Household help and hypocrisy

Published: December 18, 2011

I recently watched the 'The help' and it reminded me that most of us are guilty of taking for granted our privileges. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

It’s safe to say that most of us are guilty of taking for granted our privileges. I was reminded of this unspoken understanding that has been neatly folded into what we call our social structure when I recently watched The Help, a movie based on a novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.

Set in 1962 in America, as the civil-rights movement is boiling over, the film follows a privileged white woman, Skeeter, who interviews African-American maids seen as the lowly help, who are not even allowed to use the toilet in the houses where they work.

The film documents the maids’ perspective on being looked down upon by their ‘masters’ whom they had once raised, and on being subjected to discrimination, or rather the norm as it was perceived at the time.

While The Help essentially underlines the issues of racial injustice, what I picked up on was the American household structure of the early ‘60s which is much like that of present-day Pakistan.

Most of us will celebrate Skeeter’s triumph in defying the social set in challenging times and standing up to the condescending attitude of her racist friends. But by doing so we are, without a doubt, being hypocritical – in some cases, without realising it.

Most of us have had ‘help’ at some point of in lives, and some of us still do. Our maids have a separate bathroom, separate dining, and address us with greater respect than we probably deserve. To say that this social gap is an occupational construct, bound by heritage, doesn’t justify it, it only explains it.

It’s easy to pin the issue on the economic structure of our society and it’s a shame that this social stratification exists so starkly in Pakistan.

But what is more shameful is that we are blissfully comfortable in the unfairness of it all.

shayan.naveed

Shayan Naveed

A subeditor for the national pages of The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nandita.

    Very well written ! Bravo !
    The true test of character is not how a man behaves with his equals but how he treats his subordinates or people who can do nothing for him.I admit i judge people by the way they treat waiters at hotels or eunuchs begging on the road.- that’s a good way of gauging a person’s real character.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    You chose an outstanding subject, but squandered its potential.

    You could’ve elaborated it much further by elucidating various ways through which the upper middle class and elite households exploit their servants, possibly with a few examples. This situation merits a much deeper analysis than what you’ve offered here.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I saw the movie and I liked it, but the comparison between the American situation in the early 60′s and ours is not really a good, nor a fair comparison. The structures of both are quite different, literally East and West and they do not meet. On a higher moral level, you have a winnable argument.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/pavanmehta Pavan

    Short, Comprehensive and thought provoking write-up.
    The other day i went to the wholesale market to deliver speakers and webcam for my dad. The other guy not knowing that i’m his son, asked Aap ke Sahab Sindhi hai? I quickly responded saying he’s not my sahab and i’m his son. He said okay.
    He was employed with a Sahab there.
    After than, on my journey back home i thought why is it necessary for workers, house helps etc to address their employers with the titles of ‘sahab’ and ‘sir’. They’re no lesser humans than what we’re.
    We’re a slave free world and nobody’s nobody’s master. They’re not being paid for free. They provide us their services and we pay them in return so it’s a fair deal between the two individuals of two so called different classes. But do classes really matter.Recommend