Stephanie Land, author of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive will speak on Nov. 6 as part of the Margaret Hallock Program for Women's Rights.
Land's bestselling memoir recounts her experience as a single mom navigating the poverty trap. Her story exposes the physical, economic, and social brutality that domestic workers face, all while radiating a parent’s hope and resilience.
At age 28, Land’s dream of attending college and becoming a writer are deferred when a summer fling turns into an unplanned pregnancy. After facing domestic abuse, and lacking any form of reliable safety net, she checks into a homeless shelter with her 7 month old daughter. She begins the bureaucratic nightmare of applying for food stamps and subsidized housing, and starts cleaning houses for $9/hour. Mired in patronizing government processes and paltry wages, Land illustrates the trauma of grasping for stability from a rigged system, and demonstrates how hard work doesn’t always pay off. In a constant state of scarcity, a single unexpected cost–as simple as a car repair–jeopardizes Land’s carefully calculated budget, and shows the impossible slipperiness of escaping poverty.
Land’s memoir offers a unique and essential perspective from the frontlines of struggle, but the deeply personal, intimate details of her story paint a larger picture. The physical pain of her own poverty–like the mold in her apartment, and the “constant burn” and “shooting pain” from cleaning houses– clarifies systemic class barriers and inequalities, dispelling the myth that poor people are responsible for their own predicament, and just need to try harder. Instead, Land reveals the real culprits of situation: domestic violence, untenable minimum wages, high housing costs, and government assistance programs that fail the people they ostensibly serve.
After years of barely scraping by, Land graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Montana in 2014, and started a career as a freelance writer. She writes about economic and social justice, domestic abuse, chronic illness, and motherhood, and has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox, Salon, and many other outlets. She’s worked with Barbara Ehrenreich at the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and is a writing fellow at the Center for Community Change.