We watched “The Help” about a week ago. Five minutes in I was already defensive and pausing the show to express my concerns of how the people were portrayed.
It wasn’t until about the third stall that I realized a big part of why it bugged me.
I had a maid when I was young – well more or less. We called her a house-girl. She worked six days a week. She cooked, cleaned and watched us kids. She regularly stayed the night and even took us on outings sometimes.
We had a yard-boy, too, and even a sew-girl who came regularly to make custom clothing for us.
However, before you start envisioning a three figure weekly allowance and luxury swimming pool, let me explain.
My parents were in the Air Force. From age five to age ten we lived in the Philippine Islands. House-girls and such were standard at Clark AFB, Luzon.
At first it was vital and probably a God-send for my family. Long story, but my Mother spent the first two years there as a single, working mother of two to three children while my Father was on a totally different continent.
As soon as a new family turned up on base the neighboring house-girls and yard-boys would eagerly recommend their family members and friends. Even more than the assumed need of the family, there was the desperate want or need of the Filipino.
If you didn’t hire, prepare to be ostracized, at least by the Filipinos. (not to mention a continual flow of hopeful applicants) Frankly, from what I’ve seen their point of view is basically that Americans are rich – all Americans. So, coming to their country with such wealth if you don’t hire somebody it’s presumed that you are just greedy – hording your wealth. I won’t claim that all of them felt that way, but it did seem to be a common enough sentiment.
I can’t blame them.
As a child, I didn’t understand any of the controversies. I loved them. As far as I recall all those that worked for us were treated well – certainly not any of the atrocities that were shown in The Help. As I said, in the beginning my Mother was on her own and desperately needed the help.
Now, I certainly wouldn’t envy their job or pay. Even as a young child, I knew it was tough. I remember a night where my older brother made our house-girl cry and me trying to make it better. Now as a parent, I know all the more how hard the job is.
I don’t know what they were paid, but I doubt it was much compared to a job in America, but yet in the Philippines it was deemed a coveted position – as shown by the eagerness to secure it.
I guess I could say this is part of my oddball backgrounds. At least for those five years I lived a rather different childhood than my American peers. I should also note that I have never actually spent any significant time in the “South”. So having this background while watching The Help I got defensive about how the employers were shown at first. I was concerned about the stereotyping and generalizing, even though my Husband vouched for its authenticity – having lived in the South for a while.
However, the movie came through, even for me. They had several more compassionate women that were trapped in varying degrees by the society and they even had one woman that I could relate to that I did not expect to.
It was the blond, social outcast who had somehow missed out on Domestic Training 101 entirely. Like so many of the current rising generation, she wasn’t trained to manage a household and was totally overwhelmed. Unlike other women in the show, she was anxious to learn. She wanted a maid not to slave away for her, but as a friend and a mentor. She was eager for acceptance in the society of her peers but couldn’t grasp the entrenched intricacies and personal disputes that she kept blundering through.
It seems the nature of some to seek a way out of the daily grind – the menial duties. When one reaches the point in which one does not have to tend to such, most would rather not do them. We would rather turn our aspirations to “nobler causes”. However, then as some of the women of the show, we still crave a sense of significance, of influence. They looked for causes – such as the bridge game gathering, the toilet sanitation campaign and raising money for the starving children in Africa.
Sure, there is value to such, but meanwhile the children suffered from estrangement from their real mothers and even neglect. With the passing of generations, the basic skills are lost by the higher class and they slowly find themselves utterly dependent on the staff or lower class. Even so, too often they take the workers for granted.
Meanwhile, for mere survival, the lower class constantly works hard and develop the vital skills like thrift and resourcefulness. Then, inevitably when the oppressions of the society either pass or become intolerable and broken down, it’s the common worker who with the skills for success. Those that habitually work hard naturally excel and improve themselves.
The wealthy who have become dependent however tend to find themselves in bondage – to their pride or even the former servant, such as with the woman so furious to fire the maid but yet the next day willing to take her back only to find herself punished by a pie. That pie could be said to be her ultimate undoing and the bane of her reality.
Perhaps there is far more truth than we realize to Christ’s advice in Luke 22:
25 And he said unto them, The akings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth aserve.
27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that aserveth.
I do not aspire to a hard life or one of poverty, but I hope I never underestimate the value of the lessons taught by hard work. I also pray I never forget the priceless value and power of those that work hard and serve others.