Spoiler alert: plot/character details and
research-based social analysis ahead.
The film Roma,
written and directed by Academy Award winner Alfonso Cuarón and chronicling a
year in the life of a domestic worker and the family that employs her, was
released in theaters and on Netflix in 2018. On the heels of several recent
award wins (Golden Globe for Best Picture and Best Director; BAFTA for Best
Film and Best Director; Directors Guild of America for Best Director), Roma is among the favorites to win big at
the Oscars this month.
In addition to the critics’ adulation, Roma has inspired conversations among
the public and has been strategically used by domestic worker organizations to
heighten their visibility. But the voices of researchers who study domestic
work in Latin America have been missing from these conversations.
As the founder and coordinator of a research network,
RITHAL (Red de Investigaciones sobre el
Trabajo del Hogar an América Latina – Network of Research on Domestic Work
in Latin Amerca), I feel strongly that we can make valuable contributions to
public discussions of the film.
Getting to see the film Roma on the big screen, before it was released on Netflix, was
truly an odyssey. In Monterrey, Mexico, where I live, I had to buy a ticket a
week in advance.
Monterrey is home to a prominent and privileged
population, who usually contract live-in domestic workers from indigenous
communities, like Cleo in the film. This was the site of the ethnographic
research for my book Yo trabajo en casa,
published in 2017, which discusses the naturalizing of gender, class, and
racial inequalities in this stigmatized occupation.
It was worth the wait: the film is beautiful and the
cinematography extraordinary. The story of Cleo and a bourgeois family that
lives in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, during the presidency of
Echeverría (1970-1976), is narrated from the point of view of the family’s
youngest child. In the final scene, this little one sleeps in Cleo’s lap, while
his sister leans on the shoulder of the worker, who just saved her from
drowning in the sea.
As people who have
historically occupied second-class status, domestic workers execute their jobs
in private homes where the power — and their position — is utterly in the hands of their employers. So, much like the battle for gender equality,
the real change must start inside the homes where domestic workers perform
their duties, where the day-to-day occurs.
Change won’t happen until the terms of the relationship becomes one between equals — until the one who has been inferiorized can speak with a powerful voice; be heard in her terms; narrate in equal measure. Until then, it is the boss’s voice telling the story of the one who is bossed.
That is how I feel about Alfonso Cuarón’s critically acclaimed “Roma.”
Through its portrayal of the inner life of a 1970s
middle class Mexican household, Roma
provides an intimate view of the construction of a prevalent myth: that paid
domestic workers, and live-in domestic workers in particular, are “like part of
the family” to their employers.
The struggles of main character Cleo (Yalitza
Aparicio) to meet her needs to both give and receive care as a live-in domestic
worker confirm what scholars refer to as the “fictitious” or “imaginary”
nature of these kinship structures. Her pregnancy introduces an element of
unpaid reproductive labor that does not serve her employers’ interests.
Expectations were piling up around Mexican film
director Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma
even before its release last December. Its reception immediately highlighted
the many attributes of the film elevating it as a masterpiece of Mexican
A recent dossier on the website Mediatico
with contributions from academics specialized in Mexican cinema leaves no
doubts about the aesthetic attributes of the film. The black-and-white images,
the large format framing, and the neorealist look make the character and story
of Cleo, a live-in maid based on Cuarón’s own childhood nanny Libo, resonate
emotionally with the audience in a unique way.
However, it might not be the film itself that needs
closer attention, but rather its quick positive reception, a kind of urgency
for approval that might be more related to a cultural industry that transcends
national borders, and social class anxiety anchored in ethnic/gender/race
identities. The film seems to respond to these anxieties, offering a visual and
Even though a vast majority of all households in wealthy countries have two wage-earners, women on average work fewer hours and at lower wages than their partners. This is commonly attributed to the fact that women perform most of the routine housework. For instance, Swedish women spend approximately 15 hours per week on domestic work compared to 10 hours for men – a moderate gender gap compared to many other European countries.
Women on executive boards and in other top level
leadership positions are still uncommon throughout the world. Germany is no
exception: by the end of June 2017, only 47 out of 677 executive board members
in the German stock-listed DAX, MDAX, SDAX, and TecDAX companies were female. There
is a strong rationale for changing this status quo. In addition to moral
motives to include women, we have compelling evidence of the bottom
line benefits that result from having more women in leadership
positions. However, in top management teams across companies and in boards of
companies where no quota applies, the progress is slow. We argue that women’s underrepresentation
indicates the persistent existence of the leadership
labyrinth – a metaphor for the numerous challenges faced by women in
their careers. Being
continually confronted with challenging twists and turns requires women to work
extra hard and persist in the face of difficulties on their route to success.
Studies have shown that engagement in networking is crucial for career success as it facilitates access to critical career-building resources such as advice, technical knowledge, strategic insight or emotional support. However, research has also revealed that women’s professional networks are often less powerful and effective than men’s in terms of exchanged benefits. Also the presumably distinct motivations that underlie the networking behaviors of men and women remain less well understood. With our research, we provide new insights into the discussion on women, leadership and career development, with a specific focus on networking. With such insights we contribute to greater transparency in the leadership labyrinth with ineffective networks being one detrimental hurdle for women.
Feminism provides a vital but surprisingly marginalised resource for researchers interested in the sociology of work, organizations, and management. We have come to this conclusion in part through our experiences of conducting feminist research on workplaces, and in part through guest editing a newly published special issue of the journal Human Relationsthat focuses on feminist analysis of social relations in organizations.
In addition to theoretical insights that
enable us to make sense of, and challenge, gendered inequality, discrimination,
violence, and oppression, feminism, in all its diverse forms, provokes thought on
how to challenge and change all exploitative
social formations. As Jacqueline Rose recently suggested in Women
in Dark Times, feminism asks unique questions as a way of
‘seeing through what is already crazy about the world, notably the cruelty and
injustice’ (Rose, 2014: x) of everyday lives. As Amanda Sinclair has also made
clear in her recent embodied
feminist memoir of an academic working life which concludes the Special
Issue, feminism can also provide unique ways of responding to those questions,
both theoretically and methodologically.
We find this marginality in our field of organization studies puzzling.
“You get that satisfaction when you see your product transform from the raw wood to the final shape, like them taking the first footsteps, then getting shapes, then making their initial forays into the market, and finally, you have to sell them. It’s like holding their hands through this whole process and then giving them away.” – Artisan in Channapatna
In a recent study, I investigated how wood and lacquerware
artisans set their prices in an isolated handicraft town in southern India
called Channapatna. I conducted eight months of ethnographic fieldwork and an
audit study where trained buyers were sent to purchase a standardized product.
I found that artisans offered certain buyers significant discounts
(up to 50%) for their products. These discounts were puzzlingly offered to
precisely those buyers who were willing to pay more for the products, such as
All kinds of organisations – universities, NGOs, private companies – look to access new audiences and enter new markets by reaching out to resource holders and diverse constituencies outside their standard remit. And there’s a certain amount of good business sense at play here: addressing new audiences helps increase risk diversification and safeguard longer term prosperity.
But this growth strategy comes with potential pitfalls. New audiences often have demands that can be very different to those of existing markets. Organisations entering new spaces run the risk of neglecting mainstream business. The capabilities needed to address a new market are often not those needed to maintain the flow and quality of products and services to existing customers and stakeholders.
How can organisations manage this kind of audience diversification so that everyone comes out of it better off? How can they balance who they already are – or are perceived to be – and what they already do, with the goals, objectives and modus operandi of their new audience
Work in Progress is a project of the American Sociological Association's Sections on Organizations, Occupations, and Work, Economic Sociology, Labor and Labor Movements, and Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility