Thursday, August 11, 2011

THE HELP

I saw that movie The Help last night.  I enjoyed it.  I had read the book, and it opened my eyes to an alien culture.  The culture I am talking about is the white Southern culture that says that there are certain things that white Southern ladies just don't do, such as laundry, ironing, grocery shopping, vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing floors, changing diapers, cooking and washing dishes.  This culture is alien to me, because in my clan, we are do-it-yourselfers.  The very thought of hiring someone to do something for you was alien to my parents, and I am sure they would have been scandalized to learn that for many years I had a cleaning service come in and "clean" my house a couple of times a month.  (Eh, so what.  I worked.  I figured  if I had to work for a living I'd be damned if I was going to spend my weekends cleaning.  I stand by that decision.)

When my family moved to South Florida back in the 60's, my mother got a job working for a widow who ran an insurance agency out of her home.  Mrs. Moore was her name, and yes, my mother had to address her as "Mrs. Moore." Being a typical Southern lady, there were certain "things" Mrs. Moore would not do. One afternoon my mother came home shocked at the fact that Mrs. Moore would not change a burned out light bulb. She had to call "her man" to do the work, some black man whom she had hired to do odd jobs around the house.  Of course, this entailed waiting a day or so.  Mom was beside herself. "It's CHANGING A LIGHTBULB, for crying out loud!"  We all hooted in derision.

There is a definite racial component to domestic servitude in the South that does not exist in other parts of the country.  In the South I cannot imagine that a white person would ever have been a domestic servant.  I have actually asked one or two people that question:  have you ever heard of a white woman being a servant in someone's house?  And the answer was always a puzzled "No." Of course not.  The job of the maid was the domain of black women.   And in fact, I would wager that no self-respecting white woman would have lowered herself to such a job, no matter how desperate her economic circumstances.  I actually had a great aunt who was a live-in domestic servant in the home of a family in St. Louis.  She was unmarried and domestic service was her career.  No shame attached to it, it was a living. I doubt that would have happened in the South.  Had she been a Southern lady, she would have stayed home with her parents doing nothing, I suppose.

I guess what I am saying by all of this is that the whole culture of servitude in the South is beyond my comprehension.  I respect the role of black women in the culture, and I can relate to it:  women working to support their families. What really puzzles me is the role of white women:  what the hell was it???  Breeder? Ornament? How many of these white Southern ladies went crazy from boredom? Seems to me that the culture of servitude is dying, if not already dead, and I think that's a good thing.