Friday, October 26, 2012

Maids and Mistresses

There are common themes running through most of Bea’s (and many other authors) CD stories, the dominating mature woman, an insecure male placed in a feminine environment, women who are determined to feminise the male no matter what, various punishments, little humiliations leading to bigger ones, sensuous female clothing of various fabrics and much more. One of the most popular and one which seems to trigger (in Bea’s phrase) our hot buttons is The Maid. Whether it is as the accomplice in seducing/feminising the male or being turned into one The Maid is for many of us the epitome of submissiveness and thus central to our fantasies.

What exactly is it that attracts those of us who have this particular leaning to this particular icon of submissiveness and not some other idea of servitude, a slave for instance or some other cipher? I don’t know about the rest of you but for me it is a combination of the idea that The Maid is by definition subservient to her Mistress and in order to reinforce this role she/he must be identified by wearing the traditional uniform black/grey dress, apron and cap. Some stories change the colour (pink, blue, red etc.) but for me this takes away from the very essence of being a servant. Bright colours are for the Mistress and her friends NOT for a lowly maidservant. I must be a traditionalist at heart.  For the last few weeks there has been a documentary series on a BBC tv charting the history of servants, I missed the first one but have seen the other two and would highly recommend the series particularly the last episode. Having always had a keen interest in the subject, most of it I was aware of already but anyone who thought the drama tv series Downton Abbey portrayed the life of servants as realistic will have their eyes opened.

There was an interesting segment about the shortage of maids between WW1 and WW II and how women now felt working as a uniform wearing maid very demeaning. This caused great concern for a class so used to having maids dance attendance on them. There were magazines giving advice to Mistresses (yes the women referred to themselves as Mistresses) on how to entice women to work as maids (more attractive aprons and caps).One article advised “Mistresses whose maid resents “uniform” should try more dainty aprons and caps rather than the starched ones of previous years.” It seems women working as maids hated the uniform and in particular the maids cap which they saw as a symbol of their lowly status. This confirmed what I had read years previously in a history of domestic service in Ireland. Maids hated wearing a cap as it was seen as the ultimate symbol of servitude. Maids were seen by their Mistresses as a symbol of their own status and in the mid and post war periods in affluent suburbs they would often have the maid in attendance in the front room in clear view of the street outside so that passers-by could see their uniformed maid underscoring  their own status.

If only the Mistresses knew that there were millions of potential maids more than willing to wear “uniform” and the more starched and humiliating the better, would wear any cap and apron of the Mistress’s choosing. These maids would even curtsy to the Mistress at every opportunity, something these modern servants flatly refused to do but sadly were unaware of our existence.

The closest I think some of us can come to achieving this are events like Belinda has described in such wonderful detail or Monica Graz actually working as a maid. For the rest of us we can only  fantasise about being a capped and aproned maid  in domestic service to a haughty, well groomed and elegant lady, serving her as a loyal and subservient  housemaid or perhaps a ladies maid obeying her every command with a deference and an obedience that only a proper maidservant would understand.




Anonymous said...

Carrie, I have just come across this post and it mirrors exactly my experience and understanding of how relationships between mistresses and maids have formed, developed and been re-created over the years.

I was brought up, in the years just after World War II, in a "well-to-do" English household in which my parents clung to the "standards" they had known all their lives, having at least two traditionally uniformed maids doing all the domestic tasks and waiting at table for us as a family. "Sir" and "Madam" were obligatory words at the end of everything they said, and I and my sister were always addressed as "Master" or "Miss".

Needless to say, I eventually got trapped one day by my (elder) sister and the maids and forced - or at least lured - into an afternoon of work experience as one of the maids, something which reduced me to tears and total embarrassment at the time but also, for some strange reason, left me wanting more!

Sadly that never happened to me again as a child, but many years later I discovered a lady in whom I felt able to confide, and who was very happy to provide me with such "work experience" again, whenever I wanted!

I went to her home about two afternoons a month for several years, cleaning her house and waiting on her and her family and friends. I also had a range of maids uniforms made to measure by one of her near neighbours. These were always the traditional black and white uniforms, varying in length but all reaching at least knee level. And I was always required to wear a white maid's cap as well (over a suitably non-glamorous wig).

After a while my mistress started asking me to serve at the smart dinner parties which she gave quite regularly. The dining-room looked out across a fashionable cul-de-sac and, with the lights on and the curtains left open, I was clearly visible to any neighbours who chose to look, especially as I was always instructed to stand with my back to the window (and my hands folded across my apron) whilst waiting to clear the table. I am sure it gave Madam great pleasure to be able to show off her maid to any passers-by, as well as to all her dinner guests.

On all these occasions I was treated politely, but firmly, and was expected to address everyone present as "Sir" or "Madam" and curtsey when appropriate. I was never allowed to join in the conversation.

I am now much too old to offer my services as a maid any more but I can certainly confirm, from first hand experience, both as "Master" and "maid", that the mistress-maid relationship can and does work exactly as you describe Carrie.
And I am delighted to see that your latest contributions (in 2013) to Bea's Station - "Rose and Jack" and "Amongst Women" both feature another young boy being introduced in childhood to the lifelong thrill of providing male maid service. LG xx

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful experience to have had, I would love to find a Mistress like that.

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