Maid in the Market: Women's Paid Domestic Labour


138 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-895686-35-0
DDC 331.4'8164046'0971




Edited by Wenona Giles and Sedef Arat-Koç
Reviewed by Margaret Conrad

Margaret Conrad is a history professor at Acadia University, and the
editor of Making Adjustments: Change and Continuity in Planter Nova
Scotia, 1759-1800.


Informed by Marxist and feminist theory, the seven essays published in
this book focus on various aspects of reproductive work in Canada,
United States, and Britain. Each case study underlines the points made
by the editors that reproductive work is undervalued in the marketplace
and structured along lines of class, gender, and race/ethnicity. While
such findings are not new, these essays explore the topic in useful ways
and offer a refreshingly nuanced assessment of the work of cleaning,
care-giving, and personal service in private homes, offices, hotels,
daycares, fast-food operations, and department stores.

Many of the jobs explored in these essays have evolved to meet the
changing structure of work and family life in advanced capitalist
societies. Like unpaid housework, paid “domestic labour” is
“sold” in familistic terms and contradicts most of the economic laws
(e.g., supply and demand) that govern market exchanges. Audrey
Macklin’s survey of Canadian immigration laws as they relate to
domestic workers, and Wenona Giles’s analysis of Portuguese
chambermaids in London hotels, are particularly revealing of the ways in
which the public and private sectors collude to manage this economic
“miracle.” The same trends are chronicled in Jane Bertrand’s
discussion of workers (98 percent female) in daycare operations, Rusty
Neal’s exploration of the subcontracting system for office cleaning in
Toronto, and Ester Reiter’s exposé of Burger King. While all workers
are exploited by the system, not all of them are victims. Mary
Romero’s Chicana “cleaning ladies” in the United States are
particularly candid about the strategies they use, within their narrow
confines, to control working conditions.

The authors call for a more aggressive feminist debate on, and an
evaluation of alternatives to, structures governing domestic work, but
they offer little hope for improvement in this sector. In the 1990s,
evidence suggests that most work in the future will conform to the
domestic model, which is largely outside of the scope of affirmative
action programs, collective bargaining processes, and benefit packages
that might offer some relief from the unfortunate structural realities
of the workplace so lucidly described here.


“Maid in the Market: Women's Paid Domestic Labour,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 10, 2023,