I’m sure at some point you have used words like maid and servant to refer to domestic workers. From personal experience, I know a lot of people use it, and is extremely normalized. Recently, Budweiser and the page Humans of Bombay have found themselves in a bit of controversy over their new #StrongerTogether campaign. It was labeled as tone-deaf, and they were chastised for advertising themselves on the backs of vulnerable people.
Humans of Bombay, in cooperation with actor Sanjana Sanghi and beer brand Budweiser, wrote about how she supported her domestic workers during the pandemic, and how she helped them acquire their vaccine slots, in a post. She also mentioned how helpful they had been during the pandemic and how she was repaying the favor.
Why did it become a controversy?
Use of the term helper
Trisha Shetty, the founder of SheSays, wrote on her Instagram about how she was offered to do the same campaign. According to her, the document referred to domestic workers as help which did not sit right with her. The term help makes it sound like the work that domestic workers do is voluntary and demeans their job. It does not take into consideration the hours of effort and labor they put into their work. The job of domestic labor is physically taxing, calling it help belittles their exhausting job.
Lack of compensation for domestic workers featured in the post
She also talks about how this was a paid promotion and the fact that Budweiser did not even check whether the domestic workers are being compensated for their role in the post. The celebrity/influencer would receive all the compensation for a post that is being driven by their employees.
According to influencer Aishwarya Subramanyam's Instagram stories, the brand had reached out to various influencers, asking them to post images with their watchmen, driver, sweeper, or other personnel in their houses, sending out a positive message to aid them with vaccination.
Vaccination for employees is a duty
Another crucial aspect that came out during this discussion was that getting vaccination slots for your employees is the very minimum, and something that every organization should undertake. It is an obligation, not a favor, and as such, it should not be lauded, but rather established as a norm.
Terms and conditions
The Instagrammer, Diet Sabya posted on their story, the terms and conditions for the post. A second photo was allegedly supposed to be taken without masks on, and a template of the desired photo was sent to them. In exchange for this influencers would receive a T-shirt, mask, and six cans of beer.
It is also assumed that the domestic workers were not aware of what they were signing up for and did not know the light in which they would be portrayed.
As additional people heard about the problems with the campaign from Diet Sabya, they responded with their own comments and demanded that HOB remove the post.
We reached out to Humans of Bombay for a comment but did not receive any response.
Why do we need to stop using words like maid and helper to refer to domestic workers?
I’m certain that at some point in our lives we’ve used these words even without understanding what they perpetuate. However, we must change with time. Using such words is no longer justified because we know better. This has nothing to do with being politically correct or incorrect. These terms are just demeaning. If you’re someone who still refers to domestic workers as your servant or helper, maybe it’s time to reconsider.
Again, there’s nothing shameful about being someone’s domestic worker, in fact, it is one of the most difficult things one can do.
However, the term "servant" perpetuates a mindset that considers one individual to be absolutely inferior to another due to the humble nature of their work. There can be no sense of equality between a servant and their employer, just as there couldn't be between a slave and his master.
We’re in 2021, and along with the word servant, we must also retire words such as maid and helper to refer to our domestic workers. If you’re paying them minimum wage for their services, then they are nothing but your employees. I don’t see anybody going around calling their accountant a servant.
If you look up the origins of the word maid, Merriam Webster will lead you to the ‘maidservant’ which basically means a female servant. Consider whether you feel comfortable calling your domestic worker a word that used to be followed by the word "servant." Hopefully not.
If we can all agree that the word, ‘servant’ is derogatory and unacceptable, how are words such as ‘maid’ and ‘helper’ any different? They perpetuate the classist behaviors of the privileged. How are they any different from regular workers or employees? We must remember that learning and being able to educate yourselves about the people around us is a privilege. We must use this privilege to bring about change and being more respectful.