An unexpected pregnancy and a violent partner stopped Stephanie Land's (Washington, USA, 1978) plans to be a writer. Not having the support of family or friends, she dedicated herself to cleaning for six years and took advantage of different social assistance programs. The writer claims that when she cleaned houses she felt "invisible" and that by the nature of that job people forget that she exists.
Tenacious, she studied nights until she graduated from college and began working as a freelance writer. In Maid. Hard work, low wages and a mother's will to survive (Captain Swing, 2021) - the book on which the Netflix series The Maid (Maid) is based - tells of her experience, which is that of many Americans whose work horizon is marked by precariousness, the risk of poverty and the disdain of the middle classes.
Do we underestimate cleaning tasks?
Yes. In fact, I often felt invisible. It was important to show that he had passed through the house he was cleaning; for example, bending the ends of the toilet paper roll or that everything smelled good, but could not leave any evidence that he had been there as a human being, because the customer could call and complain. By the invisible nature of that work, people forget that it exists.
If the job was better paid, would it be valued more?
I think what happens in America affects personal dignity. Low-paid jobs, such as cleaning, are considered unworthy or less important than that of a doctor, for example. However, domestic employment allows the country that the rest of the jobs can be done. We should start by giving everyone the same dignity, regardless of the work they do.
I was ashamed to receive public subsidies ...
I felt guilty for having failed and for having failed my daughter. At that time there were friends who posted messages on social networks that compared those who received aid with the message from the national parks: "Do not feed the bears because they become dependent on handouts." I was compared to an animal! That sticks to you. It's such a humiliating system! You had to show that you had no money in goods that you could sell and felt that it only had value if you worked physically. I was ashamed not to be a member of society that contributed fully to it.
Do you still feel that way?
Little by little I am getting over it. Especially right now. (Laughs) My work as a freelancer is almost 24 hours a day and I spend all my time writing. I'm not complaining, but I had signed a contract to write my next book and I haven't been able to. It has been very hard because there is a lot of mental energy that goes into the writing process, it is not just a physical effort.
Was the situation you experienced bearable because you believed it was something transitory, that at some point you would find something better?
I was focused on getting through the day and not thinking much beyond that. I was very good at planning, very organized, I knew at all times how much money I had in my account, how much milk I had in the fridge and all my energy was going into that, arriving at the time when the girl was going to sleep and having a few minutes for me. But many things push you out of that situation. I wanted to show my children that they could do whatever they wanted. And I needed to do it too.
How do you feel when you see that for many women their only destiny is to chain one precarious job after another?
I think my story is privileged in that regard. I am a white person who grew up in the middle class. I wasn't the first generation to go to college, because my mother went first, so I had a feeling that destination was not my final destination. But that has to do with white privilege. I did not come from poverty or systemic racism, from generations and generations of immigrants or cleaners.
It is striking that he says that being poor is like being on probation. Is this how poverty is perceived in the United States? Like a crime?
I've never been on probation! Never! But it seemed like it. When I lived in the homeless shelter I had to take urine tests to show that I did not drink and they came to check that I was still working for the cleaning company. It was a very regulated kind of life, very strange. Even when she was in an abusive and controlling relationship (with the partner she separated from) she had more freedom.
What is the situation of cleaners in the United States today?
I've had a lot of comments on Instagram and Twitter from people starting to see how easy it is to find two dollars, need to work, and the stress that this creates. I don't think people are going to change, but I hope they don't think that this situation is the result of a bad personal decision and, therefore, that we shouldn't help. That has been the reading for many years.
"There is a desire to give everyone the same dignity, regardless of the work they do"
There is an incomprehensible scene: your mother refuses to pay you for a simple hamburger even though you barely have any money.
Well, I still don't get it. My mother and I have been almost complete strangers for eight years. I have not spoken to her during this time. You don't know my seven-year-old daughter. I never understood his way of thinking. A lot of people are angry at that scene, and in a way I appreciate it. I should have been angry too, but at the time I just felt demoralized.
Is your book a sample that the American dream is just that, a dream?
I call it a myth. It is not even a dream. Is not true. That thing that you can get ahead on your own and that if you work hard, you get it ... If you don't, people take for granted that it is because you do not work enough. But I don't think the poor can work anymore.
"My daughter learned to walk in a shelter for the homeless." How is your daughter today?
Cool! Mia is 14 and a half years old. It is so smart! Much more than me… He has chosen to use his middle name, Story, and the pronoun they (non-binary gender).
What traces has this stage of your life left on you?
Many difficulties to enjoy good things, because my experience told me that every time something good happened, something bad would happen later. Now I begin to trust that the good can last, but there will always be traces of that. When you have housing problems you are in a permanent state of panic and the body does not recover easily. There are habits that do not abandon you, as happens to those who grow up in poverty or suffer sexist violence.
"One of the great benefits of being willing to kneel to clean a toilet is that you will never have a problem finding work," you say on a Maid page. Are you still thinking about it?
-Of course. Undoubtedly.