I finished the much talked about Netflix series Maid over the weekend. I hesitated for weeks because I knew how difficult it would be to watch. Trust me when I say I recognize the immense privilege of that statement, while never personally experiencing anything similar in my own life.
As a mother to a toddler, I found the series especially poignant. The national conversation around livable wages, workers rights, affordable childcare and paid leave all come into sharper focus in Maid’s depiction of the cycle of poverty and abuse. But I think Maid also struck a nerve because it’s impossible not to see how, with a change in circumstances or opportunity that could be me. I was lucky enough to grow up in a home with safety, food, stability, education, and support. I’m lucky enough to have a partner to share parental responsibilities and with whom I feel safe. What if I didn’t? One of the most painful scenes to watch was when Alex’s daughter Maddie has been chronically ill because of the black mold in their apartment. Alex brings her to the doctor who says “you have to do better.” The reality of working so hard and doing everything in your power for your child, and still being so helpless, just the thought of it is soul crushing.
Maid is inspired by the book Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. Without giving too much away, the series has a relatively happy ending. I couldn’t help but think about how often reality doesn’t play out that way. The poverty rate for single mothers in this country as of 2018 was 34 percent, which should come as no surprise given the U.S. is one of seven countries without national paid maternity leave and the only developed country with absolutely no paid sick leave. While many of us have recently shared our personal stories about the hardships this has caused in our lives, Maid brings into focus the devastating impact this has on someone living in poverty, especially single mothers.
While Maid depicts the experience of a white woman, Black and Indigenous women experience intimate partner violence at a disproportionately high rate in the United States. Approximately 45% of Black women have experienced intimate partner physical or sexual violence, in their lifetimes. Over 84% of Native women experience violence during their lifetimes. In the U.S., Black people have the highest poverty rate at over 18 percent, followed by Hispanics at over 15 percent. The percentages of children living in poverty were highest for Black and Indigenous children (34 percent each).
In Maid, Alex’s lack of access to childcare is one of her biggest hardships. The topic has been one of frequent discussion recently as the debate continues in Congress over whether or not childcare is infrastructure (it is). According to recent findings, many states only have enough infant-toddler child care for 1 in 5 children. A lack of access to childcare, let alone one that’s affordable, keeps women out of the workforce. Most daycares will not take infants younger than 6 weeks, and yet the current debate over national paid leave would cover 4, for now there is still none. Infant-toddler educators are also underpaid, so while childcare is unaffordable for many, early education is one of the lowest-paying professions in the country.
Upon reflection, Maid was painful and difficult to watch because so much of the suffering was preventable. When it comes to social spending as percentage of GDP, the U.S. ranks 20th among 38 OECD countries. On public unemployment spending, it ranks 35th (almost last). On family benefits spending as percent of GDP, it ranks second to last. The US is one of the richest countries in the world. It also has one of the biggest wealth gaps.
While members of Congress argue over whether or not childcare is infrastructure and how many weeks of paid leave we deserve, at least half of the people in this country live paycheck to paycheck. Just a few days ago, House Democrats narrowly passed the Build Back Better Bill. It would provide free universal pre-k, childcare subsidies, 4 weeks of paid leave, reductions in healthcare premiums, and expansions of affordable housing, among other things. Not a single House Republican voted for the bill. Maid was a reminder that acts of kindness and generosity can have tremendous impact. It was also testimony to the fact that voting people into office who will work to change the system failing so many is more important than ever.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be found here. Ahead of the holidays, I’ll be organizing a donation to a women’s shelter locally (in Vermont/NH). I’ll share more information about this soon if you’re in the area and want to contribute. If you’d like to donate to a women’s shelter in your area, I started a Google sheet here, feel free to add one as well. There’s also a directory here for more shelters nationwide.