Awkward Intimacies


The "Hidden" Workforce

I'm a great housekeeper.  I get divorced.  I keep the house.

- Zsa Zsa Gabor

The British Broadcasting Corporation, like the British tabloids, adores aristocrats.
Their houses are big and their servants are cute and, when they aren't eating immense amounts of overcooked food,
they stand around on their broad, rolled lawns like croquet hoops waiting for history to pop through the holes in their heads.

- John Leonard

by Chisum Lee

Part One

A growing movement among New York's nannies and housekeepers to win basic labour rights, such as a minimum wage and paid sick days, recently prompted a City Council bill and made headlines.  The campaign's public momentum defies an age-old truth: household workers are not meant to be seen or heard.  Not only are they expected to be tight-lipped about their employers' lives, but they're to be unobtrusive with their own problems and personalities.  Immigration worries and the lack of job security help keep them quiet.  For these normally hidden, isolated labourers, going public in itself signals major progress.

"When I started, there was no recognition," said Nahar Alam, a worker and organiser since the early 1990s, at a 24 March press conference on the steps of City Hall.  "We're now here to show our faces," she said, indicating the 30 women rising in rows behind her.  Invisibility, she said, means being taken for granted.  "Close your eyes, we are not here.  But think about it, if we're not, then how will the city survive?  We need people to listen to us."

"In the course of several months, the Voice listened as dozens of domestics shared their stories of struggle, family, and hope.  Following are some of their tales.

Looking Out for Mom

Capryce Watts and Jacqueline Maxwell

Caretaking is nanny Jacqueline Maxwell's family trade.  The cousin who raised her was a domestic worker, and her daughter, Capryce Watts, who shares her ready laugh and direct manner, worked as a nanny to pay for college.  Watts, 34, now counsels domestic violence survivors, and her younger brother advocates for abused children.  The family earns a living nurturing others, but they've survived by looking out for their own.

Maxwell entered domestic work in 1979, when she was hired by a family in Brooklyn Heights to care for a newborn.  From then, she often juggled more than one household job at a time.  A single mother, she herself employed a baby-sitter, a neighbour who lived around the corner in East New York.  But Watts, 11 years older than her brother, took up the bulk of his care.  "I would come home, make dinner, bathe my brother," she says.  "I would do his homework with him.  He would be in bed when my mother got home.  It made me feel good.  My mom raised us, but in a sense, we raised her."

Two decades later, Maxwell, 52, earns $10 an hour caring for two children on Roosevelt Island.  The family hired her at $8 an hour in 1993.  "Experience means absolutely nothing when it comes to the wage you get," she says.  "I tell employers, there's two things you can win in life: me and the lottery.  And they'll say, 'Oh, my nanny is great.'  But do they really value us?  They treat their employees at the office with so much more respect.  They treat this profession like it's a hobby."

Her mother's struggles at work have pricked Watts since childhood.  "There were times when I wanted to tell her bosses off," she says, "like when they wouldn't give her certain holidays."

Yet even with demanding hours, "my mom made time for us," says Watts, "always, always, always.  On the weekends, if it was raining, we would turn on music and put on a show in our home.  Or we would all get in her bed and watch a movie."  And on an income stretched with public assistance, Maxwell kept her family fed and sheltered.  Her daughter recalls, "I thought my mom was the greatest mom in the world, because we would have spaghetti every night."  She laughs.  "Later, I found out, that's because we didn't have anything else to eat.  One day, she got mugged on her way home, carrying groceries.  All she could think about was, 'My daughter has all these friends over who want to eat.'  She beat that mugger so bad, she got away with a loaf of bread."

To pay her tuition at Hunter College, Watts worked as the nanny and housekeeper for a family in Cobble Hill.  "It made me understand how important this work is," she says.  And also how trying.  The children she cared for "were spoiled rotten" and prone to tantrums - or, as her mother puts it, they were "jalapeños."  Between work and four hours of classes a night, she says, "I was exhausted.

"I don't know how my mother did it," she says, and then there is a pause while she breathes away tears.  "They don't value her enough.  My mother deals with a lot of garbage from them.  She takes care of the children like they are her own.  It's hard to see your mom working like that."  Watts plans to give up counselling, her passion, for something more lucrative, "so my mother's working can be an option, not something she has to do."

First Family

Carmine Wakodikar, 45, has been a household worker for 37 years.  "When I was eight years old, my parents sent me to a bigger town to work for more money, to do housekeeping, baby-sitting, whatever I can do," she says in a voice as small and thin as she is.  "Every two years, I went back for one week" to her native village in Karnataka, India, she says.  "I forgot everybody, seven brothers and four sisters.  I just forgot them.  I don't know what is the love of my daddy.  I don't know what is the love of a brother, sister.  When my mommy died, I did not cry."

The family she worked for, while also Indian, was no substitute.  "In India, servant means servant," she says.  "I had to sit on the floor: we cannot even put a hand on the sofa."  Eventually she went to work for a British family in Bombay.  "They sent me to night school to learn English.  I met my husband at the school, when I was 19."

Wakodikar had a son and three daughters, one of whom died at five months.  "When I was pregnant," she says, "my husband went out with ladies.  We had a lot of fights.  He pulled my hair.  But I had no sense what was good or bad - the husband, how he should be, the wife, how she should be."

She says her husband was frequently unemployed, but for the sake of her children she supported and housed him and still does.  "I said to my husband, you can come in here, but we are not going to have a husband-wife relationship.  The children said, "Daddy, you do nothmg.  That is wrong."  I was working as a housekeeper, I was doing stitching for extra money.  I understood that there was no one else to take care of my children.  I myself had no parents.  But I realised it was my duty to be a mother."

Her sense of duty brought her to the US four years ago.  "That money I made was never enough.  My children and I sometimes starved."  Escaping hunger for good, she knew, would require opportunities for real advancement.  "I told my children, 'If someone asks you if you ate today, say yes - no one can look in your stomach.  But your education, you cannot just say yes.'"  She is determined to send her now teenage children through college and, if they wish, beyond.  I said to them, 'Can you three take care of each other?'  They said yes."  And so she looked for a job that would bring her to America.

Through friends in Bombay, she learned that Clifford and Nora Dias, an Indian couple living in Edison, New Jersey, wanted a live-in nanny and housekeeper.  She jumped at the chance to earn 12,000 rupees per month.  "I didn't know what was the dollar," she says of the $250 equivalent.  Working a 40-hour week, she would have earned $1.56 an hour, a fraction of the $5.15 US minimum.

But in August 2001, she filed a lawsuit claiming the Diases had actually paid her $0.89 an hour for 112 hours of work a week.  Her regular duties included "cooking, cleaning, household maintenance, and caregiving" to two children, according to the complaint, and sometimes she would have to shovel snow or sew dresses.  In legal papers, the Diases denied her charges and made their own, accusing her of "consuming alcohol... thereby endangering the welfare of [the] children."  They also complained that Wakodikar, who had no other home, "did not leave the defendants' residence on weekends, thereby causing inconvenience."  The dispute is ongoing.

She arrived in the US knowing no one but the Diases and nothing about labour laws, but Wakodikar made friends who helped her leave the family and sue, and they are putting her up in Jackson Heights while she hunts for another job.

More of a parent than she ever had herself, she says, "I am the mother and the father for my children.  I really need money, otherwise they have to go work as a housekeeper, too."  But her mission carries a high price, tallied in four years of oceanic distance.  "The thing is," she says, "I can't see my children."

No School for Hard Knocks

Sarah Brown is taking off the next day "to do a safari" in South Africa with some friends.  Her boyfriend of six weeks won't be joining them, but not because their future is dim.  "We share a love of old cars, treasures, childlike behaviour - a love of life," says Brown, 33, a native of Devon, England, whose eyes crinkle pleasantly when she is searching for words.  "It's about having fun."

Yet when it comes to her work, Brown, the nanny to two girls on the Upper West Side, is all business.  She trained for two years at a college in her hometown, passing the nation's Nursery Nurse Examination Board.  "You learn health, psychology, good grooming, child development from ages aught to seven, activities, play therapy," she says.

"Most people [in the US] don't see the difference between an au pair, a nanny, and a baby-sitter.  I have a joke with the kids.  They say, 'You're our baby-sitter.'  I say, 'I don't sit on babies.'  The Americans, they don't really respect that you're trained."

Still, Brown's background has given her a professional edge.  Her employers pay rent on her Chelsea studio apartment, part of their effort to lure her from the suburbs six years ago.  "It's easier for me because I've got a green card and I'm trained," she says.  "I'm a swimmer, a driver, an outdoorsy person."  Plus, she says, "I look like a parent, which probably gives me a more respect than a lot of the nannies."  She works 30 hours a week and earns "enough to live, but not save."

Her relative success may be due as much to her easygoing nature as to her qualifications.  "I made it my business to be as flexible as possible," she says.  In her line of work, "there's never a regular day."  She can afford to be spontaneous without a family of her own.  "I've seen other nannies bring their own kids along with [their employers'] children," she says.  "That must be difficult.

"I'm not really hard up, because I don't have to support anyone else.  But I want my own children.  That's when I'm going to get concerned about my future, really.  I imagine I'll still have to work.  But I don't want to.

"Even with the trained girls, there's still exploitation.  Ultimately, you don't have a lot of job security and benefits.  With any other job, you do.  You're relying on your employer's sympathy.  And you just can't rely on that.

"You'll never be rich being a nanny, no matter how trained you are.  Typically, you don't get a pension.  I don't worry about the future.  I'm sticking with this for now, because I'm enjoying it.  I'm not the type of person who worries.  But maybe I should."

Talking About a Revolution

Ann-Marie Thornhill

"I can relate to Sidney Poitier," says Ann-Marie Thomhill, a proud, reserved woman whose scattered smiles are like sunbursts.  "He said he didn't know he was a black man until he got here," after a youth lived in the Bahamas.

Since 1990, Thornhill, 55, who lives in Flatbush, has worked as a domestic in New York to support four children and an elderly father who live in Trinidad.  Early on, she says, "I tried living in.  It was my worst experience.  I slept on a pullout coucn and worked 7am to 10 pm.  Every night before I went to bed, I had to go down on the floor and mop with a cloth, because she [the employer] said a mop just pushed the dirt around.  I did it for two weeks, and then I told her slavery was over and done with 200 years ago.

"Then I worked as a baby nurse for this family on Ocean Parkway.  The father had a grown son, who was away.  But he didn't want me to sleep in his son's room, dirtying his son's bed.  He walked around in his underwear in front of me.  No respect.  That was the meanest man.  He would curse his wife in front of me."

All told, Thornhill has worked for about 12 families, several with more than one child.  Since her early trials, she has developed one absolute rule: "We must be equals in the sense that we're human together.  The only one above me is God.

"I've never had handouts.  I've had hand-me-downs.  But I've always known what it is to work to achieve.  By age 21, my mom had 6 kids.  She just couldn't take it, and she left us with our father.  He couldn't raise us, so my grandmother, the product of a white overseer and an African woman, raised us.  She planted a lot of what we ate.  She sewed our clothes with her hands.  I helped.  That is what shaped me.

"To this day, I don't mind if I have to wear a skirt the whole week, as long as it's clean.  I like good music.  I like good books.  I can't afford to buy paintings, but I go admire them.  When it gets warmer, you'll find me in Prospect Park with a blanket and a book.  I like nice things, but I don't really spend.  I economise so that not having money doesn't stifle who I am.  I got my children swimming lessons, music lessons, and they all had birthday parties until they were 10."

Her children are all now 18 or older.  After a decade of seeing them only in their brief visits from Trinidad, she says, "I feel so guilty.  It is hard on a daily basis.  But you don't dwell on it.  I can't do the things I want without working in this country, like send my children through university.  You can work here for $300 a week, which in my country can be $1800 or more.  You can send a barrel of foodstuffs every few months."

She is proud that all four children have either finished or are headed for college.  "I was fortunate enough to hear my daughter say one day to her husband that she doesn't know what hard times is.  It's true, they've always had three square meals, two uniforms for school, which is more than I had.

"When my grandmother passed, my mother took us back.  She was a domestic worker for this white, corporate family that lived on the island.  She had two weekends off a month.  She worked for these people for 17 years, but when they let her go, they didn't give her one penny of severance pay.  That's one of the things that drives me.

"Change must come about for domestic workers.  It must.  But change must come about with us.  Some of us still get on as if we're in bondage.  I'll say to someone, 'You don't have to put up with that.'  She will say, 'Well, I have to pay my rent.'  I say, nobody should tell you what your labour is worth; you should know that when you walk in the door.  I'm not afraid to say, I'm outta here."

Source: Village Voice 9 April 2002 photo credit Michael Kamber

Part Two

It was billed as the kind of routine function where constituents complain and politicians nod.  But by the end of the 3-hour town hall, hardly a speaker had kept from breaking down, and one City Council aide, clad in suit and tie, choked into the microphone, "I can't even explain to you how I feel right now, how disturbed and troubled."

To the surprise even of organisers, the 6 April event, showcasing a household workers' rights bill pending in the council, crescendoed into a sort of group catharsis.  Some of the nannies and housekeepers who testified whispered through tears.  Others sobbed.  The moderator, clutching a tissue, announced at one point, "If anyone wants to share something, come up here.  I mean, this is nakedness."

The facts by themselves were not horrifying.  No one mentioned physical violence or hazards of the extent some industrial workers face.  A live-in housekeeper said she lacked privacy where she slept and was not allowed to use a fan because of the electrical expense.  One woman described working more than 10 hours a day for under $1 an hour.  Another said she guessed her current salary of $250 a week was better than her previous one of $250 a month, but then she was unable to go on and abruptly left the floor.

What gripped listeners more than the detail was the depth of emotion.  It seemed there was something about cuddling people's babies and making their beds that sharpened the usual stings of a crummy job into arrows.  Indeed, as the women spoke, it became clear that domestic labour involves an intimacy that sets it apart.  The private setting and personal nature of the job not only create a climate for exploitation, but also enable indignities not found in other, more public kinds of work.

There was the woman, for instance, who worked as a nanny on Park Avenue for "a decent wage," private living quarters, and a food allowance.  "On a scale of 1 to 10, my working conditions were an 8," she said.  Yet she told of a pattern of put-downs that culminated on her birthday: "My employer forgot to give me my lunch break.  I got a bagel from her bread keeper.  She screamed at me for eating her bagel."  Pause.  "I loved the boys.  But the humiliation..."

A domestic and the people she works for can grow very close, says Upper West Side employer Suzanne Levine.  A woman whose real name Levine asks be changed to Annie cooked and cleaned for her family and cared for her two children for nearly 20 years.  "We went to all her children's weddings.  She came to all our family things, knew all our family secrets.  She mothered us, she was very important to us.  She was absolutely wonderful," says Levine.  Annie, mother of 3 and about 10 years Levine's senior, knew more about child care than her boss.  The children were "so lucky to have her," says Levine.  She laughs, "When I came home, everything would fall apart."

Some workers also speak of that kind of familiarity.  Family events and troubles are shared, advice exchanged in both directions.  Employers might offer a special gift - a typewriter, for instance, for a worker's child starting college - or aid navigating legal labyrinths like the INS.

But the tightest bond inevitably forms between a caregiver and her charge.  Nanny Carla Vincent cares for the 17-month-old twins of a family she lives with here, to support her own daughter who visits from Trinidad in the summers.  "All the love I have for her, I pour into my employers' kids," she says.  "It is exactly the same feeling; you really do feel like they're your own.  You defend them the same.  I have yet to meet a nanny who can separate her feelings from the child."

Says another, "You are with a child from infancy to when you have taught her how to look up and down before crossing the road.  They turn into little people, and you're building their self-esteem, preparing them for the next adventurous time in their lives.  You're just not there for the next stage."

It is rare for a worker to stick with one employer as long as Annie did with Levine, a seeming testament to their closeness.  When tending to a family's most personal needs, for 20 years no less, caring goes with the job.  Even the most astute employer, however, can fail to see the labour in the love.

"As a feminist with an overweening sense of sisterhood, I think it's possible I imposed too much intimacy with somebody who was just trying to do her job," says Levine, who was the editor of Ms magazine from 1972 to 1987.  "[Annie] was always aware that I was her employer.  It was always a big surprise to me, when that turned out to be at the heart of a problem, because I thought we were so beyond that."  Levine recalls, "Annie would come on vacation with us.  I thought she was glad to come.  On the other hand, that meant she was on duty for five or six days around the clock.  I always felt bad about that.  I know a lot of people do.  I don't know how you deal with that."

Levine declined to put the Voice in touch with Annie, who she said was in her 70s and in poor health.  But other household workers invariably say, no matter how warm the friendship, when push comes to shove, they are employees.  "We're not equals," says one, "we're working."

Five days a week, Annie arrived before 8am and usually worked until 6pm, says Levine, who is married to an entertainment lawyer.  With regular raises, Annie retired several years ago earning about $20,000, or less than $8 an hour.

"That's the work of several people, but not enough pay for one," says one domestic told about Annie.  Yet even lower wages are common.  In 2000, half of family child care providers surveyed nationwide earned under $4.82 an hour and typically worked 55 hours a week, according to an analysis of federal data by the nonprofit Centre for the Child Care Workforce in Washington, DC.  Housekeepers, considered to be less skilled, usually earn less than caregivers, although those roles, as in Annie's case, can overlap.  Wages in New York are higher than elsewhere, but so is the cost of living, and a large number of the workers here are presumed to be undocumented and earning substandard pay.

This low-wage work is done almost entirely by women, and largely by women of colour.  The DC centre reports that 98% of child care providers are female, and they are often of racial minorities and mothers themselves.  Industry experts believe more women in New York may work in households than in any other field.

No doubt many an at-home mom could confirm what scholars contend: the paltry pay reflects society's longstanding failure to value domestic labour as taxing or income-worthy.  That lack of recognition has everything to do with the work's intimate quality.  Not only does caretaking continue to be seen, post-feminist movement, as a natural and therefore effortless talent of women, but there are shades of slavery in demands for employee devotion that exceed compensation.  Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Peggie Smith has painstakingly researched how government denials of rights to household workers were based on sexist or racist arguments.  Until 1974, domestics were not entitled to the federal minimum wage, and they are still excluded from laws like the one that protects union activity.

Handicapped by history, workers are also burdened by the unreasonable emotional demands of some employers, says Carol Bandini, a psychoanalyst and co-author of Child Care for Love or Money?, a guide based on 85 interviews with local families and caregivers.  "We take for granted what women do.  We all want to be taken care of, to be cared for.  But we don't want to pay for it, we want it to be given out of affection," she says.  An employer's longing for a wife-mother-servant figure, someone duty-bound to nurture, can doom an employee seeking fair return for her labour.

Especially when children and genuine caring are involved, workers say, complaining about salary or duties can seem coldly mercenary or just plain awkward.  Says nanny Vincent, "A lot of the nannies, they love the kids, and that's why they put up with bad pay, with parents being rude.  We're only human.  The parents take advantage of that."

Nannies who do speak up may encounter another daunting assumption - that caring for employers' children is a priceless joy.  Says Bandini, "It's one of the reasons they're low-paid.  The parent feels envious of the caregiver - 'Why should I give them so much money for the pleasure of being with my child?'"  If that envy grows extreme, a worker could actually be fired for getting too close to her charge, Bandini says.  "If she does a good job, she's damned.  If she doesn't, she's damned.  It's difficult to live inside a paradox."

Bonding, part of a caregiver's job, can complicate the business side.

Some domestics live inside a different paradox, where what they do is viewed not so much as work as payment on a personal debt.  In a profession so closely associated with family or old-fashioned servant roles, the worker in this case is something of a poor maiden aunt.  Levine, the former Ms editor, acknowledges her domestic Annie's position "was certainly a low-salary job.  She would be here sometimes long hours."  But before she was hired, Annie had been cleaning several homes a week for far less than the $20,000 she ultimately made, says Levine.  "I think she would say what happened was, we liberated her from the worst years of her life."

Without input from Annie, it is impossible to be sure, although her long tenure suggests she was satisfied.  However, Mary Romero, herself a former housekeeper and now professor at Arizona State University, takes a dimmer view.  "Employers always want to cast themselves as caring for the less fortunate," she says.  "There's real resistance to thinking that whatever they pay results in a standard of living for the workers."

In the upcoming revision of her book Maid in the USA, Romero shares her own degrading experiences and denounces people like Linda Chavez, who was, ironically, George W Bush's pick for labour secretary until it was revealed she was harbouring an undocumented Guatemalan woman.  Chavez defended the arrangement as charity, claiming she donated shelter and pocket money and the Guatemalan thanked her by doing chores.  Romero doesn't buy that, and Chavez withdrew amid criticism from others who didn't, either.  "This is the only occupation I've ever heard of where the employer will give an employee their old clothes and expect gratitude for it," fumes Romero.

Advocates say the labour-as-a-favour guise is common here, and so some women, especially immigrants without legal status or English skills, work for next to nothing.  A Brooklyn Haitian organisation reports getting calls from people offering to board a woman if she would work for free.  Says Romero, "It's a throwback to feudalism and slavery."

Such patronising attitudes toward caretakers have more troubling ramifications still when the employee belongs to an ethnic group already subject to prejudice.  It is no wonder that domestic work carries such stigma.  Erline Brown, a nanny, says, "I have been out with the kids, and I have had people call me names for the work that I do."  A Barbadian Brit with braids, she says she's been told, "You're an Aunt Jemima."  Employer Levine says balancing her employee's status relative to the family, "because Annie was white... was easier."  But in many cases, relations with household workers are, for better or worse, children's first encounters with American racial dynamics.

The association of inferiority with race is not just metaphor.  Housework was for many decades the only field where most African American women could get hired.  As other areas opened to them and to the European immigrants who also did the work, women from the Caribbean, Asia, and Latin America replaced them.  There were involuntary migrants, too:  A State Department analyst reported in 1999 that over 45,000 women and children, nearly all from the third world, were trafficked into the US each year, most for sex work but many for domestic labour in top destinations like New York.  In less overt forms of coercion, employers might confiscate passports or threaten to call the INS on an undocumented worker.

Moreover, racism in hiring leaves the most back-breaking, low-paid work to minorities, says Julia Wrigley, a City University of New York sociologist, drawing from over 150 interviews with families and employees.  "Women of colour are often assigned very stigmatised tasks, like cleaning up after dogs or providing table service to their employers," she says, while white women are more likely to be hired strictly for child care.

But domestics can't sue based on discrimination.  Most relevant laws exempt household and other small employers.  Law professor Smith says these exemptions were created when employers argued that in intimate settings, conflicts could be more personal than professional.

The emotional testimonies of workers at the 6 April town hall showed that intimacy has a considerable dark side.  The personal interaction that might make a good job more enjoyable could make a bad one humiliating.  The women could have made no better case for legislating labour rights.  As Councilmember Christine Quinn, a leading sponsor of the workers' rights bill, said, "A domestic worker quite literally could never see anybody but the employer for days on end.  There are probably many more good employers than bad, but the job of government is to make sure everybody is protected."

A formal structure is better even for the best employers, says Jean Kunhardt, co-director of the Soho Parenting Center.  "I tend to see [parents] who are so guilt-ridden, they overcompensate by cooking meals for their nannies, paying for college courses.  I often say, 'This is an employer-employee relationship.  You're not adopting somebody in the family.'"

And perhaps worst for both sides, in the absence of decent standards there is frequent turnover.  The DC child care organisation found annual rates among caregivers nationwide hovering at between 30 and 40%.  Not surprisingly, its research showed that fair wages based on merit helped retain experienced workers.

"This is a valuable service we're providing," says nanny Brown, "and it's a pleasurable job."  One housekeeper, who says others see her job as pure drudgery, finds "satisfaction in creating beauty out of chaos."  But, wonders Brown, "why should we stay in a job with no benefits, where our employers sometimes don't even acknowledge us when we say good morning?  The industry is losing the crème de la crème of professionals.  When we're seen as doing a real job, we'll stay."

Source: 17-23 April 2002

A magazine editor and her husband (a lawyer), whose nanny "cooked and cleaned for her family and cared for her two children for nearly 20 years" and who "knew more about child care than her boss" and, in spite of the fact than she had three children of her own, went on vacations with her employer where she was on call 24 hours a day - was paid only $20,000 a year?!  No wonder Suzanne Levine didn't want "Annie" to be interviewed!  What if Suzanne's lawyer husband offered her $20,000 to stay home and raise her own kids?  Ha-ha.  And Suzanne would've done a worse job.  "Overweening sense of sisterhood," you say?  Get real.  It sounds to me like Suzanne was looking for a grandmother - paid by goodwill - for her children.  And that neither adult in that family viewed childcare as a terribly important or difficult job.

I had a friend once, the son of a solidly middle-class family, who helped pay his university expenses by working summers as a garbage collector.  He was assigned to his own neighbourhood and knew many of the families whose garbage he collected.  When they forgot to put the cans out, he'd ring their doorbells and walk inside to collect them.  He joked with everyone and showed off the muscles he was developing.  He did the same work as the other garbage collectors, but the work was different for him - he wasn't defined by it - nor chained to it.

It isn't our jobs that are the problem.  Nannies and housekeepers do the same jobs that housewives the world over do.  But, generally, these employees have status even lower than that of housewives (which can be very low indeed - see Why the World's Most Important Job Is the Least Valued) who sometimes are "paid" even less - if anything.  Poverty isn't absolute, it's relative. (See Why Living in a Rich Society Makes Us Feel Poorer.)  The fact that nannies are constantly confronted by a life that they will never have (no one in the family they serve will ever wash their dirty underwear) means that "equality" is a myth.  Geddit?

Does Ms Levine think child prostitution in Thailand is okay because it's raising the standard of living for the girls' families and keeps them all from starving?  Or maybe she thinks the girls have sex with fat old men because they "love" them?  Because they're "equal" in their embrace?  Not even.

The Flair Bartenders' Association

What is flair bartending?

Flair is a style of bartending that has existed for at least 150 years.  Fabled American bartending legend Jerry "the professor" Thomas performed flair in the mid 1800s, whenever he made his famous Blue Blazer, pouring flaming scotch and water from mug to mug in a long, fiery stream.  Any bartender who has ever put two or more bottles in one hand uses flair.  Flair is simply efficiency of movement with a little pizzazz.  Technically speaking, flair is the act of flipping, spinning, throwing, balancing, catching bottles, drinks, and various bar tools while in the process of making cocktails.  Flair involves highly technical pours and cuts that ensure accuracy and no spillage while performing various tricks and moves.  Speed bartending a form of flair in that the fastest, most efficient way to make drinks involves multi-bottle pours; inverted catches and grabs; stylish, martial-art like movements; and even behind the back throws and catches from time to time.

What is the working flair?

Working flair is the type of flair the FBA encourages on day to day bar shifts: quick, light, and realistic moves that can be performed without slowing service.  Most working flair involves glassware, one bottle, bottle and tin, garnish, or occasionally, two bottle moves.  Working flair is always performed while making a cocktail or drink.  Flipping empty bottles is not working flair.

What is exhibition flair?

Exhibition flair is flair performed for entertainment and competition purposes and generally involves longer, choreographed routines.  Exhibition flair usually requires special preparation and set-up of bottles and other props.  It is a style of flair that generally does not lend itself to every day bar shifts.  However, there are a growing number of flair bars around the world that showcase exhibition flair as part of their operation's entertainment.  Exhibition flair often involves multi-object flair including 2,3,4 and 5 bottle/tin tricks and routines.  Exhibition flair can involve moves and routines performed while not in the drink making process.

Jeff Alexander, a bartender trainer at Red Square bar and restaurant, part of the expanded Tropicano Casino, pours 7 martinis at once.
Source: The Star-Ledger Tuesday 23 November 2004 photo credit Andrew Mills/
The Star-Ledger

Which style is correct?

There is no "correct" style of flair, just different styles.  Certain styles are more accepted and more popular than others in different parts of the world.  That is what makes the FBA so exciting.  The FBA is bringing together bartenders of many different styles and helping to facilitate understanding, acceptance, and camaraderie amongst flair bartenders regardless of ability, style, or experience.  The FBA does believe that service should always come first, before flair-but that flair is a very fundamental part of being a professional bartender.

What is the mission of the FBA?

To encourage the performance and sport of flair bartending with a strong foundation of accuracy and service.

What does the FBA actually do?

Organises, supports, improves bartending competitions.  Creates and maintains a community for flair bartenders worldwide mainly via the members lounge of our website  Teaches the art of flair in workshops, seminars, and in our home towns to newcomers and veterans alike.  Grows the sport of freestyle bartending throughout the world by promoting events, encouraging bartenders to compete in them, and getting the media to cover them.  Acts as a liaison between bartenders, managers, owners, media, and industry organizations and corporations to educate them about the technical skill and dedication to service and sales professional flair bartenders have.  Sends flair bartenders all over the world to train, demonstrate, perform, work, and compete.  Writes for industry publications and consults on industry projects and beverage development with major multi-units and drinks companies.

Who started the FBA?

The original planning of a worldwide community of performance bartenders was a 1997 collaboration between American Flair Bartenders Alan Mays and Toby Ellis.  Later in 1997, 30 other flair bartenders from the US and Canada joined Mays and Ellis and founded the original network, the Flair Bartenders' Network (FBN).  Some of the other founders and most involved members include Jim Allison, Dean Serneels, Rob Corujo, Stefan Notteboom, Philip Duff, Ken Hall, Jason Jelicich, Fabio Milani, Chuck Rohm, Joe Pereira, and John Fiore.  By mid 1998, the FBA had grown to 250 bartenders in 24 countries.  Today, there are over 5,770 FBA bartenders working in 110 countries.  Yahoo!

Who belongs to the FBA?

Bartenders who love to make drinks and love to entertain.  Rookies.  Veterans.  Old-school purists.  Modern day mavericks.  Master bartenders and freestyle world champions like Alan Mays, Ken Hall, Mindaugas Gradeckas, Nathan Taylor, Ed Hibbert, Fifi, Guy Minshall, Shawn Greco, Rob "TinMan" Ford, Joe Pereira, Luis "Iceman" Herrera, Marcelo Benitez, Steve Hirst, Ati Grinspun, Francesco Leoni, Mark Schultz, Erin Morland, Chuck McIntosh, Stefan Notteboom, Philip Duff, Jason Jelicich, Hirman Asnadi, Rob Corujo, Stephane Hadjadje, Fabio Milani, John Fiore, Toby Ellis, Scott Young, and more.

Can you send me information on flair?

All the information we can give away for free is on or contained in a link to some of the other sites listed there.  Join for $40.00 (+shipping) and you'll have more information and resources on flair bartending than you could have ever possibly imagined!  You can pay online with your credit card.  Or you can pay with cash, cheque, or US money order payable to "FBA".  Please cheque out the payment page for information on global shipping rates before sending dues.

Where can I get videos?

Join today and you'll have access to videos for sale in the online store that features flair from all over the world including exclusive footage you cannot buy anywhere else on earth.

Does the FBA recommend bartending schools?

No.  We do not recommend one school over another.  We do point out that some schools are much better than others.  Before you spend any money, find out what the school has to offer.  All top bartending schools these days offer flair training.  Those that do not are out-of-date.  (Flair training is now part of most major multi-unit chains, major resorts & casinos, and many high-volume, high-profile clubs.

What is the secret to flair?

Do it.  Practice (at home).  Enjoy it.  Break a lot of bottles.  Get support by joining the FBA.  (Are we being subtle enough?)

How do I keep from spilling?

Physics.  Centrifugal and centripetal forces.  Visualise and practice keeping the liquid forced or "pushed" to the bottom of the bottle.  Most moves travel in "arcs" and should lead by the base of the bottle.  There are no special "trick" pour spouts.  Don't try to flip bottles that are more than 1/4 full.  You can flair bottles that are full, you simply cannot put a 360º flip on them.  Practice.  It will come to you.

How long does it take to get good?

How bad do you want it?  With all the support available through FBA membership, most bartenders can learn enough flair to make a little extra money on their shifts or place in competitions in a matter of a couple months.  You just have to want it and be willing to do the work.  With professional one-on-one training, you can shorten that time down to a few weeks.  Join the FBA and you'll be able to locate professional trainers and top flair bartenders who live near you!

How else can I help?

Spread the word.  Teach others.  Join us.  Compete.  Have fun behind the bar.  Make great drinks and cocktails.  Give amazing service.  Send us any news related to bartending, particularly performance bartending.  Don't ever let service suffer on your bar to perform flair.  Represent the FBA with class, humility, and a sense of humour.

How can I become a national FBA rep?

Walk your talk.  Get out there and help grow the sport.  Have integrity.  Leave your ego at home.  Teach others.  Tell us of your interest.  Spread the word.  Keep us posted of all your work.  Make things happen.

Flair Bartenders' Association, Inc. (FBA)
Service First, Flair Second, Competition Always

PO Box 190466
Boise, Idaho 83719-0466
(208) 484-9900


"If You Don't Take a Job as a Prostitute, We Can Stop Your Benefits"

by Clare Chapman

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services" at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.  Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners - who must pay tax and employee health insurance - were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.  The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.  She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her "profile" and that she should ring them.  Only on doing so did the woman, who has not been identified for legal reasons, realise that she was calling a brothel.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job - including in the sex industry - or lose her unemployment benefit.  Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.  The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars.  As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.  When the waitress looked into suing the job centre, she found out that it had not broken the law.  Job centres that refuse to penalise people who turn down a job by cutting their benefits face legal action from the potential employer.  "There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry," said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specialises in such cases.  "The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits."

Miss Garweg said that women who had worked in call centres had been offered jobs on telephone sex lines.  At one job centre in the city of Gotha, a 23-year-old woman was told that she had to attend an interview as a "nude model", and should report back on the meeting.  Employers in the sex industry can also advertise in job centres, a move that came into force this month.  A job centre that refuses to accept the advertisement can be sued.

Tatiana Ulyanova, who owns a brothel in central Berlin, has been searching the online database of her local job centre for recruits.  "Why shouldn't I look for employees through the job centre when I pay my taxes just like anybody else?" said Miss Ulyanova.

Ulrich Kueperkoch wanted to open a brothel in Goerlitz, in former East Germany, but his local job centre withdrew his advertisement for 12 prostitutes, saying it would be impossible to find them.  Mr Kueperkoch said that he was confident of demand for a brothel in the area and planned to take a claim for compensation to the highest court.  Prostitution was legalised in Germany in 2002 because the government believed that this would help to combat trafficking in women and cut links to organised crime.

Miss Garweg believes that pressure on job centres to meet employment targets will soon result in them using their powers to cut the benefits of women who refuse jobs providing sexual services.  "They are already prepared to push women into jobs related to sexual services, but which don't count as prostitution," she said.  "Now that prostitution is no longer considered by the law to be immoral, there is really nothing but the goodwill of the job centres to stop them from pushing women into jobs they don't want to do."

Source: 30 January 2005

Welfare-to-Work’s New Thrust

by Theodore Dalrymple

A few years ago, prostitutes disappeared from the pages of medical journals; they returned as "sex workers."  Nor did they work in prostitution any more: they were employees in the "sex industry."  Presumably, orgasms are now a consumer product just like any other.  As for pimps, the correct term is probably: "brief sexual liaison coordinators."

The editors who decided on the new terminology almost certainly felt, and probably still do feel, a warm glow of self-satisfaction (one of the few emotions than never lets you down).  How they must have prided themselves on their broadmindedness, as they strove to reduce the small-minded stigma traditionally attached to offering sexual services in return for money!  How morally brave and daring they must have felt, to fly so boldly in the face of two millennia of unthinking condemnation!

Unfortunately, ideas - or in this case attitudes - have their consequences.  If prostitution really is a trade like any other, with no particular moral opprobrium attaching to it, why should women (or for that matter men) who receive state benefits not be coerced into prostitution under threat of losing their benefits, just as they can be coerced into taking any other job that becomes available?

In fact, this is precisely what has just happened in Germany.  Government officials have threatened a young unemployed waitress in Berlin with a reduction in her state unemployment benefit for turning down a job in a brothel.  Since prostitution is a job like any other, they maintained, she had no right to turn it down.

The young woman in question could still refuse.  But what would she live on?  It has always been the argument of those who want to destigmatise prostitution that wretched personal circumstances force prostitutes into their sex-work; as is so often the case, this gloomy determinism has now helped to bring about the very circumstances complained of in the first place.  Logically, and on exactly the same grounds, there is no reason why the government should not coerce young - or indeed old - men into homosexual prostitution.

The idea of the state coercing its population into prostitution is, of course, repellent.  Even the most liberal of liberals would probably agree with that.  This means that there is after all a moral difference between prostitution and washing dishes in the local restaurant or stacking supermarket shelves.  And that prostitution is both age-old and ineradicable does not make it any less degrading to all concerned.

Once again, the attempt to remake our moral universe by a change of terminology stands revealed as shallow moral exhibitionism: Look at me, see how unfettered by convention, how empathic towards the downtrodden, I am! I think for myself, unlike all those people of the past two millennia, and I don’t accept the burden of the so-called wisdom of the past!

Of course, the German state might not have been in a position to coerce the waitress in the first place, had its social security payments not been so generous, causing 4,500,000 people to be unemployed.

Source: 3  February 2005

"Whore College" Offers Hands-On Training

by Lisa Leff

San Francisco - It's higher education of the horizontal variety.  About 25 sex workers went to a college of sorts, sitting through lectures on effective marketing, stress reduction and condom-application skills.  "We are still illegal," instructor Kimberlee Cline said before her 20-minute demonstration.  "If we want to be treated as business professionals, we need to act ethically within the industry."  Cities including Tucson, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; Montreal, Canada; and Taipei, Taiwan have similar events, said organiser Carol Leigh.  Presented in conjunction with the San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival, the class Wednesday at an erotic art gallery was billed as a way for working girls and guys to polish their skills in a supportive atmosphere.

It was the first time the biennial festival, begun in 1999 to showcase films about and by sex workers, included a session devoted to how to maintain a satisfying career.  "My own personal experience has been negative and positive, as with any job," said Kymberly Cutter, 36, a mother of two from Tucson who returned to prostitution 2 years ago to boost her income and regards it as part of a journey in "personal self-discovery."  Her children, ages 7 and 9, know what she does for a living, she said.

Participants who stuck it out for the whole day received diplomas certifying them as GSW - Graduates in Sex Work.


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