A couple of San Francisco–based, fortysomething executives posted a Craigslist ad looking for a personal assistant on Wednesday. The post is a good example of why not everyone is cut out to be an HR director: It’s a long, stream-of-conscious list of required and desired qualities that, interpreted generously, tries to offer a potential employee a full picture of the gig. Read less generously, it strikes several bizarre notes that border on offensive (most specifically in its all-caps insistence on English-language FLUENCY) and scream micromanager.
The posting has gone viral, thanks in no small part to our collective urge to hate out-of-touch elites and the communal release that comes from complaining that they are awful. Sure, the posters’ decision to explicitly update the listing to state that “due to high demand, we’re offering $15-35 an hour (vs. the former $25-35 an hour)” is a telling indication of how deeply they believe in the harsh efficiency of the market, and a good reason to question what life as their underling would be like. And yes, it is bizarrely specific and unprofessional, particularly the section that attempts to assure applicants that the employers’ insistence that “you take pride in how you look” isn’t weird because they embrace “whatever that ‘look’ or style may be for you.”
It is boring to point out that anyone tweeting the screenshots to this ad ought to read the actual thing and realize the applicant qualifications are broken into “requirements” (mostly reasonable if occasionally ill-put) and “bonus points” (largely ridiculous, but also indisputably not required or expected, and certainly not all at once).
But ultimately, there is an easy way to explain how this post, and its annoyingly intimate rhetoric, came into being, and why it strikes such a nerve. The posters are not just looking for a personal assistant. They are looking for a mom.
The section of the post that establishes the “problem” is both hilariously out-of-touch and occasionally relatable:
…personal social media accounts are neglected, I buy fresh flowers but don't have time to trim daily and change the water, indoor plants are dying, vacations and fun trips aren't taken because there's no time to plan them, dirty laundry is neglected until we run out of clean clothes to wear, merchandise that should be returned doesn't get returned, phone calls to customer support don't get made, prescriptions aren't refilled, instead of dry cleaning something it will just never be worn again, pants that are too long never get hemmed, that cute dog doesn't get taught new tricks or get his coat brushed out as often as it needs to be, things that we're meaning to order don't get ordered, items slated for donation sit in a corner for months, groceries aren't put away into the cabinet, the sink is eternally filled with soaking dishes/pots/pans, picture frames hang on the wall with no photos inside, the closet is in need of reorganization, appointments aren't scheduled, information isn't updated, nail polish gets chipped and remains chipped…
Flowers, Instagram, and chipped nail polish aside, this is a laundry list (no pun intended) of the daily mundanity pretty much everyone needs to deal with to simply exist in the world. And of course, until very recently, we didn’t have to think about these tasks because they were done by people who had little choice in the matter—by servants, or slaves, or women.
We could, and probably should, mock these posters’ naïve assumption that they will have a flourishing and close personal relationship with the serf they are hoping to hire for just a squeak above minimum (and in San Francisco, unlivable) wage. Indeed, I’d suggest that the main source of irritation that comes from reading it is due to the problematically mixed messaging of “we want to pay a professional” and “we expect you to be family.” (Though it also seems to me that part of being a good personal assistant is being a personality match, but having neither had nor been a personal assistant myself, I can’t quite say how out-of-line that particular desire of the post is.).
So, sure, it’s annoying. And it’s by no means a solution—hiring a personal assistant to do housework is not viable for most people. But this ad is just one indication that even annoying people in Silicon Valley have begun to realize the value of housework—indeed, it’s a cousin to the numerous apps that now exist to also try to “solve” this problem. Neither of these solutions will work in the long run. But I’d argue that instead of lamenting this clueless ad as indicative of everything wrong with Bay Area culture, we should file it under “evidence” as we work toward a world that actually accounts for the cost of housework, and doesn’t just ignore it or leave it to certain groups.