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Review

Author(s): Judith Rollins


Review by: Judith Rollins
Source: Gender and Society, Vol. 4, No. 3, Special Issue: Women and Development in the
Third World (Sep., 1990), pp. 423-425
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/189652
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BOOK REVIEWS 423

the hidden life of the very poor. While anthropologists have a long history of studying
rural indigenous communities, many of which live at a subsistence level, only recently
are they turning their attention to the structure and culture among the urban poor. This
monograph makes a major contribution to our understanding of a worldwide phenom-
enon: a society of urban women living barely on the subsistence level, who have very
little to do with men, except in the area of procreation.
I would be remiss if I did not mention a few drawbacks of this monograph. The
reader must search the chapters and footnotes to find out who was interviewed and
where. We are given no information on the interview schedule or questions used, and
only a footnote explains that the children were asked "32 open-ended questions." In
addition, the book has no summary that pulls the findings from the four main chapters
together. The narrative in each chapter intersperses data, quotes from the interviews,
and commentary. Thus, I conclude that this book would be appropriate for research
scholars interested in in-depth studies. For teaching purposes, it would be useful as a
supplemental reading in a course on women in developing countries, especially those
concerned with the urban poor.

DORIS P. SLESINGER
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Muchachas No More. Edited by Elsa M. Chaney and Mary Garcia Castro.


Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989, 486 pp., $34.95.

Temple University Press has published MuchachasNo More as part of its Women
in the Political Economy series. It would have fit just as comfortably into Temple's
Labor and Social Change series because, at its essence, Muchachas No More-as the
title implies and the editors well document-is about a segment of the labor force
crying out for change. This is a book made up of description, analysis, and theory
building, but it is a book for change.
Muchachas No More is the first volume ever published on domestic service in
Latin America and the Caribbean. This surprising fact alone makes it an important
book. But when one considers that Latin America has the largest domestic-service
sector and the highest percentage of women in the occupation in the world, it is all
the more surprising that feminist and labor scholars have neglected this population of
workers until now.

Part of the success of the book is due to its conceptual construction. Opening with
historical chapters, Chaney and Garcia Castro then organize sections around general
descriptions and ideology, the tension between feminism and domestic service, and
efforts to organize household workers. Their inclusion of five chapters written by
workers themselves gives the volume subjective richness and illustrates the editors'
respect for domestics. The bibliography compiled by Margo L. Smith is the most

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424 GENDER & SOCIETY / September 1990

comprehensive I have seen on the topic; it includes material from Western Europe,
the United States, Asia, and Africa, as well as from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Most of the themes that recur in the chapters are the same as those in publications
on domestic service elsewhere: the material and social marginality of the workers, the
predominance of migrants, the low valuation of this "women's work," and the lack
of organizational and legal protection. Those few issues that emanate from social
patterns unique to Latin America might have been developed more. For example,
unlike the situation in other Third World areas, migration into urban areas in Latin
American is disproportionately female. In addition to creating a large labor pool, what
further impact this demographic fact has on the lives of household workers is not
addressed. In fact, only Isis Duarte, in her discussion of the Dominican Republic,
makes an effort to explain this unusual migration pattern. It is not evident that the
other authors are aware that this pattern is unusual. While some of them compare their
findings to patterns in Western Europe and the United States, none makes reference
to Africa, Asia, and other parts of the Third World, reflecting a Eurocentric bias in
even these scholars of Latin America.
Another unique phenomenon in Latin America is the effect of the pervasive
presence of servants on the federal and municipal infrastructures and on the person-
alities of those in the middle and upper classes. As Garcia Castro and Pereira de Melo
point out, the existence of domestics in almost all middle- and upper-class homes
renders unnecessary government-supported daily mail pickup and delivery, day care,
mandatory full-time schooling, and so on. The lack of such services maintains the
dependence of the employing classes on their domestics, a dependence that is
psychological as well as material, as Emily Nett and others have discussed. This
unusual aspect of household work in Latin America needs further exploration.
The chapters more than adequately address the important issues relating to the
tension between feminism and domestic service and efforts to organize domestic
workers. Although the contradiction of Latin American feminists employing domes-
tics and the simultaneous gender identity and class conflict between employers and
domestics are mentioned throughout the book, the chapters in the section on feminism
deal with the ramifications of these realities fully and forthrightly. For example, Isis
Duarte states:

Thepequeina-burguesa woman struggling for social and gender equality pays a very high
price for her liberation, however: the fact that she is in a position to employ a domestic
worker reinforces, rather than challenges, patriarchy and the subordination of women in
the society. (p. 199)

Pereira de Melo's discussion of feminists and domestics in Rio de Janeiro includes


lengthy narratives from both groups of women that reveal their very different
perspectives. In no country have organizations of feminists and domestics been able
to form a comfortable alliance. Feminist groups have been ambivalent about house-
hold workers, and domestics have been suspicious of feminists. This statement in a
leaflet published by an organization of Mexican household workers reveals that, from
their perspective, class divisions cannot be overcome by common gender identity:

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BOOK REVIEWS 425

"Until domestic service ends, there will be no possibility of solidarity among women"
(p. 238).
Efforts to organize domestics throughout the continent are extensively detailed.
In fact, considering the low rate of participation of domestics in such organizations,
it could be argued that too much attention is given to these efforts. It is clear that this
attention is more a reflection of the editors' reformism than of domestics' numerical
involvement, a reformism also articulated by a number of the contributors. However,
while chapter after chapter details elaborate and sometimes quite sophisticated efforts
to organize (e.g., Leon on Colombia), only in Cuba have those efforts resulted in
qualitative changes in the lives of most domestics. The process of change and the
goals in Cuba were fundamentally different from those of other countries described:
Cuba retrained household workers for other occupations (bank tellers, stenographers,
telephone operators, and so on), while the goals of organizations in other countries
were to improve the conditions of domestics by increasing protective legislation,
raising domestics' feminist and class consciousness, apprising employers of their class
obligations, and so on. Although the articulated goal of some of these organizations
was radical (to "eventually dismantle classist and patriarchal social structures" [Leon,
p. 345]), the activities were, in fact, reformist. Thus the conditions for the majority of
household workers in these countries today remain deplorable. For those interested
in fundamentally improving the quality of life for women now employed as household
workers, the lessons provided by this volume are obvious.
Both the movements for reform and this volume would have benefited from greater
exploration.of the structural causes of the growth, feminization, and degradation of
domestic service; of the sociopolitical legacies of colonialism in Latin America
(including the role of racism); and of the impact of industrial capitalism and multina-
tionals on the economies of these Third World countries.
As it stands, this collection is an excellent introductory volume: well organized,
well written, well meaning. Both scholarly and humane, eschewing the subject-object
dichotomy of most Western and masculinist research, the book manages to adopt some
of the Weltanschauung of the Third World women that are its focus. In doing so,
Muchachas No More not only details and encourages social change, it exemplifies
and contributes to that change. No small achievement.

JUDITH ROLLINS
Simmons College

Enterprising Women: Ethnicity, Economy, and Gender Relations. Edited by


Sallie Westwood and Parminder Bhachu. London: Routledge, 1988, 210
pp., $65.

This important collection of papers on the interconnection of ethnicity and gender


in the economy faces up to difficult analytic questions and discusses them with rich

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