...the use of nannies allows upper middle-class women and men to benefit from feminist changes without having to surrender the privilege of the traditional patriarchal family. The hired household worker is an employee, but she is mainly treated as if she were a wife (Joan Tronto, 47).
How are feminist responsible for the "nanny problem"? What do you think of Tronto's charge in relation to Judy Syfer's essay? What connections can you draw between Tronto's claim and the essay by Ehrenreich?
Feminists are responsible for the "nanny problem" by conceding ground in what Ehrenreich labeled as the 'chore wars' of the 1970's and 80's. That is, even after feminists established how cleaning and household chores configured into a framework of power, the effort to subvert the dominant role men had in expecting their wives to do the housework had limited success. Some husbands started taking on housework or more of it than before, but the majority of cleaning and chores were still performed by wives.
The division of labor in the household remained unequal and was never truly resolved but rather slowly faded into the background over a period of time. The system was still broken and instead got recreated--as Ehrenreich explains, "women gained a little ground, but overall, and after a few strategic concessions, men won [the chore wars]. Enter then, the cleaning lady as dea ex machina, restoring tranquility as well as order to the home," (89). The entrance of a maid into the space of a household reproduces the same models of dominance over again, but instead of a wife being placed in the role of subservience, it's now the maid. Though maids are paid, the very nature of their employment is one that a person wouldn't choose for themselves if given other abilities and opportunities.
The framework of power can't be supplemented by maids earnings because, "even better wages and working conditions won't erase the hierarchy between an employer and his or her domestic help, since the help is usually there only because the employer has 'something better' to do with her time...the obvious implication [being] that the cleaning person herself has nothing better to do with her time," (Ehrenreich 102). Wives, like maids, were often deemed as having nothing better to do than housework since it wasn't considered a job so much as a responsibility of a wife; maids are employees but their labor isn't being viewed as something necessary for them so much as a natural job they'd occupy since they lacked "something better" to do with their time. The same assumptions that placed women in the submissive and degrading role of being expected to clean up after their husbands gets reworked through the maid rather than a husband and wife both equally dividing the household labor. Now both the husband and wife are free from the responsibility of taking care of the household and instead settle the work on someone else's shoulders.
Syfer's piece also strongly correlates to Tronto's claims by imagining the responsibilities and tasks a wife performs as well as the privilege that a husband would afford from having a wife. In particular, these descriptions of a "wife" strongly correlate to duties and qualities tied to a maid: "I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after my children, a wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it... If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one," (Syfer). A maid can in many respects become a wife or rather be viewed as one in how their duties are arranged around picking up after others, tending to the maintenance and cleanliness of clothes, and arranging things in the precise manner that the husband or employer wishes.
A wife is also understood by Syfer as being expendable. If a husband can justifiable get a divorce and look for a wife that would be more "suitable" so too can a maid be fired and a new one hired that would be better able to meet a specific standards that an employer, like a husband, would have. Maids occupy a similar capacity that wives do/did even with a status as an employee because their labor is still devalued, taken for granted, gendered, and deemed replaceable.