other side to it. I know many families who have very close relationships with their family maids, to the point of building them a new home. Mr. Rant's late Grandmother helped her maid buy a home, furnish it, and make all necessary upgrades. I think Valeria got more new fridges than I ever have! I supposed for some it's a taking care of each other arrangement.

  15. I think Anonymous made the point I poorly made in trying to illustrate the 'cost' of nannies in NYC. I'm certainly not saying that they should make that here because it would be completely disproportionate to what is made in an average salary here. At the end of the day whatever they pay for 'the help' is less than what they get in return at their job/free time, etc. It's simple economics.

    If the middle class here is making more, how can another entire class of people be expected to be left behind in the pay increases?

    Anonymous, I know many people that employed nannies with six weeks off (if you include all US holidays) and were happy to do so because it, again, was a value to them by enabling them to do whatever they need/want to do with the time given by employing a nanny. Again, nannies aren't all created equal and if someone feels like it's worth it to them, then that opens the door for the norms to change.

  16. You are laying down reading a book while she's cleaning your house because she is doing the work that you don't want to do. And thank goodness we don't all want the same job! I was a nanny, housekeeper, live-in/live-out for 10 years. It got me through my undergrad, with some difficult times in between. And I was ALWAYS happy to have the job. Thank goodness some women didn't want to raise their own children 100% of the time- it gave me the opportunity to do so. And I am forever grateful. My sis-in-law is a 'secretaria' and really, that's all she wants to do. She doesn't want to go to college (we offered to send her) or get training or move up or anything. She's very content to live with her folks, party in Bahia at holidays, and kick-it with her friends. Keep hiring maids! She needs the work!

  17. Actually, I was laying down and reading a book because I was sick. The ironic part of it was that I was reading the Help and it was the day my maid comes. Honestly, I still have to do all the thing she does at least a couple of times a week. She gives me two days off and a good start to the other days.

    I have had jobs that required heavy cleaning and have also taken care of kids. It's not fun. I think being a maid who goes from home to home is quite different from one that only works in one home. The work is harder. She has also voiced that she did not plan on being a maid. It's just what happened due to circumstances.

    Of course, I will keep Socorro for as long as she will work here. She is amazing and she makes my life a hell of a lot easier! I'm happy to give her a stable income and recommend her to anyone!

  18. So glad that you are reading the book! When I read The Help I had just hired someone to help out at the house. After reading it I insisted that my maid eat at a table with a chair instead of huddling in a corner for lunch... to this day she still will not eat sitting down or in front of me. Come on- it's her lunch break take a seat! A couple of months ago she even apologized for eating lunch before me because I was late coming home and she was hungry. She is older and probably set in her ways but I try to make the environment comfortable for her as much as I can.


  19. @ SN

    ***I insisted that my maid eat at a table with a chair instead of huddling in a corner for lunch... to this day she still will not eat sitting down or in front of me. Come on- it's her lunch break take a seat!***

    If I may offer a different viewpoint... Would you really want YOUR boss at your company insisting that YOU have lunch in front of him/her? You can imagine how awkward and uncomfortable that would make you. You undoubtedly have good intentions, but you need to put yourself in your housekeeper's shoes. It's their job (whether chosen or not), and they need to be treated professionally. Not forced to sit and eat in front of the boss.

  20. At Anon- We actually have a really large cobotura (over 5,000sq ft) and there is a separate eating area that has another table next to the maid's quarters.... it's never used and completely private from the rest of the house. This is the table that I suggested she should eat at since nobody ever goes in there. I don't request that she eat in front of me but I find no need for her to eat standing in the laundry room by the wash machine. Therefore I believe I have put myself in her shoes. Working 8 hrs without sitting... that't unrealistic and somewhat barbaric.

    Finding a healthy work environment that promotes healthy habits is something I believe a person has a right to. It doesn't matter that she is working in my house. Oh and when I was woking back in the states I used to eat with my boss every single day. How is treating a person with less respect treating them professionally? Just a thought.

  21. I plan to read the book before the movie. Usually, these kinds of stories upset me, with the way the maids were treated, and how a lot still are. But I have been hearing nothing but good reviews, so I will give it a chance:)

    Growing up, we had a maid whom came over to our house once a week. My sister and I were expected to treat her with respect, even keeping our bedrooms picked up. If we did not have our clothes picked up, my mom said we would have to clean the rooms ourselves. She was and still is part of our family.

    My MIL's maid has been working here for 15 years, she is wonderful. What is so good about her is she is honest. At times, when she would go on vacation, MIL would hire replacement maids, only to have her items stolen. That is something have to be aware of, but they were asked to leave right away. Being a small town, word does get around. We pay MIL's maid extra to do our laundry because having us around creates more work for her. Also practice a little Portuguese with her:) I plan to order the book. Good article you wrote.