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From good to majordome. Body control and gender relations in elite domesticity



ID: <10670/1.13vqut>


Differing from other contemporary forms of domestic service, elite domestic service, which consists in providing service to very wealthy families, provides an excellent opportunity to study the effects of gender diversity in a context of social confrontation in domestic service. For the household staff, it requires acculturation to the tastes, customs and ways of life of their employers, and the acquisition of an ethos of service that marks their bodies and their appearances. In the context of multiple and mixed-sex domestic service characteristic of “great houses”, this learning disrupts the relational norms between working-class men and women and their representation of the sexual division of labor. Elite domestic service, based on the conception of “men’s work” and “women’s work”, reproduces but also reshapes domestic workers’ ideas of hierarchies and power relations between men and women. Focusing on the French case, this article studies how these domestic workers incorporate and experience new norms of sociability and self-presentation between men and women at work. These norms are experienced as inhibiting their masculinities and femininities, and challenging their gender, class, and “race” identities, which are controlled by their employers and bosses as a means of maintaining efficiency at work and the social order.

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