Women and the Politics of Empowerment

By Ann Bookman; Sandra Morgen | Go to book overview

1
"Making Your Job Good Yourself": Domestic Service and the Construction of Personal Dignity

Bonnie Thornton Dill

This article explores the ways Black women household workers negotiated the employer-employee relationship to gain the respect of their employers and construct their own sense of self-worth and personal dignity. It describes their strategies for gaining mastery over work that was socially defined as demeaning and demonstrates how they actively resisted the depersonalization of household work. It also conveys their efforts to assert the values of a rationalized work setting within a workplace with rules and norms based primarily on personal relationships and family life. Finally, the study demonstrates the ways in which individual acts of resistance, even within the work setting of a private family, can have collective consequences for the overall organization of domestic labor as an occupation.


THE STUDY

The data on which this paper is based are drawn from a larger study exploring the relationship between work and family among African-American women who were employed as private household workers for a major portion of their working lives. 1

Data were collected through life-history interviews with twenty-six American-born Black women between the ages of sixty and eighty-one. 2 These women had worked in New York and Philadelphia for most of their working lives and had raised children during their years of employment. The overwhelming majority of them had migrated from the South to the North between 1922 and 1955 and had completed about eight years of schooling. Approximately half had mothers

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