The visual production of «maids»
«You know, it’s a market», a Malaysian maid agent tells me, «Malaysia is willing to pay, and Indonesia is willing to sell». She shows me files of Indonesian domestic workers ready to be hired by Malaysian employers. These files, called biodata, contain information on each domestic worker’s age, height, weight, religion, marital status and years of work experience. A picture showing the worker in question is attached to the top of each file (see biodata portrait).
Go to the website of any maid agency in Malaysia and you will see dozens of pictures similar to the one featured above: portraits of young women in full «maid» uniforms, sporting identical haircuts, holding their hands in front of them in a posture that signals that they are on duty, and always smiling. Clearly, what is being advertised here is a standard «maid», and this standard «maid» is essentially reduced to a labouring body. This is evidenced both by the term biodata and by the type of information provided – the age, height, weight and skin colour are among the most prominent features of domes- tic worker profiles. The standardized photographs underline this focus on the body and contribute to the idea that choosing a domestic worker is a matter of physical measurements – apart from these, it is suggested, domestic workers are all the same, and thus easily replaceable.