A Servant of One's Own: The Continuing Class Struggle in Feminist Legal Theories and Practices
32 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2009 Last revised: 7 Apr 2009
Date Written: March 25, 2009
This essay considers the role of feminist legal theories in confronting the continuing issue of domestic service. Part one discusses MRS. WOOLF AND THE SERVANTS: AN INTIMATE HISTORY OF DOMESTIC LIFE IN BLOOMSBURY by Alison Light, including both the particularities and larger social aspects of Virginia Woolf's employment of domestic workers. Part two examines Long Island Care at Home v. Coke, in which the United States Supreme Court upheld a regulation that exempted certain employees in "domestic service" from minimum and overtime wage laws even if they were hired by a company rather than a household. Part three considers the trial and proceedings in US v. Sabhani, in which the United States prosecuted and a jury convicted a woman and a man for "forced labor" and "document servitude" of two women from Indonesia. In the last section, the essay compares the situations of Virginia Woolf and her servants, Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. and its servants, and Varsha Sabhnani and her servants. The essay argues that any relationship categorized as "servant" and "master," even when the "master" is a "mistress," and even when the master/servant dichotomy is viewed as a relatively equal contractual relationship rather than one based on status, is deeply problematical. The essay further argues that this "servant problem" needs much more feminist attention.
Keywords: feminism, class, Virginia Woolf, work, domestic work, servant, wage
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