A word on satire

Dear Barbara Ehrenreich,

This is satire.

This is just lazy.

See, one of them exposes and mocks society by catching the reader up in appealing rhetoric and then twisting the tourniquet tighter and tighter until she can’t breathe.

The other one consists mainly of appropriation and regurgitation of other people’s tired cracks about fat and overconsumption. You know, I don’t even think you’re a fatphobe, and that kinda makes it worse. You don’t believe what you’re saying, but you also ignore the ways in which it might be hurtful — and, frankly, unfunny and belabored and bland. You’re not being righteously angry or interestingly vitriolic and you certainly aren’t being bitingly satirical. You are phoning it right the fuck in.

I mean seriously, harnessing the energy of all that Mountain Dew and chips we eat? Lord, next you’ll be telling me airline food isn’t tasty.

Look, I see what you were trying to go for. It’s sort of an M. Night Shyamalan kind of approach, where you got high and had what seemed like a brilliant idea (“whoa, what if we ran our overconsuming Hummers off our overconsuming fat?”) that wasn’t really that brilliant anyway and that you then wrecked with lazy execution. I mean, hey, fat, that’s inherently funny, right? Especially if fat people are being damaged and punished for the overconsumption they must be engaged in. That’s just fundamentally funny. No need to do any work.

Satire can appeal to people’s worse natures, yes, but only until it exposes those ill natures to them in a slow but irrevocable revelation. It’s not supposed to appeal to people’s worst natures (“Fat people aren’t really people, so their bodies should be harvested for the rest of us!” “Heavy consumers, who must also be heavy people, deserve to become gaunt and malnourished!”) and then just kind of snicker along.

Honestly, I’m not disgusted by the ideas in this article, like some of the people who’ve pointed it out to us. Hell, I had to dig hard to formulate those two illustrations of our worst natures (and hint: when it’s not clear what you’re satirizing, there is a problem with your satire). What I am is disappointed. I like you, Barbara, and I want to see you do good work. Fat jokes? Come on, you are better than this. You couldn’t even make the last paragraph make sense — so liposuction will improve our self-esteem because we’ll be proud of ourselves for how fat we are now that we’re thin? Did you just not have your coffee?

Please watch some Colbert and get back to me, okay?

111 thoughts on “A word on satire

  1. Ehrenreich is not who I think of when I think of knee-slapping hilarity. She can be clever sometimes, but Groucho Marx she ain’t. But you know, Groucho always lamented not having had the “education” to be a writer. Ehrenreich has a doctorate. Kate, what was it Al said about nobody wanting to do what they’re good at?

  2. I love how people throw the idea of liposuction around like it’s no big deal, instead of a fairly risky and very unnecessary medical procedure.

  3. And, I think Ehrenreich really misses the entire point of A Modest Proposal in her misbegotten “satire”. The idea of AMP is not to make people rub their hands with glee, ready to toss babies into the oven; it was to point out that there is a crisis that is killing people, especially children–and draw upon the irony that the public doesn’t seem to mind its children dying of starvation, but has a real problem with those same children dying in other ways, and thus make them hopefully realize that neither situation is desirable.

    Ehrenreich just wanted to take a nasty potshot at fat people in the guise of what she thought was a clever twist on current energy crises.

  4. She may not be the worst kind fof fatphobe, fillyjonk, but she sure doesn’t grok the plot.

    I got in a little fight with her on her blog once. She had used the iconic stereotype of fat people as lazy junkfood eaters in service of her post’s main point (her main point was something about cancer), and I called her on the fat-slamming (also saying I’d admired her lefty work for years). She was utterlyy unreceptive to my point, urging readers to just get back to the main point about cancer. I was very disappointed. She’s so good at challenging the status quo in some ways.

  5. What I want to know is why we don’t hook up generators to the equipment in every gym and use human power as an energy source.

    Make those damn gym bunnies earn their keep. After all, all the extra oxygen they use when they artificially increase their heart rates–sometimes for hours at a time–is surely contributing to global warming.

  6. That was just bad. Not funny in the slightest. Your commentary is spot on, Fillyjonk.

    Also, if you are following a Sanity Watchers (TM) plan, please do not the comments. You’ll use up all your points for the next month.

    @Tal: In totally seriousness, they are actually doing something similar to this for the Track and Field Olympic Trials this year! They are trying to generate energy as cleanly as possible, and volunteers are signing up to ride stationary bicycles that will generate power for the event. It’s really cool!

  7. She has the same article posted on her blog. A commenter named “lc2″ valiantly tries to call her out on the fatphobia, and Ehrenreich’s response shows that she really doesn’t get it. All she can do is to lamely claim that she really meant to target thin people who get liposuction to get rid of some imagined “tiny bumps”. The logic completely falls apart there too, since a skinny person having liposuction on some imagined problem area isn’t going to generate a whole lot of fuel.

    I find this whole thing extremely disappointing because I always thought that rather than being an apologist for the status quo, Barbara Ehrenreich was a friend to those who have gotten a raw deal in our society. Apparently not so much.

  8. Oh! I’m so glad you wrote about this. Her blog’s in my feed, and when I read this last one I thought, “Huh. FA has sure changed the way I read things, and now I’m really on the outside of this piece.”
    I didn’t know how to articulate it well, so I just wandered away. (I’ve got to get learn some FA “talking points” or something.)

  9. On a further side note.

    I’ve noticed that theres an underlying assumption in music/media these days. Something promoted by the Right more than the Left. The implication that Right Wingers are all fat, uneducated, fast food eating rednecks instead of educated thieves. (excuse my bias)

    Just thought i’d throw that out there. How did weight get associated with political alignment?

    Once again I’m on the outside being a fat liberal. (for the most part anyway)

  10. Yeah, I read that yesterday. “Satire” is not one of the words that came to mind.

    Stupid.
    Sick.
    Idiotic.
    Ridiculous.
    Filled with Bile.
    Moronic.

    THOSE are the words that came to mind.

    And she’s got a doctorate????? :-O

  11. Education!=intelligence
    def Satire_Blog():
    if Education==Intelligence:
    Barbara==Funny
    return
    Satire_Blog()

  12. That was an unfortunate piece by Ehrenreich. Fillyjonk, your post is spot-on. It is my hope that she will read it and think about it. I won’t hold my breath, though.

    Much as I admire Ehrenreich (and having read her work), I place her in the same lot as a vast majority of other Liberal writers. We Libs (a collective we that does not respect the individuality of each of the lefties, democrats, whatever – and within which I include myself) have our own warts, and this is just one of them: The intoxicating comfort of absolute conviction born from being on the “outside” and from a self-built mutual admiration society. The Righties have the same disease, but in a different form — they’ve been “in” for many years, so defense of the status-quo is paramount. They also don’t mind harnessing Scripture to boost their case.

    I have to wonder if it isn’t professional suicide for one of our ‘spokeswriters’ (can’t think of a better term) to have an independent thought – Say, like, question the Save Our Children from Fat initiatives of the nanny-state supporters; like questioning the Obesity Epidemic panic; like asking deep questions about what might be the unintended consequences of universal health care, and what we should keep our eye on. Anyone who points out a problem with what the ‘party line’ is immediately gets slammed as alarmist (or whatever) or called a nut-case.

    I think posts like this one by Fillijonk are a FUNDAMENTAL tool to try to control this tendency. The spokeswriters may not change their minds, but if they get goosed often enough they might start to pay some attention.

    –Andy Jo–

  13. Make those damn gym bunnies earn their keep.

    Hey, Tal, some of our readers are gym bunnies. We don’t talk shit about groups of people around here, period.

    Ehrenreich lost me ages ago, so I’m not surprised, frankly. Along the lines of what Andy Jo said, she’s struck me for a long time as incredibly judgmental — a born Puritan, despite being a lefty hero. (Not unlike Dan Savage.)

  14. I’ve not been following her particularly closely, but I sure wish she’d lost me for covert Puritanism and not for lazy writing. That at least seems valid. This is just sad.

  15. Also, as a gymgoer (though hardly a gym bunny! I am not sure of the definition but I think it involves going to the gym for longer than a quick lunchtime pick-me-up) I would be proud to have my expended energy harvested. I think that every time the elliptical tells me how many watts I’m supposedly generating. Why not use them? I can get energized and replenish some of the energy that’s being used to power my machine. At the very least I could run my iPod.

  16. I’ve often wondered how much work it would take on a stationary bike to say, recharge a AA battery.

    It takes me aback when people I otherwise like let loose about fat — and they still have the same ideas that I was brought up to have. Unfortunately, FA is still “fringe” and most people haven’t even heard about it, let alone thought about it.

  17. This is just lazy.

    Man, that was just a waste of words. Not only is the concept stupid and tired, the title holds the whole joke! The rest is just noise.

    I could get into the idea of harnessing the work of people on various exercise machines – most places have TVs going for people to watch that could be run on people power at least. I’d love to have that set-up at home since my kidlets bounce all over while watching TV anyhow…

  18. Well, shit. I want to cry now. Even if she stupidly and wrongly thinks fat is unacceptable in itself, how does she NOT get the very simple point that fat hatred is a front for racism, sexism, and classism, particularly among privileged supposedly-liberal folk? I mean it’s Barbara freaking Ehrenreich. I’m so disappointed. I loved her when she took on Caitlin Flanagan. Now this.

  19. I get where you’re headed, Fillyjonk, but I wouldn’t toss her into the fire for this one.

    I met a doctor not long ago who is doing research on stem cells in fat. Patients who get liposuction or who have other tissues removed have their fat sent to him to see if those more stable cells can be used to enhance medical treatments.

    For the most part, BE is talking about fat — the material inside our bodies that gives us extra padding when we fall and keeps us warm. She isn’t talking about people who are fat…just internal fat. And some overweight and obese people have more of it, and some don’t because they have insanely awesome muscles.

    I do think it’s a little silly to grow more corn to eat more to get heavier to get liposuction, but she’s clearly not serious. And she’s revisiting the same dumb (but not hurtful) comment at the end.

  20. How did weight get associated with political alignment?

    Working class white people are considered to be both fat and right wing. Whereas left wing people are considered to be educated elitists who eat organic salad. For the most part it’s bullshit but it is true that the left has a bigger focus on combating obesity, promoting healthy eating, etc..

  21. This is just weird. In her other work, Ehrenreich seems to understand very well the relationships between the media, the body, different economic classes, government spending, etc. Ehrenreich, probably more than most, knows “Doritos and Mountain Dew” signifies working class America, and liposuction signifies the celebrity class (the most public consumers of plastic surgery and the only “upper class” faction which is held up to middle and working class Americans as exemplary.)

    But I’m really not sure, which is why it doesn’t work. It hurts my brain to try to untangle it, so it fails, you’re totally right.

  22. *Scratching head* I have read a few of her books and I am a reasonably intelligent human being with a college education. You should be able to see satire coming, I got to the end of the article and I wasn’t sure what she was trying to say. It was obviously ridiculous but so are a lot of other silly things that have been written by people who are very serious about their opinions. I actually wasn’t sure if it was a satire or not, it sounds just crazy enough to be coming from the same people who keep telling us that fat people are bigger contributors to global warming and that they must be forced to loose weight for the good of our environment. I don’t think that this was lazy writing at all, I think that it is bad writing in a sense that she didn’t know what she was doing and was unable to clearly make her point. If a student were to turn this in for a grade on their ability to write satire, they would fail the assignment.

  23. For the most part, BE is talking about fat — the material inside our bodies that gives us extra padding when we fall and keeps us warm. She isn’t talking about people who are fat…just internal fat.

    Do you really think most non-doctor, non-FA people make that connection? (Because if you do, I grant you SW dispensation to read the article comments.)

  24. sumac, I totally agree, and you put it perfectly. It’s really confusing. For instance, I don’t understand what this statement is doing in there:

    “Already, the combination of a tiny waist and a huge carbon footprint — generated by one’s Hummer and private jet — is considered a sign of great wealth.”

    And, so, the solution is for these wealthy thin people to harvest fat from other people’s bodies who don’t have that level of class privilege? Huh? And this is an energy-neutral proposition?

    I suppose it’s possible she’s saying, in a very convoluted way, that rich thin hummer-drivers should pony up and get fat so that their fat calls can run their hummers, instead of depending upon a massive biofuels infrastructure that would simply be another less-efficient way of turning corn into fuel.

    But in that case it seems like the “humor” basically boils down to: “OMG you wanna know how BAD the energy crisis is?!?! It is SO BAD that it makes me think of something as RIDICULOUS as THIN BEAUTIFUL RICH PEOPLE eating and looking like FAT YUCKY POOR PEOPLE!!! Tee hee hee hee hee hee heeeeeeee!! And, see, I know that fat people are YUCKY, because they are MAKING OUR NATION NUMBER ONE IN TEH FAT!!!! What with their totally non-stereotypical, non-coded-class-reference DORITOS and MOUNTAIN DEW! OMG HILARIOUS!”

  25. Barbara Ehrenreich is great as an advocate for the working class but she has a huge, elitist blind spot. There’s a bit in Nickeled and Dimes where she snaps at a co-worker that any idiot can pass the written test for their job. It only occurs to her later that… maybe not. She’s more empathetic in principle than in practice.

  26. Kate, I felt that way about Ehrenreich after reading Nickel and Dimed a few years back — it was good, I guess, and I certainly remember some of the individual stories from it, but I mostly kept thinking “You didn’t know the world worked like this?” I mean, I read that as a 23-year-old grad student who has never faced poverty or hunger, and I sure as hell wasn’t surprised by what she was writing. Why was she? I mean, obviously a lot of people read that book and it made them think differently, and I don’t want to diminish that — but I read Naomi Klein’s No Logo at around the same time, and I learned way more about the way corporations fuck us over from that.

  27. Sniper, the other part of N&D that really bothered me was when she panicked about taking a mandatory drug test for her job, because she had smoked pot like two nights before. She had a crisis because her little experiment at being a working class person might not get to start the day she wanted, and the whole situation reeked of underexamined privilege to me — like the written test comment.

  28. The pot thing didn’t bother me as much as the comment about the co-worker, probably because I’m a teacher in a working class district. I’ve seen kids pushed out of the education system because they have learning disabilities or need language instruction.

    Scenario: An immigrant kid from a poor family is 16 years old in Grade 9, and her grades are shitty because she needs SPED service (or is depressed, or needs glasses, it goes on and on) and the well-meaning teachers and counsellors are trying to get the necessary services but it takes months. Meanwhile, the folks are tired of the kid “playing the fool” in school and the kid already has more formal education than her parents so what the hell? At 16 you’re an adult so if you’re not “college material” get a damned job.

    I see it happen every year, and I believe it is the direct result of how our education system is structured. Rich kids get tutoring, poor kids get jobs. A poor kid who screws around during school is making a serious, life-altering mistake, a rich kid who screws around during school can become president.

    And, um, Ehrenreich pissed me off. Sorry for the rant.

  29. @SM: Wow, that sounds a little pathetic, that she was that clueless. Maybe I should read Nickel and Dimed (I bought it used a few years ago) to laugh at her.

    Also, agreed with Moonlight0806 — er, what? Shouldn’t we have a better clue that it’s satire?

  30. Nickel and Dimed pissed me off because I lived it but without the safety net.

    At that time, I was unaware of what unexamined privilege was, but in retrospect, I think that’s what bothered me so much. I wanted to scream “YOU CAN STOP ANY TIME YOU WANT! I CAN’T!”

    Just the knowledge that the safety net existed invalidated the whole experiment, because she knew she could stop. There’s a whole different level of base terror and stress when you CAN’T stop because it isn’t an experiment and you’re trying to raise two kids on your own, besides.

  31. but it is true that the left has a bigger focus on combating obesity, promoting healthy eating, etc.

    Are you kidding? Bush is notorious for refusing to hire anyone (with the notable exceptions of Cheyney and Rove) who isn’t slender. One of his employees who left said that Bush dressed him down for working out “only” an hour a day.

    I wouldn’t classify Huckabee as a liberal by any measure. Lots of “conservative” politicians talk the conservative “personal responsibility” talk when it comes to fat, because, you know, the only reason anyone is ever fat is because s/he sits around all day watching tv, stuffing hir face with baby-flavored donuts.

    Of course, when “personal responsibility” means not breaking the law and not lining one’s own pockets at the expense of wage earners, all bets are off. Bastards.

  32. I agree with everyone who that it’s not really satire, just a meanderingly written (not that I should say anything today…Grammar: Iz doin it rong) collection of fat jokes. And as such, it actually reminds me of the article blaming the world’s ills on teh fatz. I wonder if some people (they’d have to be completely clueless, of course) who have bought into the obesity hysteria will even understand that it’s satire?

    Kate217, I’m totally with you on the ‘personal responsibilty’ bullshit. Sure, anyone can do anything we think they should do, facts and reality be damned!

  33. DAMN…just when i thought i was doing my job by being environmentally conscience and driving a fuel efficient car, not to mention realizing that fossil fuels can’t last forever and focusing on how I can change in the future, NOW I have to give up my own flesh?! STUPID ME…why didn’t I think of that first? I really do hope people who drive hummers and other SUVs get on their gain weight diet so they can power their gas guzzlers. Bottom line is that I have plenty self-esteem powered by my ability to see people for what they are, valued human beings… who don’t need to sacrifice themselves on the altar of a THIN and fat overconsuming society.

  34. Kate217, the difference as I see it is the left pushes and pushes and pushes because they want to help people “become healthy”. The right has more of an attitude of – “If you’re fat and unhealthy, that’s your problem”. Both are anti-fat but the left position is out there making policy that negatively affects fat people, where is the right position generally isn’t.

  35. I understand your view, Becky, but I don’t agree. I think that the right are saying “your fat costs me money, so put down the fork, get off your lazy ass, and drop the pounds, tubby.”

  36. Yeah, kate217, that’s what I tend to see too. I mean, obviously we’re talking in broad generalizations, but I would characterize it as “your fat costs me money so I need you to get less fat” vs. “everyone’s fat costs everyone money so everyone needs to get less fat for the good of everyone.” The first is more personal, the second more political. Also, I am making left-wingers sound like communists.

    That’s insofar as it can be broken out by political leanings, though. The main points — “I don’t want to fuck you so how dare you exist,” for instance — cross party lines. I just tend to find it way more disappointing in supposed progressives.

  37. I think that the right are saying “your fat costs me money, so put down the fork, get off your lazy ass, and drop the pounds, tubby.”

    Heh. Hey, I have an idea! What we need are really, really heavy forks.

  38. Eating would become a great way to tone our arms, since, as everyone knows, fat people eat everything with both hands.

  39. Didn’t Fight Club do something akin to that lipo joke already? But with actual, you know, satiric impact?

  40. sweetmachine – BE’s “little experiment at being a working class person” as you so aptly put it is when I lost all respect for her. If she wanted to draw attention to the plight of the working poor in the country, why not, I dunno, TALK TO THEM or be a vehicle for them to tell their stories themselves, instead of making it about you playing poor white trash for fun? argh.

  41. Even in N&D, she was pretty fatphobic. There was a part where she went into great detail about how appalled she was by the size of some woman’s ass (the implication being that if the fat woman got off her ass to clean her own house instead of being privileged enough to hire BE’s company to do it, she would be thin). Then there was the part where some skinny personal-trainer chick was trying to be nice by saying to BE that housecleaning (which BE was doing for the PT) is such good exercise, she wishes she had time to do it herself instead of going to the gym to get skinny. So yeah, while it wasn’t a big part of the book, she definitely betrayed herself to readers who were looking for it.

  42. I think this was one for the round file. I have to write a weekly column, myself, and I know there are times that I writer a real snoozer, or turn in something that doesn’t really go anywhere. Corporate media rides its employees like donkeys. I could 14 hours a day and still have mountains to do for the week.

    The thing is, when you say something dumb in print, it’s in stone. Your lack of preparation, your personal biases, your failure are there for all your readers to see.

    I so feel for Barbara right now.

  43. sweetmachine – BE’s “little experiment at being a working class person” as you so aptly put it is when I lost all respect for her.

    Me too. Only for me, the cherry on top of the unexamined privilege was the judgment of other privileged women for not cleaning their own houses. (Her rant on this was excerpted in Harper’s, I think–I haven’t actually read the book.) She railed about how kids today just aren’t taught to clean up after themselves, blah blah blah, world is going to hell. Except she totally focused it on women — mothers not teaching their daughters to clean house.

    That pissed me off on several levels. First, the obvious feminist issue — shouldn’t everyone, men included, learn to clean up after themselves, if that’s her ideal situation? Second, I have ADD, and had been recently diagnosed when that book came out. ADD makes it very hard to keep things organized and tidy — which is a bear of an issue for women who suffer from it, because we’re all expected to have “natural” talents in those areas. Guys can get away with being slobs, but women are moral failures if we can’t keep things spotless. I felt so much shame (and still do) over being a messy person — in part because my fastidious mother DID try so hard to train me otherwise — and Ehrenreich just heaped a whole bunch more shame on women like me, without ever stopping to think that cleaning might not be a relatively quick and only mildly unpleasant job for all women. For some of us, it’s like being asked to solve a complex math equation when we’ve barely been trained in arithmetic. (Full disclosure: I use a cleaning service, on the advice of a therapist who believed the amount I stressed over not being able to keep my house clean was contributing significantly to my depression. She was right.)

    My third problem is thornier, but one I’ve given a lot of thought to as someone who uses a cleaning service to save my own sanity but is incredibly uncomfortable with exploiting poor women (sometimes of color, sometimes not) to do so. And that is: what alternative is she offering? Her thesis seemed to be (in the Harper’s piece) that privileged white women should clean up after their damn selves, so poor women of color don’t have to do it. On its face, that’s totally unobjectionable — except she’s actually talking about eliminating a bunch of jobs that, however unpleasant and exploitive they may be, are valuable to the people who do them. I am all for improving working conditions, raising pay, making sure everyone is insured, etc. — I’m ridiculously grateful for the work the women (and occasional man) who clean my apartment do, and I’d be willing to pay a lot more for all of those things. But there is something so very “let them eat cake”-y about saying, “We should all clean up after ourselves, so poor women won’t have to do it for rich women.” Yes, but what will the women who depend on house cleaning and childcare jobs do if the demand for those things falls off? It’s not as if women in Buttercup’s situation described above, for instance, could just go out and get a highly paid job with great benefits if their employers said, “You know, I feel so bad about asking you to do this, I’m just going to go ahead and fire you. Good luck!”

    The problem is the fucking system — institutionalized racism and classism, the lack of fair wages, lack of universal health insurance, lack of corporations that give a damn about whether their employees are healthy, safe, and treated well. (Which, to be fair, is apparently what the book is about, but it sure wasn’t what that excerpt was about.) And the problem is also individual classist, racist assholes who hire people to do honest work and then treat them like shit. But the problem is not women failing to teach their daughters how to keep a nice home, for fuck’s sake, nor is it the fact that demand for such jobs exists. So she totally lost me with that bit, and just about everything I’ve read from her since has rubbed me the wrong way for similar reasons. One of the difficulties of talking about privilege as someone who has a lot of it is that you’re bound to get caught out when your own flares up — and that’s seriously exacerbated if your attitude is smug and judgmental. (Which I suppose mine is, where Barbara Ehrenreich is concerned, but at least I try to keep it individual.)

    So, as I said, this doesn’t surprise me one bit. (Maybe the bad writing does a little, but I wasn’t that big of a fan to begin with.) It’s Morgan Spurlock/Jaime O’Neill syndrome — equating the genuine evil of corporate greed with the perception of individual overindulgence, and not being able to see past the nose of your goddamned high horse.

  44. I felt so much shame (and still do) over being a messy person — in part because my fastidious mother DID try so hard to train me otherwise — and Ehrenreich just heaped a whole bunch more shame on women like me, without ever stopping to think that cleaning might not be a relatively quick and only mildly unpleasant job for all women. For some of us, it’s like being asked to solve a complex math equation when we’ve barely been trained in arithmetic. (Full disclosure: I use a cleaning service, on the advice of a therapist who believed the amount I stressed over not being able to keep my house clean was contributing significantly to my depression. She was right.)

    KATE HOW COME WE ARE THE SAME PERSON

    HOLY SHIT

    I’m going to make Dan read this comment so he doesn’t edge any closer to thinking that I’m dangerously insane.

  45. Ugh, I’m the same way with cleaning. But does a cleaning service actually tidy and organize things for you? My mom used to hire someone to clean, but she just did the scrubbing toilets/floors kind of stuff, and that I can do on my own. The problem is picking all my shit off the floor and finding a place for it (it does NOT help that our apartment is the size of a postage stamp) so that I can get to the point where I can clean the floors. And it’s my impression that cleaning services don’t do that.

    As for the issue of exploiting poor women of colour to clean your house – I think the answer would be to make sure the service you use treats its employees well and pays them a decent wage.

  46. But does a cleaning service actually tidy and organize things for you?

    Depends on the service, and also how ballsy you are about asking for that. Personally, I don’t ask them to tackle clutter — even though yes, that’s my huge problem, too. (I spent ALL of last weekend cleaning out my office, because a friend was coming to stay in that room. I never ask the cleaning women to do that room, because I fuck it up so badly I can’t bring myself to make it someone else’s problem.) If I have magazines or mail lying around, they’ll make neat piles of it, but the big job is deciding what to throw out, and I (eventually) do that myself. The good news is, tackling the clutter is a little easier when you don’t also have the floors, counters, bathtub, etc., hanging over your head. (I usually do a pass of the toilet myself before they get here, ’cause that’s something else I don’t want to stick anyone else with.) A huge part of the problem for me is just getting overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Clutter is an enormous enough task in itself, but at least that’s ALL I need to worry about — and in the meantime, even if people come over and think I’m a slob, they won’t think I’m the kind of slob with 6-foot dustbunnies and a dirty kitchen, to boot.

    Now that my office is clean, btw, I’m also thinking of hiring a clutter counselor to come in and help me further organize it — then having them come back every 3 months or so to help fix any backsliding. If you don’t mind doing the other shit yourself, a clutter counselor could be the way to go. (My problem, of course, is that I don’t want a clutter counselor seeing how bad my clutter is. But then I try to remember that no matter how bad my place is, they HAVE seen worse.)

  47. Although… it gets a little trickier when the feminist issue is: “Women shouldn’t have to devote their time to housework because it is boring and unvalued work” and the feminist answer is: “Hire somebody else to do it.” Because that somebody else is usually a woman too, which makes it… not so much a feminist answer. It’s not so simple as women should just clean up after themselves (and their husbands and their children), or nobody should ever use a cleaning service, but there is a feminist issue there that seems to sometimes go unexamined by white middle class feminists. (By which I absolutely do not mean Kate who clearly has examined it).

  48. Well, we’re moving to a bigger place in a year, so maybe we’ll look into a clutter counsellor then. Thanks for the advice =)

  49. But there is something so very “let them eat cake”-y about saying, “We should all clean up after ourselves, so poor women won’t have to do it for rich women.” Yes, but what will the women who depend on house cleaning and childcare jobs do if the demand for those things falls off?

    Oh, Kate, YES YES YES YES YES. Oh, those yuppie women with their fabulous careers and/or husbands with fabulous incomes, saying, “Oh, I could never exploit another woman that way.” As someone who does the kind of job most yuppie women would turn their noses up at, my response to that is usually, “OK, so you’re going to give me money just to exist, then? Cool.” Of course, that’s NOT what they mean. They mean I can damn well go to the food bank.

    Becky, my XH was the kind of guy who never picked up or threw away ANYTHING. I mean ever. There was shit everywhere, we couldn’t even walk. (And it was just the two of us; I can just imagine what it would have been like if we’d had kids.) No way in the world was I going to be able to keep up with it, and he just didn’t care. (I have a high clutter tolerance, but I draw the line at keeping pizza boxes with moldering crusts for a month and not being able to open the front door for all the boxer shorts.)

    So, since this was the height of the dot-com boom and I actually had something better than a McJob for once, I played Evil Yuppie Exploiter Pig Bitch and hired a cleaning service. (This was in San Francisco.) Only when they came, I didn’t just sit there filing my nails; I worked WITH them. They came in pairs, a different pair each time (one of the pairs was a couple of straight white guys who talked about football and girls the whole time), and you know, they weren’t all slowed down about where to put stuff, they just took all the clothing detritus and shoveled it into trash bags to get it out of the way, while I put all his other non-garbage into a box, then they swept out all the trash, just like they do at the movies, and I carted the bags out to the dumpster. Miraculous.

    Now I’m with someone who’s a better housekeeper than I am (not that that’s a very high bar) and is very good about cleaning up, and I couldn’t afford to hire a cleaning service anyway even if I wanted to. Not to mention that I’d never again live with someone who was that allergic to even the slightest pass at picking up after himself. But I respect the shit out of those housecleaning people. You’re right, Kate, it’s a skill, and it’s no more shameful for a woman not to have it than a man.

  50. it gets a little trickier when the feminist issue is: “Women shouldn’t have to devote their time to housework because it is boring and unvalued work” and the feminist answer is: “Hire somebody else to do it.” Because that somebody else is usually a woman too, which makes it… not so much a feminist answer.

    Totally agree. The only point I’d attach is that the world is full of boring and undervalued work — how much time do most of us spend thinking about our garbage collectors, or even mail carriers? — but house cleaning and childcare are especially undervalued because of the widespread belief that you should be able to get a woman to do it for free. (Hell, look at the difference in class between women who work cleaning houses and women who work as clutter counselors, who get pretty hefty hourly rates. One is traditional women’s work, the other is a relatively new industry that’s seen as creative problem-solving, so it has a higher price tag.) If we attached a higher value to women’s work, house cleaning could be a damned lucrative job. It’s certainly worth it.

    Of course, making it more expensive would mean more people — i.e., women — would have no choice but to clean their own houses anyway. It’s a Catch-22. Tom Colicchio, of all people, kinda summed it up in his recent unexpectedly feminist blog post:”Right or wrong, men plunge into their careers without much thought about how they’ll navigate the work/family balance. They assume someone — spouse, parent, paid caregiver — will materialize to take care of it (and usually someone does.) This one assumption opens up an entire world of possibility to a young person in a way that can’t be overstated. ”

    That assumption is really the underlying problem here — because the someones who just “materialize” to do it are almost always women, paid or unpaid. We live with the assumption that we’ll have to do all that hanging over our heads, instead of the assumption that it will magically work itself out. If our culture actually equated house cleaning and child care with boring, repetitive, but necessary and respectable jobs like collecting garbage or delivering mail, then they might have both a slightly higher status and slightly better pay, at least. But because we still equate them to “what good women will do for free,” too many people want to farm out that work for the least possible amount of money, no matter the cost to the person who eventually does it.

  51. OMG Kate, your comment makes me realize that Ehrenreich has been also the source of a lot of anxiety about cleaning for me — I had just forgotten the source. I don’t have ADD, but I’ve spent the last year studying like 14 hours a day, which has cramped my cleaning style (which was not much to begin with). John and I were out to dinner a few months ago when he mentioned that some friends of ours had started using a cleaning service (to help their marriage, basically — the only fights they have are over cleaning). I said something about how I wasn’t sure I felt comfortable depending on underpaid people of color to do basic household work for me, and he said, “Like they’re doing right now?” and gestured to the wait staff and kitchen staff of the restaurant. It was a huge DUH moment for me and it made me wonder where I had got the “cleaning services are evil” idea in the first place. Now I remember. I mean, clearly, it’s a politically fraught issue, but why Ehrenreich considers it so much worse than food service, child care, and other “household” industries that disproportionately employ poor women and people of color is unclear to me.

  52. Yeah, SM, no kidding. I always want to ask these people who are all “you should always do all your own housework” if they ever eat at restaurants, or drink at bars, and if they do, if they call first to make sure the bus people are getting health insurance.

    I also want to know if they grow and harvest all their own vegetables and fruit and grains, and milk their own cows and goats for dairy products, and slaughter all their own meat, since we don’t even want to talk about the exploitation of people who do THAT for a living.

    Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever be discussing these issues, because I think they are important inequities to address. But not in the self-righteous, overly simplistic way that Ehrenreich, et al, are doing it. (There’s another piece there, of course, which is, “Your husband/boyfriend should be doing his share,” and if he’s not, of course, that’s another layer of guilt that women have to deal with — “I can’t even get him to pick up socks! I am such a giant WUSS!”)

  53. Just to be clear, I’m no longer in that situation. About 11 years ago I went a little insane and quit a very good job, went into depression, almost became homeless, and worked a series of crap jobs over a 2, 3 year period. The low point came when we were evicted from our rented house. We had to move into my mom’s 2 bedroom house, where the kids slept in her craft room and I essentially slept in a closet. My car got impounded because I had nothing legal on it. But things are much, much better now.

    One thing Barbara Ehrenreich will never, ever understand is the kinds of scars experiences like that leave on you. Right now, for instance… From January through the end of May, I was on a medical leave of absence, the last bit of it unpaid. I won’t get a real paycheck until August now. I’m having all sorts of food security issues, panic attacks, nightmares, urges to smoke (quit two and a half years ago) and generally feeling this giant load of failure hanging over my head. Seeing the eviction notice again. Remembering the look on my Mother’s face when we showed up at her door. Remembering the legal and financial tangles I went through and Scarlett O’Hara fashion vowed never to go through again.

    It makes no sense. I have a decent job, working for the Commonwealth of PA, benefits, a house, a great husband (whom I had not yet met during the aforementioned), all the things that comprise safety and security. But I feel like I’m on a tightrope because of the periods of extreme poverty that I’ve lived through. I feel like any moment, I could fall again, and we’d be back at my Mom’s door. That’s something the person who wrote Nickel and Dimed can NEVER understand. Because those ghosts don’t come to her house.

  54. I said something about how I wasn’t sure I felt comfortable depending on underpaid people of color to do basic household work for me, and he said, “Like they’re doing right now?” and gestured to the wait staff and kitchen staff of the restaurant

    Heh. Nice one, John!

    I was once at a pre-wedding cocktail party for a very wealthy friend, given by some of her very wealthy friends, where there was fucking REGULAR STAFF serving us, not just a catering company. I was standing there with my friends Mean Asian Girl, Nice Asian Girl, and an otherwise all-white crowd. Right after Mean noted that she and Nice were the only people of color there besides “the help,” one of the employees came by and tried to clear Mean’s glass away. Mean had an apologetic meltdown, all, “No, really, I can carry this to the kitchen myself! You don’t have to do it!” to which the other woman replied, “Honey, this ain’t for show. This is my job.” Mean’s attempted show of solidarity came off as not quite respecting the work this woman was doing — which was the last thing in the world she wanted to do, and she was fucking mortified. But it was instructive.

    Also instructive, however? When I went outside to smoke a butt and started talking to another very wealthy guest — someone about my age who had grown up in this kind of environment. I asked if there was an ashtray or garbage can around to deposit my butt in, and he crushed his own ciggy under his foot, right on the pool deck, and said, “Oh, don’t worry about it — there’s help.” FUCKING ASSHOLE. That’s one key distinction right there; clearing my glass away for pay is a job. Cleaning up my cigarette butts because I’m too fucking lazy and self-important to find an ashtray is nasty, unfair work that gets foisted upon people who don’t deserve it, didn’t sign up for it, and aren’t paid enough for it, because their employers (and their friends) are lazy, self-important wankstains. Ridding the world of people like that would probably make domestic work a much more pleasant job in general, but if I knew how to do that, I would have already.

  55. That’s something the person who wrote Nickel and Dimed can NEVER understand. Because those ghosts don’t come to her house.

    Awesome point, Buttercup. I’m glad you’re in a better situation now, and I’m sorry you still have to deal with that pain.

  56. I’ve never really been that impressed with Barbara Ehrenreich, which I think is largely due to the class divide. Largely I’m sure that’s due to the appropriation that she still gets lauded for by telling the world that *gasp* poor people have hard lives! Why, without an educated middle class white woman pointing that out, we’d only have actual poor people themselves to rely on. There’s a huge class divide between where she is and where most other women are, but she lives in this protective bubble of privilege and thinks that everyone’s experience is hers. Yes, even after writing the damn book.

    Anyway, I much prefer Without a Net: The female experience of growing up working class, which was, horror of horrors, written by actual poor people about their real experiences.

    So yeah, thank Barbara for appropriating the poor experience, effectively silencing the real voices of poverty, and profiting off of our suffering. As far as I’m concerned, she’s got no credibility in any area. A true robber-baron style fauxgressive.

  57. Why, without an educated middle class white woman pointing that out, we’d only have actual poor people themselves to rely on.

    Exactly. That’s problem number one, for sure.

  58. Dude, y’all, I’m embarrassed to say this, but since I skimmed N&D before I understood the Nice White Lady phenomenon, I hadn’t seen that aspect of it at all. Thanks for pointing it out, as much as I wish it had been glaringly obvious. (I’m a recovering Nice White Lady, myself, so this is a real blind spot of mine.)

  59. we’d only have actual poor people themselves to rely on.

    But those poor people are just making excuses, doncha know? We need a middle class person to come along and tell us: “No, seriously, it is hard to be poor.” Her, we can take seriously!

    Hmm… sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

  60. OMG — I so need to be reading this post today you have no idea. Everyone’s comments are all are so incredibly awesome. I’m going to have a baby in a four months and everybody’s on my case about “hiring help” (a “night nurse” and a house cleaner) and I Just. Can’t. Do. It. because of the privilege guilt factor and my own feelings of anxiety about not being able to handle everything on my own. And anxiety about suddenly having a lot of strangers in my personal business, maybe …

    I’m doing better now, but I grew up pretty poor and spent many recent anxious years working fucking hard for very little money. Buttercup is right — those scars run deep. But back then, as I would pace the floor at 4am wondering how the hell I was going to make it another week or month, I was aware that I still had it pretty good by the world’s standards. I had my own apartment, car, computer, t.v. … albeit a tiny apartment, a crappy car, an *ancient* computer etc. Then I’d feel bad for feeling bad. Arrrgh.

    Sorry for rambling, but you all are helping me sort out some complex feelings right now. AND validating my seething hatred for Nickeled and Dimed. Thanks thanks thanks.

  61. P.S. when I first heard about N&D, I got really pissed off, and someone tried to point out to me that maybe some of the stuff in there needed to be said since some people “don’t realize what it’s like”. I was all WTF is there to “realize”? Just take a calculator, multiply minimum wage by 39.99 hours (not 40, because that might make you a full time worker and eligible for some dinky benefits) subtract a third for taxes, and them try to imagine living off of the remaining money. Add a couple of kids into the mix, too.

  62. I cleaned (and organized) a little for extra cash back in college and quite enjoyed it. Of course, I’m a big freak and I was younger and more energetic back then. I also come from a long line of cleanliness freaks. (It’s also a family business).

    House cleaning can be hard on the body, but it’s not that boring for the right temperament unless you work for one of those hideous chains that won’t let you listen to the radio while you work. A lot of the people I know who clean professionally do so because it’s a low-overhead business that allows them to work flexibly. You can actually earn a modest living with just a beater car and about $100 worth of supplies.

    I don’t hire someone to clean my house yet becuase I like to attack dust bunnies with a vacuum and yell, “Die! Die, you filfthy little bastards!” I do hire out most of my repairs because, hey, not my bag. I don’t see why hiring cleaning help should be any different from hiring a plumber.

  63. On the other hand – and to give her a bit of credit – she does make one important point early on in the book and throughout which is that her, well-educated and with a PhD, was never recognized as “special” by her employers, never did a better job than anyone else, and never managed to get herself anymore ahead than anyone genuinely in the situation. Which is one aspect of the book that I hope some of the “Anyone can work hard and succeed!” crowd picked up on that I’m not sure would have gotten through otherwise.

    Not that it justifies all the problems in the book, just that I think an “experiment” like she did can have some value on some level too.

  64. If our culture actually equated house cleaning and child care with boring, repetitive, but necessary and respectable jobs like collecting garbage or delivering mail, then they might have both a slightly higher status and slightly better pay, at least.

    Well put. Wish there was a way to unionize.

  65. i agree with much of what’s written above. ehrenreich is really hit or miss with me – i love her takedown of the whole infantalizing culture around breast cancer. but her class issue stuff – forget it.

    i don’t know what her deal is, but i hate the way she goes after middle-class white women for being so HORRIBLE as to hire third world immigrants to clean their houses and tend their children rather than, for example, the IMF and world bank for setting up the horrific economic situations in those countries that result in those people fleeing to the industrialized world, looking for – work.

    in the recent issue of “the nation” she submitted an article (which is going to be in her next book) about economic disparity as it pertains to beautiful scenery. she travelled to sun valley idaho and found rich people there ZOMG!!eleventy-one!! i mean, sun valley was founded as a resort for the wealthy and that is all its ever been. she went from there to jackson hole, which, to its credit, was a working class town 40 years ago, but then from those anecdotes concluded that “if it’s beautiful, you can’t afford to be there”.

    well, some of us actually live out west, and know that there are actually quite a few really beautiful untouched spots that don’t have a bunch of rich people buying up all the land, and you can still visit there. they don’t have fancy restaurants, or big airports close by, and they don’t advertise in magazines. but, the west is a big place and there’s a lot of beauty to be had, if one goes looking for it. and not just at the chi chi resort towns. and she should know better – she was born in butte montana for pete’s sake.

    anyway, i get tired of her sanctimonious middle-class faux outrage on behalf of the poor working people, who are all saintly and inherently better human beings of course.

  66. This is what bugs so much. Ehrenreich is right to raise alarms about the way wealth is distributed, and she’s right to be concerned about poverty and exploitation… but her tone! I saw her on Colbert the other day and I think there’s a good chance she’d be deemed overweight or obese herself by the ridiculous BMI standards, but in the piece referenced in the post she writes as if fat people were The Other.

  67. But because we still equate them to “what good women will do for free,” too many people want to farm out that work for the least possible amount of money, no matter the cost to the person who eventually does it.

    People keep making me cry, today.

    (Someone asked me, when my baby was small, “How are you finding motherhood?” and since I didn’t know them very well I wasn’t sure how to answer. After a brief pause, I said “The lack of sleep I was expecting. The lack of status was a surprise.” Or something like that. I can’t remember now.)

  68. Wow! Love the discussion…

    Here’s my take…

    Status of Motherhood/Women’s jobs… A book a few years ago covered this — the title was something like “If Women Mattered”. I didn’t get to read it, but it was reviewed in some journals I read at the time. It was about the economic value of women’s work. Cleaning the House is counted in Gross Domestic Product if you hire someone to do it, but not if you do it yourself. This means that the extra income you or your mate/partner of you are able to make BECAUSE one stays home to clean up and take care of the kiddies isn’t counted. It should be. The work we ALL perform has some kind of economic value — whether we receive a salary or not. Sadly, it’s hard to quantify if you’re not getting a salary (no records) — but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

    Yuppie women and cleaning ladies: I qualify as a yuppie (not as solvent as most, but I qualify — I’m urban and professional, I’m just not young). I hire a cleaning service. We had domestic help while I was growing up. I NEVER regarded the person performing the work as beneath me, and I was never permitted to do so. The woman who was my mother’s housekeeper for decades really became a part of our family even if she didn’t live in, and our “symbiosis” if you will, allowed my Mom to work — we needed the money. Within the context of our circumstances, it did make a lot of sense. Today, I use a housekeeping service, and I have a regular person come in once a week. She does an awesome job. It is expensive, but it saved my marriage. Traveling as I do, it is really ghastly to come home to a pigsty. We have been much happier. I wish she could come in every day, but I really can’t afford it.

    Do I think I should forego this service and “free” her — nope. She’s not going to do this forever — she’s in school and she’ll graduate. She’ll probably quit and get a different job, but in the meantime, she has made money she needs. What’s wrong with that?

    We are all interdependent economically, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. The only shame is in not putting one’s thinking cap on to realize what might be the unintended consequences of one’s actions. I remember PBS had a series called “1900 House” (modern people lived for 3 months as if it were 1900) where the lady of the house had an epiphany of feminism and fired her maid so the maid could be free to develop herself and not be subservient. If this HAD been 1900, she would have been freeing her to be a streetwalker. That’s better?

    I read N&D. I enjoyed it. I agree that the safety net gave her an “out” that others don’t have. I agree that it’s amazing she didn’t ‘know’ that others live this way. It’s one thing to ‘know’ intellectually though, and another to really realize what that means. I think she BEGAN to realize what that means during the experiment, as she began to feel the soul-destroying effects of the type of work she did,within the context of the interactions she had with the management in each of those places. My take was that 3/4 of it was the ghastly management — not so much the work. I worked some not so great jobs in my time, but nothing quite like that.

    I try to be open-minded and mindful, but I have to tell you — sometimes when I interact with people who have jobs much lower on the totem pole than mine, I feel my mind reeling because I realize I need to change my own frames of reference. In a nutshell — when you don’t have enough to eat, who the heck gives a F— about self-realization…

    –Andy Jo–

  69. “Both are anti-fat but the left position is out there making policy that negatively affects fat people, where is the right position generally isn’t.”

    What I was about to say to Becky about this kate217 already covered. I think anyone who has Bush’s attitude about not hiring anyone (other than Cheyney and Rove) who isn’t skinny, and “only” spends an hour a day working out, is both supporting and making that policy, if they’re management.

    Some awesome comments here about housework and feminism. I’m just going to keep reading because most people here have been far more eloquent about it all than I would be.

    The only thing I would say, not to be “BE” preachy, but as feminist women I think we all could use a little less guilt, when it’s psychologically feasible for us to drop it. If for no other reason than to imagine what we could do with the energy.

  70. And then there’s this:

    “But because we still equate them to “what good women will do for free,” too many people want to farm out that work for the least possible amount of money, no matter the cost to the person who eventually does it.”

    GOOD WOMAN = SUBMISSIVE AND SERVILE in current American culture.

    I don’t see a lot of hope for the progress of feminism unless we smash that.

  71. My take was that 3/4 of it was the ghastly management — not so much the work. I worked some not so great jobs in my time, but nothing quite like that.

    Human beings, as a group, need to feel that what they do is valued and that they are respected – even female human beings (snark). To be taken for granted, sexually harassed, treated as disposable, or talked down to is devastating. Working your ass off and not making a living wage is just cruel. If I ever do get domestic help I fully intend to pay good money directly to the cleaner. As my time as a temp showed me, agencies suck, but cash in hand is powerful.

    I have a friend who’s worked all over the world and she tells me the American attitude towards domestic help is very weird. In some of the poorest countries she’s lived in, even the housekeepers have housekeepers. For somebody with money (which means all westerners) to refuse to hire help is seen as a stingy refusal to help a family.

  72. The whole housecleaning thing is a deeply personal issue for me. My parents are wealthy. I grew up with privilege. My mother, who is suspicious of all poor people and most especially poor brown people, had a Costa Rican maid. Our house was immaculate. You almost couldn’t breathe on certain things in the house.

    I seem to be developing a disordered relationship to housecleaning. My girlfriend is an unrepentant slob, and the older I get — I’m 36 now — the more important it is for my house to look like it’s staged to sell at all times. Well, we all know that no one can actually live in a house and have it looked like it’s staged for potential buyers. (The same goes for my cubicle at work.)

    My girlfriend has begun to get irritated with the driven way I clean and tidy. I truly kind of go into an anxious frenzy vaccuming, polishing floors, wiping counters, tables, dusting, putting everything away and having decorative items in place.

    My girlfriend is wondering if we might need to hire a maid. She doesn’t understand that if someone else did our cleaning, I would outright panic. I need to do it. It calms me. Conversely, clutter and the reasonable detrius of living causes me anxiety. It’s affecting our relationship, but I can’t stop.

    Well, this has nothing to do with this thread. Ack!

  73. Also, FJ, some levity for your brilliant (but sometimes heavy) thread.

    Who says all airline food is not tasty? Terra Chips and Cashew Mix on jet Blue FTW!

    Cindy – something tells me all that cleaning isn’t necessarily all about the actual cleaning. Perhaps a tiny talk with a good counselor, just to check?

  74. “For somebody with money (which means all westerners) to refuse to hire help is seen as a stingy refusal to help a family.”

    Or a student. Sniper, thank you and your friend for helping me realize why my attitude is a little different than most people’s (other than on this blog) about this.

    I’ve lived temporarily in places other than the U.S., and I’ve always felt that way about housework (particularly since I suck at it and am proud to be able to pay someone who does not) and I always wondered why people would look at me like I was from Mars when I said something like.

  75. I don’t know where this thing started but it’s been going around, and Barbara Ehrenreich may well have been responding to something she’d seen elsewhere (on the other hand, maybe she thought she was the only one to come up with this, which is kind of sad). One of the scienceblogs bloggers actually did the math….I found that post a lot more offensive.

  76. Having been poor and having worked those jobs, I really liked N&D, because a lot of people DON’T get it. In university, I took a co-op position, and the intake woman was surprised at my resume – “oh”, she said, “for many kids this is a first job”. After I went to work – where I was respected, treated like I had a brain and could make a contribution, rather than treated like a criminal and miscreant and a liability – I got angry that some people go their whole lives without working. Which shows how I still define “work”, I suppose. (It’s also why I overtip.)

    So I think many people don’t get it. I must admit that I’ve personally been more affected by class issues than gender issues so it’s where I get all riled up. Therefore, for me, there was something delightful in having one from the Ivory Tower come in and learn how hard the life is. And yeah, she could bail at any time, but I think that’s how she was able to be angry, I think. I rather enjoyed her misery, and her anger; for many people I grew up around, the dream of class mobility means that they feel that continued poverty is their own failure. It’s not entirely true that it’s just the Fat who feel like they get what they deserve. Poverty can work like that too: that if you’re just “good”, you’ll someday be “comfortable”.

    And my understanding is that in the States, it’s even harder than in Canada, where we have cheaper tuition and medical coverage. And that makes me want to scream.

    I hadn’t really read her as suggesting that all the pink collar industries be destroyed, so much as venting — because it can make you feel enraged to be treated like you don’t exist as a person. It obviously (in the book) wasn’t the work itself so much as the culture of that work, where you’re not treated as anything but faulty cog in an operation. No pee breaks, no drinking water on the job, no job security, paid far less than a living wage, not allowed to take a sick day. In that situation, she had someone comment on the “workout” involved while watching her work, and she exploded in her heart with the “fuck you woman do it yourself”, but she had to smile and make nice. Yeah, that can turn bitter.

    I’ve stayed in hotels, buy coffee at a coffee store, eat at restaurants, and have a son in daycare – so I don’t see there being a problem with the working class jobs. And maybe I was projecting that on N&D. But I thought she was mainly documenting the feeling, describing the narrative of that life, which is not the same as laying out the political solution. To me, it was more an exploration of how “sense of self-worth” (or entitlement, if you will) + brutal working conditions = hatred of The Man.

    I got out. But if you want to see me revert really quick, call lottery tickets the idiot tax, and I turn into some kind of flaming ball of hate against the middle class that I’m now part of. I get all big and green like the Hulk. Oh wait. Backing away.

    Anyway.

    I think if you do read N&D as narrative as opposed to theory, it can be very fulfilling in a visceral, payback sort of way, exactly because it’s the process of a privileged person having her privilege (voluntarily) ripped away. And she makes it very clear, repeatedly, that she knows she can get out, and that she’s not sure she’d make it, otherwise.

  77. My girlfriend is wondering if we might need to hire a maid. She doesn’t understand that if someone else did our cleaning, I would outright panic. I need to do it. It calms me. Conversely, clutter and the reasonable detrius of living causes me anxiety. It’s affecting our relationship, but I can’t stop.

    My mother had a cleaner for a while – someone asked her to give a friend a job – and she’d clean before the cleaner came (“can’t have people seeing the house in a mess”) and often as not re-clean what she’d assigned the cleaner. *sigh*

    I am not a tidy person, although before I married I was usually organized (drove my mother nuts that my room was a disaster from her perspective but I knew exactly where everything was). Less organized now because people keep walking off with my stuff or rearranging my desk or whatnot.

    Plus hubby can’t resist a bargain so he’s constantly bringing stuff home from GoodWill or a garage sale. He does sell some of it on E-bay but we’re talking a small carload of stuff moving in every week that has no real “place” of its own, some of which is gone the next week but some of which wanders around for a while (he likes to hang onto things and play with them a while and whatnot).

    Which makes me crazy, first because as the wife of the home I’m “responsible” for the fact it’s always such a mess, and I have a great deal of guilt over that. But the real problem is that his stuff basically takes over if I don’t deal with it daily. I told him he’s paying the kids to pick up after him, which irks him, but that’s what happens with the kids when they don’t do their chores on schedule (they pay me or a sibling for doing their job), and his solution is “leave it until I get around to it,” which ain’t happenin’. I homeschool; we need the space.

    What makes me most crazy is that if I treat him like an adult and don’t pick up after him, I feel guilt (because of course the “good” wife picks up after hubby), but if I do pick up after him, then I feel guilty for enabling him, because we both agree he should pick up his own stuff. I don’t like people messing with my stuff, so I can kind of understand him wanting us to leave it be and feel some guilt for moving it (especially if something gets misplaced), but OTOH I keep my stuff in my space and expect the kids to keep their stuff in their spaces as well – he spreads his stuff everywhere and still expects it to be left alone.

    Well, he knows it isn’t going to, because he’s finally accepted the reality that he’s not the only one living here, but still lots of stupid guilt going.

    Anyone else read Wifework?

  78. And my understanding is that in the States, it’s even harder than in Canada, where we have cheaper tuition and medical coverage.

    Hoooooooooboy. Yes. Unless you’ve got good coverage through an employer you’re pretty much hosed in the U.S. – especially if you’re fat. And tuition is just nuts. I paid for my degree at SFU myself, with scholarships (and I was by no means a rock star). My parents didn’t have to go into debt or even start a college fund. I did take a loan for grad school, but only for $2000 which I paid off fairly quickly once I started working.

    I think these two factors are absolutely crucial to social mobility. Most of my students are absolutely convinced that there’s no way they can go to college, and honestly, they’re not far off. A poor kid who has only, say, a B average doesn’t have a lot of advantages. They don’t get a break anywhere.

  79. …. And to be clear I don’t think middle class women giving up maids or nannies helps. There have always been maids and nannies and there always will be, regardless of the status of women in the workplace. Hell, women in poverty have never been much trapped by Angel in the House, and most of the fashion identifiers of the day that plague us are about class anyway.

    We can’t make all the working class white collar any more than we can or should want to make all the fat, skinny or all women, men; and just as with feminist dialogue with men, *guilt* as a reaction doesn’t really help and makes it about … well, the middle class, I guess.

    I cannot pretend to not have privilege or power that I didn’t once have. As a middle class woman reliant on working class pink collar labor, I AM The Man and I AM The Face of Privilege, and I am no more going to feel guilt about it than being white or hearing: it’s okay, but it is a privilege.

    Nickel and Dimed did, I think, suggest childcare, medical, and living wages were an answer, but I found the power in the narrative bits.

  80. I read N&D before I had really any organized thoughts about FA at all, and it horrified me and pissed me off royally. Did no one else notice how often and how stridently she mentions her own slenderness? Did no one else notice the Walmart section? The one where she talks about all the disgusting fat people who shop there? Not just chubbies but “wide-loads” who can’t even walk through the racks without knocking them over with their enormous hips? We’re not talking subtle fat hate here. This new attempt at satire doesn’t surprise me at all. She honestly just makes me sick.

  81. Hello, my name is Kate, and I’m a hoarder.

    Actually, one of the reasons that my brother and SIL no longer talk to me is that I “live like a pig.” (The others are that I’m “selfish, self-centered, greedy, and live on a planet where nothing is ever [my] fault.” I have that list of grievances in writing, by the way.

  82. What the hell, Kate217? Did they send an email to you listing all of your faults???

    And Ehrenreich has gotten too much attention for Nickel and Dimed.

  83. I have that list of grievances in writing, by the way.

    Jesus. I’m so sorry. The only thing good about that is you can just show it to a therapist and save time on explanations.

  84. Kate217, that stinks. I got an email like that myself — but it was from someone on an email discussion list, not family. And it still stung. I can’t imagine what it would be like coming from the people who were supposed to be my home in the world.

  85. I think if you do read N&D as narrative as opposed to theory, it can be very fulfilling in a visceral, payback sort of way, exactly because it’s the process of a privileged person having her privilege (voluntarily) ripped away.

    Arwen, I think this is a good point, and I imagine that’s what a lot of people found affecting about the book, whether they were feeling it as a kind of payback way like you, or as a kind of playing along/also getting privilege ripped away like a lot of the reviewers I read.

    I think this is both the appeal and the problem of this kind of narrative (see also: Black Like Me, Tyra puts on a fat suit, etc). There is something shocking and satisfying about reading about what it’s like to enter spaces without the privilege you once had — it’s a compelling narrative. But so often it plays out as “Oh thank god a white/thin/middle class/man finally told us what it’s like to be black/fat/poor/woman! No one has ever said these things before!” which of course further marginalizes the voices of those who are supposedly being helped.

  86. Good points, Arwen and SM. Even though I agreed with the “Oh, thank god a middle-class white woman has spoken!” snark above, when I thought about it a little longer, I realized I am often appreciative when men support feminism and thin people support fat acceptance. It’s a simple fact that someone outside a marginalized group can have a greater impact speaking up for it , in some circles, than someone within the group speaking up. That fact is sad and fucked up, but I do think progress comes both from people speaking up for themselves and others speaking up on their behalf.

    But how it’s done is important. It’s so easy to be condescending and/or self-congratulatory when you’re a privileged person pointing out an injustice that doesn’t directly affect you.

  87. We may have moved on about devaluing work in the home, but I wanted to tell you about a shock I got when I was a stay-at-home mom. My husband and I were talking to an insurance agent and wanted to buy disability insurance for me. He said it didn’t exist. Disability insurance is to replace your salary and since I didn’t have one, I couldn’t get the insurance. Never mind what would have been a huge economic hit with replacing all my services if I’d been disabled. We’ve all seen those statistics about it costing around $100K.

    To make it perfect, the agent looked at us like we were nuts.

  88. Holy shit, OlderThanDirt. I didn’t even think about that, but my mom (who has been a SAHM) is now disabled and has a ton of medical expenses, and it never crossed my mind, but of course you’re right — everything’s going through medical insurance, not disability. God.

  89. As Meowser noted above, B. Ehrenreich is not who I think of when I think “satire.” In fact, I usually think the opposite: sincere, earnest. I admired her work in “Nickel and Dimed.” But this piece feels like something she told at a dinner party after a couple of drinks. I’m glad to see readers at her post gave her what-for.

  90. Just wanted to state, that because of the Fat Rant 3 and this article by BE, I discovered an interview with Meme Roth on Bill O’Reilly, where they discuss the impact overweight people are having on the economic and international status of our country, on youtube. And, I have to admit, JUST because of discovering this blog, I was given the reason to agree with Bill O’Reilly for the first time in my life EVER….hell may be freezing over right now. Miracles do happen every day. And, my final thought after watching the interview: Yes, Meme, you may never have to worry about “second hand obesity” with your children, but your children will never have to worry about procreating period, because they will be too psychologically injured and possibly more condescending than you to find a partner…and that is VERY sad.

  91. You know, after reading her piece and N&D, I realize that as usual, B.E. is complicating the issue ridiculously. I have a fat powered vehicle already, it’s called my bike. No surgery cost, vehicle only cost me a couple hundred.

  92. iheartchocolat, hell just froze over for me too. I don’t know why Memememe Roth keeps going on tv, as even Bill O’Reilly can make her look like a asshat.

  93. I haven’t read N&D, nor am I an avid reader of BE, but I wanted to chime in and suggest that her objection to middle class (and up) women hiring other women for housework and child care duties is most likely a result of being schooled by Audre Lorde and other ‘second-wave’ women of color feminists/womanists who criticized white women feminists for this practice. If I’m remembering correctly, Lorde speaks about this explicitly in the anthology This Bridge Called My Back.

  94. PS-she may also be influenced by the book Disposable Domestics. This book is more recent than the Lorde/Moraga anthology I mentioned in the previous post.

  95. Wow. I feel a bit out of place in this discussion. My (lily white, low-born) mother was the hired help. She was a housekeeper for more well-off white women, she drove a bus for the school district, she worked serving school lunches. Her sister, my aunt, had a career as a janitor for 30 years and destroyed her body with hard work. (Incidentally, they are both fat women, and they worked harder physically than any other woman I’ve known.)

    During the economic downturn of 2000-2003 or thereabouts, my mom tried to take me to various area motels to get work as a maid. She and her sister had done a lot of hotel maiding in high school and college. I didn’t get a single callback. I was very sad that I couldn’t find a job.

    Ladies and any gentlemen, you shouldn’t feel any sort of guilt for providing someone who only currently is of less means than yourself work and a wage. It’s food on their table, shoes for their kids, and the dignity of having earned. If you can hire an independent housekeeper from local recommendations (which is how my mom worked), and pay her/him a fair wage and treat her/him with the respect that any employee deserves, then by all means go for it.

    I dislike the writing of BE for reasons already mentioned in the discussion.

  96. I very much agree with Victoria C. My grandmother cleaned houses for several families in my hometown for years. When my grandfather had a hard time finding work, that’s all that kept food on the table for them and their six children. No doubt about it, she would rather have worked then ask for charity, etc. Be respectful, be fair, but work is work.

  97. Victoria C.’s post is right on, and reminds me of of an interesting addition to this debate. I’ve worked for over a decade in some way, shape, or form, as someone who helps take care of other people’s pets. It is something I enjoy, something I’m good at, and people really appreciate the work I’ve done. I’ve made lifelong friends from this job, received countless gifts from this job, and found two living arrangements through this work, not to mention inclusion in one person’s published book.

    The interesting thing is, this type of job is not much different than the other types of jobs we’re discussing here; when it comes down to it, I’m talking about a job that features the handling of animal excrement, and yet it is job that, at least in the area where I’ve worked, seems to be done primarily by white people. But the other domestic service industry jobs in my area do seem to be done primarily by immigrants.

    I’ve always found this interesting, that white people in my geographic area, at similar wages and similar workplace situations, seem to be more interested in animal care jobs than they are in house cleaning jobs, and I wonder about the possible reasons why.

  98. very interesting discussion.

    kate:
    “My third problem is thornier, but one I’ve given a lot of thought to as someone who uses a cleaning service to save my own sanity but is incredibly uncomfortable with exploiting poor women (sometimes of color, sometimes not) to do so. And that is: what alternative is she offering? Her thesis seemed to be (in the Harper’s piece) that privileged white women should clean up after their damn selves, so poor women of color don’t have to do it.”

    i thought this, too. but what about the people who make the fabric for clothes you wear? or who assemble the dishwasher you installed? or who made the components of the vacuum you use to clean your carpets? these are all low-paid jobs for women and children who are largely found in the southern hemisphere. we exercise our privilege with machines, too, it’s just largely invisible to us.

    disclaimer: i am also a guilty tipper. whenever i go out to eat, i tip way more than is customary. i’ve never worked in a restaurant (though i have worked in a coffee shop), but i know what that life is like. and i cannot imagine myself as the asshole who tips 10% or less.

    AndyJo:
    ” I remember PBS had a series called “1900 House” (modern people lived for 3 months as if it were 1900) where the lady of the house had an epiphany of feminism and fired her maid so the maid could be free to develop herself and not be subservient. If this HAD been 1900, she would have been freeing her to be a streetwalker. That’s better?”

    i thought of this, too! right away, i thought – her guilty conscience is getting in the way of reality. and at the end of the series, it proved true: she was so thankful for her clothes washer. “minimum effort, maximum result.” without thinking *who* had made the parts for and assembled the washer, she was able to take advantage of it without guilt. but it’s not a logical freedom from the oppression of other peoples, as the story of stuff illustrates very well.

    now for my guilty confessions.

    LilahMorgan:
    “On the other hand – and to give her a bit of credit – she does make one important point early on in the book and throughout which is that her, well-educated and with a PhD, was never recognized as “special” by her employers, never did a better job than anyone else, and never managed to get herself anymore ahead than anyone genuinely in the situation. Which is one aspect of the book that I hope some of the “Anyone can work hard and succeed!” crowd picked up on that I’m not sure would have gotten through otherwise.”

    Arwen:
    “Having been poor and having worked those jobs, I really liked N&D, because a lot of people DON’T get it.

    It’s not entirely true that it’s just the Fat who feel like they get what they deserve. Poverty can work like that too: that if you’re just “good”, you’ll someday be “comfortable”.

    I think if you do read N&D as narrative as opposed to theory, it can be very fulfilling in a visceral, payback sort of way, exactly because it’s the process of a privileged person having her privilege (voluntarily) ripped away.”

    sweetmachine:
    “I think if you do read N&D as narrative as opposed to theory, it can be very fulfilling in a visceral, payback sort of way, exactly because it’s the process of a privileged person having her privilege (voluntarily) ripped away.

    Arwen, I think this is a good point, and I imagine that’s what a lot of people found affecting about the book, whether they were feeling it as a kind of payback way like you, or as a kind of playing along/also getting privilege ripped away like a lot of the reviewers I read. ”

    i wasn’t surprised by anything B.E. had written on the topic… but the way she *framed it* WAS thought provoking – because so many people (i call ‘em Bootstrappers) honestly and truly believe, deep in their hearts, that this could never happen to them – that poverty is strictly the stomping grounds of the lazy and (willfully) uneducated. to go out there and actually do the work of the service-industry and report back to her comrades that yes, it really is impossible to move out of it from within – well, that was valuable. in that way, it was an important piece of work. i don’t know many actual poor people who’ve read it, as most would have no need to do so. but i very much hoped that it was a perspective from which people like my parents could perhaps finally grasp that being poor is not equivalent to being morally inferior.

    with that said, though, i agree with fillyjonk that this is a hugely disappointing essay from someone who really ought to know better – and someone who should be able to organize her writing better, at the very least. she was able to convey the being poor was not itself a moral failing. why she wasn’t able to extend this same logic to people who have more fat on their bodies than she does, i don’t know – but there are exists a depressingly large majority of folks who believe this with her. i’m trying to have patience, even with people who don’t seem to deserve it.

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