of maids and “masters”

I read this opinion column in the Rappler puzzling over why maids wear uniforms.

While I commend the attempt to seek better treatment of maids, I think the concern over the uniform is a trifle exaggerated.

Uniforms are a mark of a decent job, no more than that. The concept of “ownership” or a “slave-master” relationship (as noted in one comment attached to this item) is out of proportion to the issue at hand.

Again, let me auto-plagiarize myself:

this way their salary isn’t spent on clothing but on whatever else they wish. if you don’t want uniforms, then give them a clothing allowance.

but if they’re free not to worry about what to wear and making “the right impression” because of the uniform, why not? i see really cute prints on some maid’s uniforms. i don’t think it’s demeaning.

The last time my immediate family had an in-house “maid” was when I was a baby. So I don’t remember what it was like. I do remember her though — Ate Rowena, a cousin actually, still visits my family every Christmas, kids in tow. Her relationship with my parents is great.

I’m actually proud of the fact that my parents are in good terms with their former employees (I’m told my parents also sent them to school), especially because they are now modestly successful and with families of their own.

My siblings and I employ a weekend maid, Manang Zeny, to clean the house on Saturdays, and wash clothes every other Sunday. This is because we’re pretty much hopeless about housework. I can wash the clothes fine, we do have a washing machine, but cleaning is really a chore for all of us.

Tamad na kung tamad, busy na kung busy, but Manang is a godsend and makes me feel like a human being rather than a pig in her sty.

We don’t give Manang a clothing allowance, since she’s here only on the weekend, but she has gotten clothes from us secondhand. (We either offered or she asked. It’s all very casual.) She gets a Christmas bonus and receives pay markup due to inflation (within budget of course, we’re not rich).

As for food, we eat the same things, at the same time, with the same cutlery. At one time we’d run out of groceries, so I asked her to accompany me to a fastfood joint, for a quick bite, and then to a grocery store. No big deal.

I do remember, when I was a kid, my grandparents had a thing about eating separately from the help. This could be explained by the fact that they had 10 kids, and those kids had growing families, and the dining room table could only fit so many people. It was definitely not sacrosanct.

But yes, our family did not invest in uniforms. In the province, two decades ago, this was not a practice. I do not, however, take it against other families if they desire to patronize makers of maids’ uniforms. Some are very practical and smart (I kinda agree that it says more about the employer than the employee if the uniform is dowdy or uncomfortable-looking).

The last time I wore a uniform was in high school. I merely tolerated the white dress uniform (white! with long sleeves! pleated skirt! buttoned up Peter Pan collar!) but I liked our blue jumper dress (the famous German-origin “pinangat” of the Benedictine sisters).

My insight at the time was that the uniform made us all the same. Whatever background we came from, we couldn’t posture. The cloth was the same, the style was the same, our role in that school was pretty much to study. With the uniform, my head wasn’t filled with the nonsense of who was wearing what. Yes, our individuality had to be expressed in other ways (the rebellious haircut, the saggy socks, the longer or shorter length of the skirt, accessories), but it was an equalizing factor. It was also an identity: we belonged to a community.

Now, this maid’s uniform — it’s a form of belonging, sure, but again, not ownership. The maid is paid a salary for a specific skills set, the uniform is part of the contract. One need not make an automatic assumption that she is being “put in her place,” or “demeaned,” or used as an advertisement of her employer’s wealth. Some may even say she’s lucky in her position.

(You could always ask, “Do you like your uniform?” But that’s putting her on the spot, isn’t it? You may even get a “none of your business” in reply.)

It’s a “status” symbol — sure, on the maid’s part it’s a mark of her profession. I don’t know if being able to “afford” to employ a maid and dress her in uniform is a status symbol the way that collecting watches and cars is one, but okay, if you say so. So what? If the maid wears the uniform with pride, and is treated right, then it doesn’t really matter.

As a people, Filipinos tend to be really self-conscious about class.

But whose sensibilities are being protected here? Whose sensibilities are outraged by the maid wearing a uniform while going about her duties?

If the maid or driver or cook or caregiver or helper is willing to wear the uniform, should anyone else object?

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