The hands and knees approach is a definite selling point for corporate cleaning services like "The Maids."  Explain why this old fashioned way of housecleaning is appealing. Why does it seem to "gratify the consumers of maid services?"

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In one lengthy description of cleaning a particular home, Barbara Ehrenreich explores the combined ideologies of hygiene and servitude that she sees at the core of the hands-and-knees approach. Mrs. W. lives in a huge house and already has a nanny and a “cooklike person,” so the issue is not...

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In one lengthy description of cleaning a particular home, Barbara Ehrenreich explores the combined ideologies of hygiene and servitude that she sees at the core of the hands-and-knees approach. Mrs. W. lives in a huge house and already has a nanny and a “cooklike person,” so the issue is not that she wants to have a servant. Contracting cleaning services that promote a particular approach, Ehrenreich maintains, is definitely part of what drew Mrs. W. to The Maids, the service for which Ehrenreich works. “Submission” and “degrading” are two words that Ehrenreich attaches to the hands-and-knees position.

After spending considerable time wiping surfaces in several rooms, Ehrenreich moves into the kitchen to wash the floor (pp. 83–84). Only because Mrs. W. is watching does Barbara actually scrub the floor on her hands and knees. In her own home, a mop suffices, but this is not part of The Maids’ branding. She has found the same claim touted in another firm’s brochure: “We clean floors the old fashioned way—on our hands and knees.” Barbara acknowledges that by getting close to the floor, a cleaner can see and be better positioned to remove dirt. However, the company policy is to use a tiny amount of water so the dirt is basically just redistributed. The advantage of the technique is in the practice, clearly not in the function.

Barbara immediately notices that because Mrs. W. is moving around the kitchen, she (Barbara) will have to position herself “practically at her feet.” She further describes her progress around the room as resembling a “fanatical penitent crawling through the stations of the cross.” What gratifies the consumer is “this primal posture of submission—and of what is ultimately anal accessibility,” Ehrenreich claims, while standing up and using a mop would be “a lot more dignified for person who does the cleaning.” Dignity, in her view, is not on the company’s or customer’s agenda.

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Ehrenreich argues that The Maids cleaning service is selling a mythology more than a service. They don't really care if the houses they are hired to clean actually get clean, but simply that they look as if they are being rendered sparklingly sanitized. Part of creating the illusion that the houses are being well scrubbed and that the owners are getting a good value for their money is seeing the maids on their hands and knees, scrubbing floors the old fashioned way.

Actually, because the hands and knees approach is merely for PR purposes, the maids only do this when the owner of the house is actually around. It is entirely for appearances, to make the maid look subservient and hard working. When the maids are in a hurry, and no owner is in the vicinity, they are urged by their manager simply to put towels under their feet and "clean" the floors that way. Whatever the case, Ehrenreich says, the service doesn't allow the maids to use enough hot water—or any truly hot water at all—which is what is needed for the actual cleaning and disinfecting of a floor or surface.

As Ehrenreich explains in her footnotes, two cleaning experts, Cheryl Mendelsohn and Don Aslett, disagreed with the way that The Maid told Ehrenreich to clean, saying it was ineffective. But when appearance is all that matters, actual cleanliness is thrown aside.

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Ehrenreich suggests that the hands and knees approach is a selling point because it enhances the stereotypical notion of cleaning.  The work of maids is both physically demanding because of the "hands and knees" approach and its insistence is to feed the image to the clients that there is significant work being done through this method.  Ehrenreich notices that the actual cleaning is not the main point of the allure of the "hands and knees" method.  Instead, it is to fulfill the client's expectation of cleaning when they see maids employing the "hands and knees" approach.  

As Ehrenreich details, the work of the maids is both demanding and demeaning, and the approach of working hands and knees helps to enhance both to the clients that use the maid service. For Ehrenreich, the approach underscores that it is not merely enough for the maids to be compensated in a manner that is subservient.  The approach ensures that there is a physical demonstration of their subservience to those in the position of power and to those who employ them.

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