Marianne: In the collective imagination, the figure of the servant refers to the 19e century, to the novels of Balzac or Mirbeau and to the rise of the bourgeoisie. Yet your book shows that domesticity is still a reality in the 21st century. What do today’s servants look like?
Alizée Delpierre: There is both a break and a continuity with the servants of the XIXe century. At the turn of the 20th century, it was still possible to have someone in your service without being rich. At that time, living standards were lower and those who were called “maids” were poorly paid. The upper classes, aristocracy or upper middle class, had several full-time servants in their service.
After the Second World War, society changed. Women had access to jobs other than those of domesticity and it became preferable to be something other than a housewife. Also, the standard of living increased: having a servant at home was therefore more expensive. Then, there was a change in mores: having someone at home who serves us in the privacy of the home is less and less accepted. The domestic service market has therefore gradually become a part-time market, mainly that of housekeepers and child minders. Finally, the servants themselves have changed. At the beginning of the XXe century, the “maids” are, for many of them, white people, from the French countryside, for example from Brittany, who rubbed shoulders with other women from Polish immigration. In the sixties, it was the turn of Portuguese and Spanish women.
Today, it is women of North African and sub-Saharan African immigration who are in the majority. The XXIe century is characterized by the intensity of transnational flows of servants, probably never equaled until now, reflecting the increase in contemporary global inequalities.
Domestic servants are both victims and beneficiaries of certain ethnic prejudices. What are the most common prejudices and why do some servants harbor them?