Monday, July 30, 2012

Janitors and Maids

Prompted by a Facebook discussion of my last post:

All this talk about professional cleaners got me to thinking about the distinction between janitors and maids.  Janitors tend to be men, while maids tend to be women.  According to the United States' Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 30.3% of janitors and building cleaners, while they make up 88.6% of maids and housekeeping cleaners.  Why? What is the key difference that makes one more male-dominated and one more female-dominated?

Let's start with the job descriptions.  The job description for janitors in the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that "[j]anitors and building cleaners keep many types of buildings clean, orderly, and in good condition," while the job description for maids indicates that "[m]aids and housekeeping cleaners do general cleaning tasks, including making beds and vacuuming halls, in private homes and commercial establishments."  These sound like very similar jobs to me.  Both involve cleaning buildings, although maids also work in private homes and janitors are involved in keeping buildings in good condition, as well as clean.  I'm still not quite getting the critical distinction that accounts for the gender disparity.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Maid: Unpacking Ambivalence

Sometimes, while I am engaged in some unpleasant cleaning task, I think about how nice it would be to hire someone to do some of these cleaning jobs.  I'm not talking about a weekly whole-house cleaning (I can't envision that, somehow), just having someone in occasionally to clean the kitchen and bathrooms.  When I'm on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor, the vision of a professional service sweeping in and leaving behind clean, gleaming surfaces beckons to me.  And yet, apart from the time we hired a cleaning service when we moved out of our rental house (it seemed a good investment to make sure we got our deposit back), I haven't succumbed to the temptation of professional house cleaners.  In part, this is due to entropy (the irony of doing hours of scrubbing because I'm too lazy to call and arrange the service does not escape me) and being worried about the quality of their work (will things get broken or damaged?  I know I can do this safely and carefully -- will they?), but I also have a strong discomfort with the prospect of handing off my cleaning to professionals.  It seems the epitome of bourgeois privilege to not have to do one's own cleaning.  Let's face it, even with all my careful talk about cleaning professionals, the term that comes to mind is . . . maid.  And I'm not ready to have a maid.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Most of the blogs I read are fairly focused.  There are blogs about politics, or art, or science, or the joys of a gluten-free diet.  Some bloggers discuss their daily lives, but that also provides focus.  By concentrating on a particular topic or theme, bloggers can tap into the readership interested in that theme.  Like most of modern life, blogging is about specializing; find your niche and become a voice for that topic. 

The reader perusing my blog might well wonder, "What is this blog about?" While certainly there are themes in my writing, I tend to be interested in a fairly broad range of topics and issues.  If I restrict my focus to just one topic, there isn't enough scope -- it feels too confining, too much like work.  Part of what is fun about being an academic is the potential to explore new ideas and consider all kinds of issues.  I have long resisted the push to specialize, researching across disparate topics and teaching in different areas of psychology and women's studies.  I have pursued a number of creative outlets, as well, including singing, acting, dancing, gardening, herbcraft, beading, and textile arts.  I love the vast scope of possibility I see before me and I want to sample it all. 

Of course, what specialization offers is the ability to go deep and become expert in a particular area.  The dangers of a broad scope of interest is being a dilettante -- knowing a little about many things but not much about any of them, being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.  There are risks to the narrow focus, as well; the specialist may miss important connections between different topics or across fields.  Many innovations stem from the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated areas of interest (as discussed in Jonah Lehrer's new book, Imagine).  The broadly educated person may be more well-rounded and find inspiration across disparate interests. 
“One purpose of a liberal arts education is to make your head a more interesting place to live inside of for the rest of your life.”  -- Mary Patterson McPherson, President of Bryn Mawr College
Q designed a logo for me --
What do you think?
The only real theme of my blogging is that I like to think about things (in psychological terms, this is called a high need for cognition).  And truly, there isn't much audience for a blog that's just think-y, without any clear focus.  But then, my friend and fellow blogger db mcneill, author of the momsomniac blog, nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  After being surprised and pleased by the nomination -- thank you, db mcneill! -- I got to thinking about what it means to be versatile.