Murderous Maids: Reading Contemporary Migrant Domestic Labour Through Genet’s Maids

Part of the Contemporary Performance InterActions book series (CPI)


This paper uses two interwoven points of departure, both involving maids who kill their employers. The first one is the infamous Papin sisters—two French Maids, who brutally murdered their employer’s wife and daughter in 1933. This incident has given rise to numerous works from Jean Genet’s well-known play. The Maids and numerous films, including Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie, to Paula Rego’s art piece also entitled The Maids. Simone de Beauvoir and Jacques Lacan analysed this crime further in the context of class inequality. The second point of departure focuses on current issues and press coverage of Indonesian female domestic migrant workers on death-row in Saudi Arabia. The particular case study is the most recent incident of the maid Siti Zainab, convicted of murdering her employer in 1999 and executed on April 13, 2015 in Medina. The approach to these materials will be two-fold: a) To use dramatic, cinematic and other representations of the Papin sisters incident as intertexts (Lachmann) through which to read the current scenarios concerning Indonesian maids on death-row in Saudi Arabia and b) to offer a re-reading and re-contextualisation of Genet’s The Maids (and some of the other related works) through current issues concerning the relationship between class, citizenship, law, and female migrant domestic labour. The paper will explore the scenarios of the murderous maids as they unfold variously in dialectic tensions between documentation and fictionalisation, class and crime, local and global, the incident and its interpretations, to ask questions concerning contemporary issues of international labour migrations and the feminisation of labour (Cheah, Erenreich) in relation to citizenship rights and death penalty.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of WarwickCoventryUK

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