Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy
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Love and gold - Arlie Russell Hochschild
The nanny dilemma - Susan Cheever
The care crisis in the Philippines : children and transnational families in the
new global economy - Rhacel Salazar Parreñas
Blowups and other unhappy endings - Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo
Invisible labors : caring for the independent person - Lynn May Rivas
Maid to order - Barbara Ehrenreich
Just another job? : the commodification of domestic labor - Bridget Anderson
Filipina workers in Hong Kong homes : household rules and relations - Nicole
America's dirty work : migrant maids and modern-day slavery - Joy M. Zarembka
Selling sex for visas : sex tourism as a stepping-stone to international migration -
Among women : migrant domestics and their Taiwanese employers across
generations - Pei-Chia Lan
Breadwinner no more - Michele Gamburd
Because she looks like a child - Kevin Bales
Clashing dreams : highly educated overseas brides and low-wage U.S. husbands -
Hung Cam Thai
Global cities and survival circuits - Saskia Sassen
Migration trends : maps and chart - Robert Espinoza
Appendix: Activist organizations.
Maid to Order
The Third World women women who leave their children to take care of ours
By Jonathan Rowe
Global Woman : Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy
edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild
Metropolitan Books, $26.00
On Sunday mornings, the parks and plazas of central Hong Kong teem with women. They are Filipinas mainly, but Indians, Thais, Sri Lankans, and others as well--women from the Third World who come to the First to scrub floors, care for children, and generally do work that affluent households no longer have the time or inclination to do. They sit on benches and blankets, chat, eat, entrust parcels to friends going home for visits--parcels the friends will carry in big, plastic zipper bags they call "Manila Vuittons."
Sunday is their day off. The mood seems high-spirited, festive almost. Most of these women work--and live--in small apartments under the hawk eyes of demanding bosses. They have little privacy and less free time. The park is an escape. Guest workers in a strange land, they have nowhere else to go.
The discerning might note a sadness in some of the eyes. Many of these women are mothers. They have left their own children in the care of husbands and relatives, to come to Hong Kong to care for the children of the Chinese, and of British and American expats. Many like them are similarly employed in the Middle East, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States. There is nothing new to migratory labor, of course. Whether it's by Metrobus from Anacostia to Chevy Chase, a Greyhound from Mississippi to Chicago, or Philippine Airlines from Manila to Hong Kong, people have always followed work and pay.
But the conversion of mothering into an object of global trade is another matter entirely, and certainly on this scale. Some 30 percent of children in the Philippines have a parent who works abroad. That means 8 million kids whose mothers (most often) or fathers are thousands of miles away. It also means a lot of First World kids whose experience of the Third is a dark-skinned woman who scrubs their toilet bowl.
For the women, it is a way to make the best of a bad hand. A few might be escaping bad marriages; in a nation without legal divorce, work abroad can be the only way out. But the vast majority are doing it for cash to send home. A college graduate can make at least five times more as a maid in Hong Kong than as a teacher in the Philippines. Given the anemic Philippine peso, Hong Kong and U.S. dollars are worth a small fortune. They pay school tuition and enable families to buy land and build homes. Walk through a rural village in the Philippines and you generally can tell, by the quality of the house, whether someone in that family has worked abroad.
But the price can be high. Mothers end up separated from their kids for years. If they are undocumented workers in the United States, they cannot go home at all. As guest workers all these women are easy targets for abuse, with legal recourse that is questionable at best and in practice often irrelevant. You don't like it, Panmoy? There's a plane leaving tomorrow morning, so go back to your pigs and dust and hungry kids.
This is not the global economy over which editorial writers enthuse, the one that supposedly will uplift the masses. It sounds more like an arrangement to ensure a supply of cheap labor to clean those editorialists' homes. Yet it is pretty much invisible in America, where nannies and maids disappear into suburban kitchens or else blend into the polyglot throng in major cities. (By one estimate, less than 10 percent of household work in the United States gets reported to the IRS.)
That ignorance won't be so easy now, thanks to Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy, a new collection of essays edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. It is an apt pairing. The former is the author, most recently, of Nickel and Dimed, an account of a year of low-paid "women's work" in the service economy. Hochschild has written extensively on the time-deficits in American households and the effects upon women, most notably in the Second Shift and the Time Bind. The "global woman" of the book's sardonic title is a Third World housekeeper; and the house she is keeping, and the children she is caring for, are those of a First World family that doesn't have--or want to make--the time.
As a cage-rattler the book succeeds. The authors give these women a story and a face. I doubt that anyone who reads it will look at Filipina nannies pushing strollers through the Safeway quite the same way again. But as a discussion of the global economic forces that channel Third World women into this role, and the hard facts of their legal status, Global Woman is somewhat spotty. The 17 essays, all by different authors, veer more into the gender politics of household work; some broach thorny questions for the feminist mind. For one thing, the domestic tyrants who rule over migrant maids are, in most cases, women themselves. The patriarchy can't take this rap. But more, Third World nannies who work in First World homes are, after all, working. To argue that they should be home with their own kids has implications for First World feminism that are uncomfortable to say the least. And don't forget, many First World parents are able to leave the house and kids during the day precisely because these Third World nannies are both available and cheap.
The editors deserve credit for venturing into this minefield, even if they don't get all the way across it. They don't flinch from the need at least to pay these workers a decent wage, and accord them more legal protections. But I wish there was more discussion of the law, and of the larger economic context as well. If the care export trade is a challenge to feminists, it is even more so to theologians of the global economy. The current version of that economy enables corporations and goods to cross borders freely. But actual humans still face the strictures of the old mercantile regime. This leads directly to the intolerable situations that Global Woman documents. When migrant workers labor at the pleasure of the host country, with little or no legal protection, their work can slip easily into a version of indentured servitude. To put this another way, if we in the United States and other First World countries are to benefit from a global care trade, then can we wash our hands of the effects with the payment of a monthly check?
The Care Drain
Global Woman covers a lot of ground. There are essays on Vietnamese professional women who marry down to get into the United States, on husbands in Sri Lanka whose wives have gone abroad and displaced them as breadwinners, on the trade in teenage prostitutes in Thailand, among many others. Susan Cheever, the novelist, weighs in with a piece on nannies in New York City, including her own. Ehrenreich observes the emergence of household work as a full-fledged capitalist industry, complete with chains, and puts it in the context of the feminist agenda. Twenty years ago feminists were revulsed at the thought of hiring maids, especially those of color, she says. "There already were at least two able-bodied adults in the average home--a man and a woman--and the hope was that, after a few initial skirmishes, they would learn to share the housework graciously."
But we guys balked, Ehrenreich says. Actually it's not quite that simple. Everyone was working longer hours on the job, for example, which meant less time available for the home. But in any case, the stage was set for cleaning ladies--and as it happens, especially Filipinas. If there's a central narrative in Global Woman, it is the legions of Filipinas who have spread across the globe working as nannies and domestic workers. There are 150,000 in Hong Kong alone. It is not accidental that the Philippines has become a leading exporter of human care. People there are educated, well-mannered, and schooled in English, which is the lingua franca of the global class that hires them. The country also is poor, and those with aspirations for their families and children have a desperate need for cash.
As it happens, my wife was one of these nannies, and her story may be instructive. She is the oldest of seven children, raised on a small rice farm in a rural village without electricity or running water. Her family managed to send her to college, but when she graduated there were no jobs. It took connections even to get work at McDonald's. So she went back to the farm, started a small store, and helped her mother with the siblings while her father worked in Saudi Arabia to earn cash for their tuition. When he came back after six years, she signed up with one of the Philippine placement agencies that profit handsomely from the care trade. Soon she was off to Hong Kong, where she worked for nine years. She made between $400 and $500 a month, about two-thirds of which she sent home. (Her last boss brought her for 10 months to San Francisco, where she and her husband owned an office building. It happened to be the building in which I worked.)
Migratory care work generally is an opportunity for educated women of some family means. My wife had to pay a hefty agency fee of 19,000 pesos, or close to $400. (It's more than double that today.) The cash income from their family farm is about $500 a year, but since her father had been in Saudi Arabia they could manage. Many young women can't, and they end up as factory workers, clerks, or housekeepers in a Philippine city for room and board and a tiny salary. Moreover, global migration is a way of life in the Philippines. People don't necessarily like it, but they accept it, with the combination of fatalism, resourcefulness, and pluck that are leading traits of this nation. Family duty is almost as strong there as individual ambition is in the United States. Your family needs help, so you go.
Men go as well as women, and their lot can be no less rough. A man in my wife's village showed me a hand with two fingers missing, thanks to a machine in a factory in Taiwan. They promised him compensation but never paid a cent. But jobs for men are more scarce, and tend to require skills. Skilled women go too, especially nurses. In the United States, Filipinas have become to American hospitals what Dominicans are to major league baseball and Koreans to inner-city grocery stores. But nurses aside, women have the advantage precisely because they are "unskilled" in market terms. Their special skills--mothering and housekeeping--though chronically devalued in the market, are in great global demand.
The Philippine government promotes this trade, and a whole sub-economy of schools, remittance companies and the like has grown up around it. In the provincial capital of Iloilo, with its tired Spanish colonial streets, one of my wife's many cousins teaches Hebrew to Filipinas preparing to work in Israel.
Filipina household workers, in other words, are prototypical global women, and Hochschild's opening essay gets things off to a promising start. Hochschild combines a feminist sensibility with both humanity and common sense, and she has an ear for a phrase. She has interviewed Filipina nannies in the San Francisco Bay Area, and she turns their experience into a suggestive global theme. Third World countries are undergoing a "care drain," she says. The First World once extracted the Third's rubber, oil, and gold; now it extracts parental affection as well. "Today, as love and care become the 'new gold,' she writes, "Third World children pay the price." Migration has become a "dark child's burden." And their mothers' burden as well.
Maid and Voyage
There is a superb piece on maids in Taiwan by Pei-Chia Lan, a sociologist in that country. In one case, the maid gets caught in a triangle between the wife, husband, and the husband's mother. The mother-in-law doesn't approve of the maid--a good wife would handle the household by herself--and the maid and wife actually form an alliance. The mother-in-law also feels threatened, since the maid might usurp her own functions. The first night the mother-in-law prepares an elaborate Chinese dinner, just to show who's boss of the kitchen. The essay is a model of social anthropology. It gets inside the household relations and seeks to understand rather than to accuse.
By contrast, the essay on Filipinas in Hong Kong is more an advocacy piece. The writer, an anthropologist at the University of Pittsburgh by the name of Nicole Constable, shows that these women do not have an easy life. They often sleep in cramped spaces without air conditioning, or in bed with a child, or even on the kitchen floor. They are subject to long lists of petty rules--strict bed times, curfews for day off, dress codes, even restrictions on when and how they can bathe. If they finish their work early, some employers make them do it over again. Filipinas aren't paid to sit idle, after all. In addition, Chinese employers cheat on pay, and violate their contracts in other ways, such as demanding work on days off. (My wife's last employer contrived to get her out of the apartment a week before she was due to leave, forcing her to stay with a friend whose boss was away.) Technically the maids can seek recourse at their consulate. But Filipinos do not have great confidence in their government. More importantly, the maids aren't inclined to make trouble, not with eager replacements a dime a dozen and families back home depending on their remittance checks.
Constable's picture is true. Yet there's a tendentious quality that made me want to add a few caveats. Not all Hong Kong bosses are dragon ladies, for example. My wife had three placements during her nine years there, and two were warm households that treated her with respect. The apartments were by far the best places she ever had lived. Even the hard boss--her last--was away often tending to her real estate investments, so there was less pressure. Moreover, maids who work for American or British expats were considered positively lucky. They often enjoyed more lenient rules, along with air conditioning, televisions, and telephones. Sometimes they could even live on their own with the employer paying the rent.
Though an anthropologist herself, Constable is not above putting her finger on the cultural scale. Food, for example, is a matter fraught with implication. Does the maid eat the same food as the family, served the same way? The question involves custom, courtesy, and class, and can be especially awkward if the host family speaks little English. One maid reported that her employers served her food in a separate dish at the family dinner table. Her first night she had shown obvious discomfort at eating from a communal dish, and she interpreted the separate dish as an attempt to meet her need. Constable, however, is not satisfied. "A more critical observer," she says, "might wonder if this is another attempt to establish the worker's place as a subordinate member of the household." Yes, and a critical reader might wonder whether that sentence is an attempt to establish that the Filipina is not capable of interpreting her own experience.
Global Heart Transplant
After the awful plight of adolescent sex slaves, the most wrenching part of Global Woman is the situation of Filipina mothers and their children. Hochschild interviewed a nanny in the San Francisco Bay Area who had to leave her own child two months after birth to come take care of someone else's. "The first two years I felt like I was going crazy," she said. "I would catch myself gazing at nothing, thinking about my child." Hochschild calls such cases a collective "global heart transplant," an image that suggests something about the recipients as well as about the donors. In a joint introduction with Ehrenreich, she writes, "It is as if the wealthy parts of the world are running short on precious emotional and sexual resources and have had to turn to poorer regions for fresh supplies."
This part of the story hits home in my household. We had a child eight months ago, and the thought of ripping my wife and child apart rips me apart as well. It reminds me that I am exempt, through no deserving of my own, from many burdens that millions in the world must bare. (I felt much the same way at the reports of Iraqi women who flocked to hospitals to induce delivery before the United States invaded.) The pain metastasizes up and down the line. It is not uncommon, for example, for children in Hong Kong and the United States to become more attached to their nannies than to their own mothers. My wife knew of a case in Hong Kong in which a child was asked in school to draw their favorite person in the world. The child drew a picture of its Filipina nanny rather than its parents.
This does not improve relations in the home, nor simplify the nanny's feelings towards her own children. The essay in Global Woman on "The Care Crisis in the Philippines" by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, an assistant professor of Women's Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin, cites several of these. There is Ellen, for example, who was 10 when her mother left for New York City 12 years before. (The mother was undocumented and so could not leave the United States to visit home.) Ellen felt jealous of her mother's wards in New York, and missed her dearly: "There are times when you want to talk to her, but she is not there." Filipinos are not self-dramatizers. Such statements reflect real pain.
Yet this essay clenches its jaw in the face of its own emotional pull. The problem is not the separation of mothers and children, Parreñas says. Rather it is a "dominant gender ideology" that makes these women feel guilty for leaving home, and a media culture that links this separation to social problems such as delinquency. Why, some kids do just fine. Ellen has stayed in touch with her mother by telephone and email. She has done well in school and is now a second year medical student. Ellen is "clearly not the abandoned child or social liability the Philippine media describe."
Yeah, but. Leave aside that telephone contact can be erratic in the rural Philippines, and that not all families can afford cell phones to begin with, let alone computers. Leave aside, too, that not all Filipinas--my wife, for example--really care what the newspapers might say on this score. (The Philippine media is feisty with scandal, but does not carry the portentous authority that The Washington Post and The New York Times do here.) Let's listen to another young Filipina named Theresa, who is quoted in the same essay. "When my mother is home, I just sit next to her," she says. "I stare at her face, to see the changes in her face, to see how she aged during the years she was away from us. But when she is about to go back to Hong Kong, it's like my heart is going to burst." Theresa continues, "Telephone calls, that's not enough. You can't hug her, kiss her, feel her, everything. You can't feel her presence. It's just words that you have."
But it's all she's going to get, in this essay at least. Again the writer assures us that such children "do not necessarily become 'delinquent.'" The answer is not to find a way to enable mothers to stay in the Philippines, she says. Rather it is a "reconstituted gender ideology," plus more benefits for migrant mothers in their host countries. I'm all for those. But I doubt that either is going to be much comfort to young Theresa.
To be sure, Parreñas is right to condemn any stigma against mothers who work abroad. As my wife says, these women are "heroes." They endure hardship and separation to give their kids a better life. But war produces heroes, too, and that doesn't make it a good idea. Even granting the large role of extended families in the Philippines, and the emotional resilience born of frequent migration, it would seem that the global mother trade is something to diminish if at all possible.
For her own part, Hochschild acknowledges that the best answer would be to enable more Filipinas to work closer to home. This, of course, is easier said than done. As recently as the 1960s, the Philippines was the bright economic light of Asia. Several decades of Marcos, plus a host of other things, took care of that. No one has a sure-fire way to end the country's economic woes, but it would help to acknowledge that policies promoted by the United States don't always help. Freer trade, for example, has brought a surge of agricultural imports, which depress farm prices and bring more hardship to the countryside. One of my wife's sisters did what many in this country do to make cash--she bought piglets to fatten on the farm. (Some 80 percent of the pork in the country is produced by small farmers.) When the time came to take them to market, however, she discovered that imports had driven down the price so much that she would make very little. Experiences like that mean more need for women to go abroad. The United States protected its own markets for over a 100 years while its modern economy took root. Third World nations, especially agricultural ones, may need some flexibility as well. The Western development model has had other unintended consequences where Third World women are concerned. In Thailand, an export-driven economic boom actually has increased the demand for teenage prostitutes, since more men now can afford them. A little humility is in order regarding our prescriptions for the world.
But in any event, migratory workers always will be with us, so long as people yearn for a better life. (Hochschild cites evidence that an expanding market economy actually increases migration, perhaps because it raises expectations.) So long as opportunity is so meager in a nation such as the Philippines, moreover, no one should tell a mother she cannot do what is necessary for her kids. But shouldn't these women at least enjoy the full protection of the law in the countries in which they work? This would end an egregious double standard in the global economy. Adam Smith assumed that capital is not mobile, just as (and ultimately because) people are not. This was the basis of free trade theory. If we are going to transgress the premise for fictional persons called corporations, should we not do it for real persons as well?
For example, the United States has something called H-1B visas for high tech workers. As a start, how about creating a similar program for nannies, cleaning ladies, and others--one that gives these women legal status so that they aren't so easily exploited. And shouldn't they be allowed, after a brief interval, to apply for citizenship and bring their husbands and children over to join them in the United States? At the very least, shouldn't we require that their employers offer some minimal benefits, including plane fare home--as employers in Hong Kong must provide once the standard two-year contract is over? If we want their labor, then we should be willing to pay the price.
This should be high on the agenda for the next round of trade negotiations. It should join intellectual-property protections and genetically engineered food as topics of urgent U.S. concern. Maybe there even should be a sort of WTO for workers and their children, just as there is one tailored for corporations. It could help fulfill the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which, as Hochschild reminds us, asserts that children should "grow up in a family environment" and not be separated from their parents against the parents' will. What could be more compassionately conservative than that? We could give this initiative a catchy name. How about "Leave No Child Behind"?
Jonathan Rowe is a Washington Monthly contributing editor.
Sunday, January 12, 2003
A poor woman's work is never fun
Diana B. Henriques
There are many tempting reasons to pick up "Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy" (Metropolitan Books, $26) besides the obvious ones in the subtitle.
The editors are Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote "Nickel and Dimed," the extraordinary look at minimum-wage life in America, and Arlie Russell Hochschild, whose best-selling book on housework, "The Second Shift," added a new phrase to the feminist vocabulary. The contributors include Susan Cheever, the author of several moving memoirs including "Home Before Dark," and Bridget Anderson, a labor activist and the author of "Doing the Dirty Work? The Global Politics of Domestic Labor."
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Some of the issues the book promises to tackle — child care, housework, tending to an aging population at a time of declining birth rates — are central to lives of working women. The overarching theme, the causes and consequences of a gender tilt in global migration patterns, is important and provocative. And some problems discussed, like sexual slavery in Thailand, are violations of human dignity that cry out for global redress. It is disappointing, then, to find that such a worthy effort has been so badly disfigured by anger, polemics, sloppy logic and paper-thin research stretched well beyond its tensile strength.
A few of the essays must be immediately exempted from that assessment. Although he deals with a horror that has been widely described elsewhere, Kevin Bales, a sociology professor at the University of Surrey Roehampton in London, provides a stirring, solid picture of the economic forces and personal catastrophes that constitute the prostitution industry in Thailand. And Hung Cam Thai, who is earning his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, blends sturdy demographic evidence and sensitive interviews to produce a thoughtful look at the marriage and migration patterns among Vietnamese living outside their native country.
Elsewhere in the volume, however, one finds cosmic generalizations based on "evidence" that even a sympathetic reader finds unconvincing. A cardinal rule of social research is that the plural of anecdote is not "data." But without anecdote — no doubt carefully collected, but nevertheless glaringly limited to the personal circumstances described — this volume would offer almost no original data.
The personal anecdotes that spill off every page of "Global Woman" are heartbreaking, infuriating, dramatic and occasionally hilarious. Some could provide years' worth of fodder for the writers of thrillers, soap operas and sitcoms. For example, Denise Brennan, assistant anthropology professor at Georgetown University, examines the impact of "sex tourism" on the lives of young women in the Dominican Republic. What do we learn? That prostitution is a very poor way of finding a good husband. We learn this largely by following the adventures of Carmen, Elena and Nanci, who coach one another in love-letter techniques, ply the local fax machine in their efforts to turn previous customers into future spouses and dream of getting visas that will lift them off their home island into a life of secure married luxury in Europe.
"The exits from poverty are rarely as permanent as the sex workers hope; relationships sour, and subsequently, an extended family's only lifeline from poverty disintegrates," Ms. Brennan concludes. "For every promise of marriage a tourist keeps, there are many more stories of disappointment." Then she writes, "Dominican women's attempts to take advantage of these 'walking visas' call attention, however, to the savviness and resourcefulness of the so-called powerless."
In another essay that examines the impact of female migration from Sri Lanka on the lives of the men left at home, Michele Gamburd, assistant anthropology professor at Portland State University in Oregon, offers us another trio of individuals who are, well, highly individual. One man whose wife works abroad as a domestic servant drinks up most of her repatriated profits, ostensibly because he feels emasculated by his wife's breadwinner role but possibly because the wife and the ambient society tolerate rampant alcohol abuse.
Another man was more dutiful; while his wife worked for a family in Qatar, he worked as a security guard at a local hotel. Together, over a dozen years, they raised their family's standard of living. But for child care and housekeeping help, they relied heavily on a whimsical, witty uncle named Lal, who "was the source of some astonishment and amusement in the village," Ms. Gamburd tells us. "When villagers mocked his feminine behavior, Lal regaled them with humorous stories about his finicky taste in groceries; those who attempted to laugh at him found themselves instead laughing with him." Watch for the movie at a theater near you, with Robin Williams in the starring role.
But fascinating as these personal anecdotes are, they do not persuasively support the book's organizing thesis, outlined with blast-furnace ferocity in the introduction. That thesis is that first-world lifestyles "are made possible by a global transfer of the services associated with a wife's traditional role — child care, homemaking and sex — from poor countries to rich ones."
"To generalize and perhaps oversimplify: in an earlier phase of imperialism, northern countries extracted natural resources and agricultural products — rubber, metals and sugar, for example — from lands they conquered and colonized," the authors continue. "Today, while still relying on third-world countries for agricultural and industrial labor, the wealthy countries also seek to extract something harder to measure and quantify, something that can look very much like love." Well, there's no "perhaps" about the oversimplification, at least.
Somehow, though never convincingly explained, the process of globalization and the emergence of a new economy are supposed to be responsible for this transfer of tender loving care from poor countries to rich. But explicitly or by suggestion, most essays actually place the blame for the problems of the world's women elsewhere: on the arrogance, sexual appetites and general laziness of the world's men. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ms. Ehrenreich's contribution, an essay called "Maid to Order." Her hostility toward women who hire other women to clean their homes is rooted in her membership in what she calls the "post-Friedan cohort" of feminists. "When we talked about housework, we were really talking, yet again, about power," she recalls. "To make a mess that another person will have to deal with — the dropped socks, the toothpaste sprayed on the bathroom mirror, the dirty dishes left from a late-night snack — is to exert domination in one of its more silent and intimate forms." When women lost the battle to have men share equally in the work of sustaining a home, she asserts, this "microdefeat of feminism in the household opened a new door for women, only this time it was the servants' entrance." Unfortunately, much of this angry blame game ignores complexities that surround the need for and the supply of domestic labor. Also largely ignored is the long history of labor migration and the role of domestic service in social mobility.
The whole effort needs more of the subtlety and compassion found in Ms. Cheever's essay, "The Nanny Dilemma."Nannies who leave their families and native countries to go to work, and the women who hire them to care for their own children, are acting on the same impulse, Ms. Cheever observes. "They have chosen to give their children less mothering so that they can make more money, and so have we." That sort of reasoning could prompt constructive conversations about the cost of these personal decisions for families and societies; too often, the other essays seem capable of provoking only strident arguments and futile finger-pointing.
Women work, and they have always worked. Society and public policy could address the consequences of that reality, but the possibilities are barely mentioned. And for all the professed feminism scattered throughout, the assumption underlying much of this argumentation seems to be that the world would be a better place if women would simply stay home and care for their own children, do their own housework and tend to their own aging parents without relying on less fortunate women to help.
Even if one amends that to include enlightened men in the domestic do-it-yourself team, one nevertheless walks away from this book muttering, "Right — one more thing for working women to feel guilty about." Forget about "having it all." Now we're supposed to do it all, too — with a working husband's help, if possible, but if not, alone.
Global Woman" by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, eds.
A new book explores the hard lot of America's domestic workers -- and suggests that it's ethically wrong not to clean your own house.
By Michelle Goldberg
Jan. 27, 2003 | Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild are America's preeminent writers on the politics of women's work. "The Second Shift," Hochschild's 1989 book about couples' power struggles over housework, both coined a phrase and ignited a debate over men's failure to share domestic burdens with their working wives. She furthered that discussion with her 1997 book "The Time Bind," which explored the reasons people have come to spend more time at work and less at home. More recently, Ehrenreich's 2001 book did an enormous amount to illuminate the invisible but Sisyphean struggles of ordinary women trying to make ends meet in low-wage, dead-end jobs. In the best muckraking tradition, she gave up her comfy writer's life for a few months to work as a waitress, a maid and a Wal-Mart clerk, surviving exclusively on her meager pay, which meant at one point working two jobs and living in a crack-infested trailer park.
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So it's hard to think of two journalists better suited to editing a book like their new "Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy." This collection of essays details the "care drain" from the Third World, as women leave their own homes and families in poor countries to serve those of first-world, upwardly mobile professionals. The feminization of the migrant work force is an enormously important, underreported subject; as Hochschild and Ehrenreich write, "Throughout the '90s women outnumbered men among migrants to the United States, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Argentina and Israel." Female migrants, they report, "overwhelmingly take up work as maids or domestics." The causes and implications of this are complex and earth-spanning, grist for a fascinating study of how globalization changes even those most intimate of institutions, the home and family.
"Global Woman," unfortunately, is not that study. There are some fascinating insights, illuminating anecdotes and harrowing revelations in this collection, but they're often suffocated by self-righteousness, anger, opaque academic jargon and muddled anti-capitalism. Some of the writing reaches levels of impenetrability worthy of the postmodern journal Social Text -- elaborating on the routes migrant women take to rich countries, Saskia Sassen tells us, "These circuits make up, as it were, counter-geographies of globalization. They are deeply imbricated with some of globalization's major constitutive dynamics: the formation of global markets, the intensifying of transnational and translocal networks, and the development of communication technologies that easily escape conventional surveillance." Oh.
The strong sections of this wildly uneven book offer terrifying glimpses of the abuse of trafficked women and sensitive appraisals of the complicated relationships that emerge among caretakers and the charges they're paid, essentially, to love. Hochschild gives a nuanced account of Filipina women who leave their own families to care for others -- sometimes even hiring their own nannies to raise their children in their absence. She makes the crucial point, echoed by Rhacel Salazar Parrenas, that Third World children often pay the price for women's migration, losing their mothers so that first-world children can have mothers, fathers and nannies.
Too often, though, the writers direct their rage not at the system that drives Third World women out of their own homes and into those of others across the world, but at the first-world women who hire them. It becomes a simple story of exploited victim and exploiting bitch, ignoring both the fact that many migrants move abroad willingly, eager for a chance at economic advancement, and the economic pressures that lead first-world women to work long hours and hire household help. (Interestingly, Denise Brennan's essay about Dominican prostitutes and sex tourism hews to a contradictory line, writing that those who cast prostitutes as victims "deny that poor women are capable of making their own labor choices.")
Since many of the writers in "Global Woman" are attacking the whole institution of domestic service, they don't bother to discuss policy changes that could really improve life for women who do choose such work (and it often is a choice, even if it's one constrained by circumstance).
The book's problem lies, in many ways, with Ehrenreich herself, who too often lets her valiant solidarity with working-class women congeal into bitter contempt for their middle-class sisters. Along with some of the other essayists in "Global Woman," she strongly suggests that the mere act of hiring a cleaning woman -- as opposed to mistreating or underpaying her -- is in itself immoral.
In "Maid to Order," an essay that originally appeared in Harper's magazine, Ehrenreich speaks about "moral losses ... as Americans increase their reliance on paid household help." Insisting that hiring such help is qualitatively and ethically different from other market transactions, she writes:
"Someone who has no qualms about purchasing rugs woven by child-slaves in India, or coffee picked by ruined peasants in Guatemala, might still hesitate to tell dinner guests that, surprisingly enough, his or her lovely home doubles as a sweatshop during the day. You can eschew the chain cleaning services, of course, hire an independent cleaner at a generous hourly wage, and even encourage, at least in spirit, the unionization of the housecleaning industry -- and of course you should do all these things if you are an employer of household help. But none of this will change the fact that someone is working in your home at a job she would almost certainly never have chosen for herself."
Essentially, Ehrenreich is saying that it's morally wrong to hire someone to do a job she finds unfulfilling, even if you pay her decently. This is a funny argument for several reasons. First of all, beneath her apparent concern for working-class women lurks a weirdly detached elitism -- I doubt most women seeking cleaning work would appreciate Ehrenreich telling potential employers not to hire them. Similarly, in her essay "Just Another Job? The Commodification of Domestic Labor," Bridget Anderson sneers at household employers who try to treat their workers compassionately, writing, "Through kindness, pity and charity, the employer asserts her power." Given the horrific abuse recounted in some of the book's more powerful chapters, how many household workers would really appreciate academics who try to make their bosses feel guilty about their "kindness, pity and charity"?
More irritating still, the book's condemnation of people who hire workers to do messy or tedious jobs doesn't seem to apply to those who take taxis or employ exterminators or plumbers or garbage collectors. In other words, it applies only to professional women (while there are surely plenty of bachelors and single fathers who hire cleaners, they don't appear in this book). Anderson writes, "Simply by hiring a domestic worker, the employer lowers the status of the work that employee does. After all, the employer has better or more lucrative things to do with her time."
That latter sentence is true of all kinds of work, but the writers seem to expect us to share their special disgust for women who want to escape the sisterhood of household drudgery. Hiring household help, unlike paying for other kinds of help, breeds "callousness and solipsism," Ehrenreich tells us. To make this far from self-evident point, she relies on bizarre analogies. "Almost everyone complains about violent video games, but paid housecleaning has the same consequence-abolishing effect: you blast the villain into a mist of blood droplets and move right along; you drop the socks knowing they will eventually levitate, laundered and folded, back to their normal dwelling place."
Concern over the morality of failing to launder one's own socks seems especially absurd given the very real outrages recounted in the book's more penetrating chapters. In "America's Dirty Work: Migrant Maids and Modern-Day Slavery," Joy Zarembka recounts horrific stories of women trafficked to the United States or brought in the retinues of foreign diplomats residing in Washington, D.C. Once here, the women are deprived of their passports and kept as virtual slaves.
"Abuse and exploitation follow such uncannily predictable patterns that many in the social service world almost wonder if there is an 'Abusers Manual' being circulated like samizdat," Zarembka writes. "Many women find themselves working nearly around the clock, seven days a week. The exploitative employer usually tells the worker that she may not leave the house unaccompanied, use the telephone, make friends or even converse with others. The worker is often denied health insurance and social security, even if these benefits have been deducted from her pay. Some domestic workers are subjected to physical battery and sexual assault; others who have serious health conditions are denied medical treatment, which can result in long-term illness. Some domestic workers are given as gifts to the mistresses of diplomats, or traded and loaned out to American families who further exploit them." She tells of a Ghanaian woman whose American boss referred to her only as "the Creature," and a Filipina who was forced to wear a dog collar and sleep outside.
Zarembka's piece isn't just valuable for the evil it exposes. It lays out real solutions that would ameliorate many of the miseries enumerated by her and by other writers. One answer to the abuse of domestics lies in the grossly disparate ways the government treats European au pairs and other foreign household workers. Au pairs, who come on J-1 visas, are given orientations and introduced to other nannies in their regions who form a support network. Along with their employers, they must check in with a counselor once a month to report problems or resolve disputes. Women from developing countries, meanwhile, migrate on A-3, B-1 or G-5 visas, which, Zarembka writes, "do not come remotely close to offering the protections or the comforts J-1 visas provide white, European women." She is clearly right when she says, "Simply put, women of color in the domestic worker program deserve the same safety net and rigorous oversight granted to white women in the nanny program."
Zarembka also stresses the importance of creating shelters for abused domestic workers, reporting that, incredibly, many domestic violence shelters won't accept these women since their beatings aren't inflicted by partners. Cheeringly, she writes that domestic workers are organizing, pointing out the formation of workplace cooperatives that take to the streets to tell domestic workers about their rights and, if necessary, direct them toward bilingual attorneys. One of these groups has even formed a cleaning cooperative "whose goal is to provide dignified day jobs and equitable working conditions," she says.
The demand that domestic workers be treated with dignity and paid fairly isn't as radical as decrying a system that lets some women be lawyers while others are maids, but it's a demand that's far more likely to improve poor women's lives. Not hiring domestic help out of some lofty notion of the virtue of doing one's own chores might make certain commentators feel morally superior, but it does nothing at all for the great many people who'd rather have unpleasant work than no work at all.
About the writer
Michelle Goldberg is a staff writer for Salon based in New York.
Anthology examines Third World women's plight
By Erica Noonan, Globe Staff, 12/19/2002
Global Woman: Nannies,
Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy
Edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild
Metropolitan Books, 336 pp., $26
When the first generation of post-"Feminine Mystique" women grabbed their law degrees and MBAs and elbowed their way into the professions, notions about women's work changed dramatically. But feminists may have celebrated the triumph too early. Women's traditional duties - caretaking, homemaking, and sexual service - haven't really altered. Instead, the faces have changed.
Today, the women performing these tasks for low pay and long hours are increasingly poor migrant caretakers from developing countries who live and work in mansions - but support their own families in absentia by their work here as nannies, maids, and even prostitutes.
As more women from developed nations make their professional mark, their Third World sisters pick up the slack. This ongoing "global heart transplant" between poor and rich nations is rarely quantified by economists or recognized by most governments, according to "Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy," a gripping new anthology edited by social critics Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild.
"The lifestyles of the First World are made possible by a global transfer of the services associated with a wife's traditional role - child care, homemaking, and sex - from poor countries to rich ones. While still relying on Third World countries for agricultural and industrial labor, the wealthy countries also seek to extract something harder to measure and quantify, something that can look very much like love," the pair write.
In one essay, "Maid to Order," Ehrenreich picks up where she left off in her 2001 bestseller "Nickel and Dimed," questioning the morality of corporate cleaning services that collect $25 per hour from a client, but pay out as little as $5 to the cleaner. Most often, this is a woman who is a recent immigrant with poor English skills, no health insurance, and no other job options.
Ehrenreich knows whereof she speaks. She spent three weeks in 1999 working for a Portland, Maine, franchise of The Maids International, part of a team that cleaned 60 houses, containing 250 floors and requiring scrubbing on hands and knees. For this, she earned $266 per week.
Other essayists also make notable contributions. Author Susan Cheever reports on Caribbean child care workers living in New York City, sociologist Pei-Chia Lan documents the plight of migrant maids in Taiwan. Georgetown University anthropologist Denise Brennan writes about sex workers in the Dominican Republic. But the most heartrending read is courtesy of British activist Kevin Bales, who reports on girls sold into slavery in Thai brothels.
Hochschild also draws out themes from her landmark work, "The Second Shift," in her essay, "Love and Gold," about Filipinas working abroad as nannies. Many readers will find themselves uncomfortable with the distasteful revelation offered by "Global Woman" - that many Western women have become the men they didn't want to be married to. We are too busy to help with the cooking, cleaning, or child care, and in turn have pushed the drudge work onto women too poor to refuse it.
But in the end, Hochschild and Ehrenreich write, both Western and Third World women are pawns in a global economic game of greed and exploitation. Men could change this equation by performing more caretaking and homemaking, or creating better economic opportunities for Third World workers, they write.
But until that happens, migrant women and their children will suffer from the so-called "care drain" from poor to rich nations. Hochschild wonders about these Third World children abandoned to distant relatives or indifferent caregivers because their mothers were thousands of miles away tending to the children of the wealthy. This generation of migrant mothers has yet to come full circle, but it is all but guaranteed to produce a new generation of young single mothers, destined to travel abroad to earn money themselves, she suggests.
"In that sense, migration creates not a white man's burden," Hochschild writes. "But, through a series of invisible links, a dark child's burden."
Erica Noonan can be reached at .
This story ran on page B14 of the Boston Globe on 12/19/2002.
A Taste of Distant Home For D.C. Area Nannies
Filipinos Build a Weekly Community
By Nurith C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2004; Page A01
Precy Lucero plopped onto a bench in the Mazza Gallerie mall and surveyed the gaggle of girlfriends beside her.
Two of them were scanning the front page of the Manila Mail. A third sang aloud to a Philippine torch song playing on her Walkman.
"Yoooo are the one I love. Yoooo give me a reason to live," she crooned in Tagalog before the rest of the group collapsed into giggles.
"It's just as if we were in our own country," Lucero marveled. "Just as if we were in the Philippines."
It's an illusion that draws dozens of her compatriots from across the Washington area to this Friendship Heights mall every Sunday.
Back in the Philippines, many have college degrees, husbands and children. Here, they are the live-in "help" -- housekeepers, nannies and elder-care nurses paid to serve at the beck and call of someone else's family. From Monday through Saturday, they are the threads in an ever-expanding network of immigrant women who take care of the home front for Washington bureaucrats, diplomats, journalists and lawyers.
But Sunday -- ah, glorious Sunday! -- is the live-in domestic worker's day off, to do with as she pleases. And so Lucero and her friends flock to Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights and the next-door Chevy Chase Pavilion to gossip about tightfisted employers and faraway children, to buy and sell everything from phone cards to Avon cosmetics, but mainly to simply relax with fellow countrywomen among whom no translation is necessary.
"It's so nice just to speak in our own language," said Lucero, who has been a live-in nanny and housekeeper for 12 years.
Numbering more than 34,000, the Washington area's Philippine-born residents work in a wide range of professions. There are prominent doctors, such as Washington Hospital Center heart surgeon Jorge M. Garcia; Pentagon leaders such as Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba; civil rights activists such as Irene Natividad, director of the annual Global Summit of Women; and elected officials such as former Maryland legislator David Valderrama.
Others pass through the area as students, as did the president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who did graduate work in economics at Georgetown University.
Although they are largely scattered across the District and surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia, many Filipinos get together through Filipino American professional associations and charity groups, as well as at several churches.
Most of the women who come to the Friendship Heights malls on Sundays, however, are part of a subset who do domestic work and live in their employers' homes. Although they, too, often see each other at church, the mall provides a place to hang out for longer stretches of time.
Generally in their mid-forties to early fifties, the women hail from all corners of their country. Few knew each other back home. But word of the gathering spot spreads quickly among the latest arrivals from the Philippines.
Newcomers are immediately greeted with an inviting "Kumusta ka?" -- Tagalog for "How d'you do?" The warm welcome is born of a shared sense of isolation. Facing a shortage of jobs at home, a large segment of Philippine women -- even many who are well-educated -- spend nearly their entire adult lives working as domestics overseas while their husbands stay in the Philippines to raise their children.
The arrangement has made the Philippines the world's third-largest recipient of overseas money transfers -- with more than half of the money coming from Filipinos working in the United States. But there is a high price. "When I left, my oldest child was 10. Now he is 21," said Lucero, who has five children. "It's so hard to be away from them. I still cry about it."
Like many of the women at the mall, Lucero said she calls her husband and children every night. Unlike some of her friends, who lack the money or immigration documents required, she is able to visit her family once a year. During the months in between, she relies on her friends at the mall to cheer her up.
Chatting and Commerce
As clubs go, this one is strictly informal, with no roster and no set meeting time. But its members are devoted, cramming into the booths at the Mazza Gallerie McDonald's or around the faux marble tables in the Pavilion's basement food court for hours, no matter how enticing the weather is outside.
"This the only time we can get together," explained Carmelita Carrigan, an eight-year member of the mall group.
A former live-in nurse, like some in the group, Carrigan now lives in her own home. But she continues to come to the malls to catch up with the longtime friends she has made there.
The Sunday gatherings are also a chance to pick up the kind of items normally sold in immigrant enclaves: Five-dollar phone cards, for instance, which one enterprising woman buys at a bulk discount and then sells to her friends as a side business. Or bootleg copies of CDs by such Philippine pop stars as Imelda Papin, which another woman peddles complete with photocopied cover art.
Then there's the traditional Philippine food that several women bring in large paper shopping bags to sell to the group -- a particular treat for those live-ins whose employers limit their use of the kitchen. A recent Sunday's menu included bananacues -- long skewers of roasted bananas rolled in brown sugar. But the women said it could just as easily have been pancit, a type of noodle dish, or suman, a kind of rice.
"Yes, that's what I like," said a laughing Aileen Asi, a 27-year-old live-in nanny with delicate features who looks after three children in Chevy Chase. She has also bought jewelry -- including a silver necklace that hung around her slender neck -- from several women such as Carrigan, who sell on behalf of a Singapore-based company.
Other women sell Avon products. And there's even a sort of banking association among them. Known as a paluwagan, it's a type of society common in the Philippines and functions like a savings account for people who don't trust or have access to traditional banks.
Under the arrangement, members agree to pay a set amount into a common pool every week for a year. Every couple of weeks, depending on how many people are in the association, a different member receives the full amount currently in the pool.
The mall women have two paluwagan groups going this year -- one with 26 members who put in $100 a week and each get a $5,200 payout, and a second with 13 members who put in $200 a week and each get a $10,400 payout.
The group determines the order of the payouts by drawing numbers at the start of the year. Those who get their payout earliest benefit the most because they get all the money they'll eventually contribute to the pot in one lump sum up front. But even Margarita Marco, who didn't get her turn until September, said the system had helped her.
"I'm going to visit the Philippines this month, and I have all my money ready," she said.
Over her 20 years working as a nanny in the United States, Marco, a former teacher, has used her savings to put five nieces and nephews through college back home. "Three teachers, a computer engineer and a nurse," she said, ticking off their degrees with a beaming smile. If she had kept her weekly contributions to the paluwagan in a bank, she said, she might have been tempted to spend some of the money.
"But I can't touch it if it's with her," Marco said pointing to the paluwagan's treasurer, Violeta Crisostomo, who was seated next to her at a table in the food court along with three other women.
Crisostomo gave a serene smile. Like the rest of the women conducting business that Sunday, she worked discreetly, pausing only briefly from her conversation with the friends at her table to tally who owed what on a yellow pad.
A woman stopped by the table and whispered something in Tagalog to the group. The women clucked their tongues.
"She says her employer forgot to pay her this week," explained Crisostomo with a shake of her head.
A Welcome Respite
Employers -- the good, the bad and the even worse -- are a frequent topic of conversation among the Sunday group. It is generally agreed that live-ins have it worse than live-outs because employers can't resist asking them to work even after they are off the clock.
The worst setup of all, the women said, is to work as a live-in for a diplomat. Though they are required to pay domestic workers the federal minimum wage, some diplomats do not, confident in the knowledge that they are immune from prosecution in U.S. courts unless their governments grant a waiver.
But if the domestics have little legal recourse, they at least have each other.
Several years ago, when her friends at the mall learned that her employer was paying Teresita Dotson $200 a week to watch two young children and do all the cooking and cleaning, they helped her find a new job paying $700 a week.
Dotson was so fond of her new employer -- a professor with a wife and two children -- that she agreed to move with the family when they relocated to Alabama. But after three years, she took a pay cut so she could return to Washington.
There was no gathering of Philippine women in Alabama, she said, "and I felt so lonely without my friends."
Sacrificing the maid
Tough times in Asia mean doing without luxuries
THE Pisharaths consider themselves fortunate. They did not have to 'retrench' their maid.
When her two-year contract expired at the beginning of this year, she asked to go home to India.
'We thought if we didn't have a maid, we could save on expenses,' said Mr Pisharath, 41, a senior manager of a software company in Singapore who would give only his surname.
Like him and his wife, a growing number of families all over Asia can no longer afford luxuries in the current economic climate. But they face the heart-rending task of sacking maids who cannot afford to go home.
'My employer wanted me to stay,' said Ms Nisel Selirio, a college-educated Filipina who works as a maid in Hong Kong. 'But after she lost her job in April, she was forced to terminate my contract.'
That came as a big blow to Ms Selirio. She had left her three sons, who range from six to 13 years old, in the care of her husband and mother-in-law in her small fishing village in the Philippines two years ago.
In Hong Kong, she earns about US$420 (S$740), more than 11 times the amount her husband makes as a fisherman. She used her entrepreneurial sense to make another US$350 a month by selling phone cards to fellow maids.
The job has enabled her to send home US$140 a month for her family to live on and for her son's education, another US$200 for their future and US$40 to her father.
'A mother should be with her children. But I have to stay in Hong Kong if I want to give my children a better life,' she said.
Her case is typical of maids throughout the region. Ms Selirio managed to find another position with a Canadian couple with an eight-year-old son but most have not been so lucky.
The number of Filipino maids in Hong Kong dropped from 140,400 at the end of March to 133,570 in late May - a decline of 5 per cent.
Nursing graduate Gina Doblado, who has been working as a nanny in Hong Kong, was part of the exodus of the unwilling.
The Japanese couple she worked for lost their jobs, could not even pay their rent and had to move to government housing.
'I told my employer I didn't mind if my salary was delayed as long as I could stay,' said Ms Doblado, 28.
Although single, she supports an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
'They raised me and my brother after our mother died and our father abandoned us,' said Ms Doblado. 'It's my way of repaying a debt of gratitude.'
But with so many Hong Kong residents laid off, the Japanese couple could not find work and had to send her back home to the Philippines in January.
Ms Doblado's family is not the only one suffering.
The remittances of the 7.5 million Filipinos who work abroad - more than 70 per cent are women, mostly maids - reached US$6 billion last year. That represents the second-biggest source of hard currency for the Philippines.
The number of Indonesian maids working in Hong Kong is also on the decline, although other Asians are switching to them.
Ms Nurfita, a 22-year-old from East Java who has worked in Malaysia and Taiwan, had hoped to move to Hong Kong.
Instead, she spent the past four months living with around 250 other girls in a migrant-worker shelter in Jakarta.
'I'm not sure when I'll go now,' she said. 'Nobody at the agency that handles my case can give me a clear answer.'
Around 85,000 Indonesian women work as maids in Hong Kong.
The yearly turnover had been about 20,000 but experts now estimate that only 15,000 to 17,000 would have been sent to Hong Kong by the end of this year.
'I may have to choose another country,' said Ms Nurfita. But a return to Taiwan is unlikely too.
The Taiwanese have been realising they can get along without the added expense of a maid since 1992, when the government first allowed the employment of domestic helpers from abroad.
Demand for maids has plunged from more than 50,000 in 1992 to less than 7,000 recently, according to agencies in Taiwan that hire foreign workers.
A Filipina who would only give her name as Marie said she still had her full-time job but had lost her outside income.
'I used to have eight part-time cleaning jobs per week, but since the Sars outbreak, I lost all but one,' she said.
But it is maids like Ms Angie Pineda, 27, who have been hurt the most.
The eldest of six children, Ms Pineda was her family's sole breadwinner until she lost her job in Hong Kong on April 13. 'It was a big blow to my family,' she said.
As a result, her younger sister who was in her senior year in a four-year computer course had to quit her studies last month. Construction of their new home also had to be suspended.
'The government refers to us as the new heroes but we don't really get any help from them,' she said. 'They just care about our remittances and our votes.'
-- With reports by Luz Baguioro in Manila, Robert Go in Jakarta, Lawrence Chung in Taipei and Ling Chang Hong in Singapore
Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy
Edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochschild
By Karlene Miller
Unequivocally and undeniably, it sucks to be a lesser link in the economic food chain. Does it suck worse for women than for men? Perhaps. But not necessarily for reasons endlessly hammered out by old-school feminism or soapbox sociology.
Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, a collection of essays edited by best-selling authors and well-respected social critics Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, unintentionally reveals one of the least recognized handicaps women face in their attempts to achieve economic advancement: other women.
Settle down now. There’s no real gender conspiracy going on here, just a faint reflection of the way women, in spite of successes in their own lives, sometimes fail to support one another effectively.
In fact, if there is a central weakness in Global Woman--beyond its self-congratulatory academic tone and overtly subjective man-bashing--it is the subtle criticism of women who want something better.
With the best intentions, Rhacel Salazar Parrenas’ essay “The Care Crisis in the Philippines” attempts to globalize threadbare debates over wage-earning women in its claim that the Philippine media pathologize the children and vilify “migrant women as bad mothers.” However, it is hard to miss the subtextual guilt extended in the author’s somewhat parochial investigation of the “emotional insecurity” and hardships Philippine children experience when their mothers work abroad.
In “Maid to Order,” Ehrenreich herself casts an uneasy shadow over middle-class women who pay for domestic services, questioning the ethics of those who might unapologetically purchase “rugs woven by child-slaves in India, or coffee picked by ruined peasants in Guatemala,” but hesitate to admit to dinner guests that their homes “double as sweatshops during the day.” It seems that working women have enough responsibilities without adding moral decline, child slavery and international economics to the list.
Even empowerment seems to run amok in Denise Brennan’s essay “Selling Sex for Visas: Sex Tourism as Stepping Stone to International Migration for Dominican Women.” An anthropology professor at Georgetown University, Brennan objects to media depictions of international sex workers as victims because “it theoretically confuses social agency and identity with social context.” Excuse me? Outside of academia, who believes that “poor single mothers” in the Dominican Republic are using sexual tourism as an economic “advancement strategy”?
Still, the collection’s strengths more than make up for its weaknesses. Hung Cam Thai offers a fascinating discussion of inverted trans-global marriages in his essay “Clashing Dreams: Highly Educated Overseas Brides and Low-wage U.S. Husbands.” In a nearly perfect counterpoint to Brennan, Thai describes the “double marriage squeeze” in professional women with little marital potential in Vietnam seeking increased gender equity by marrying blue-collar Vietnamese men with limited marital potential in America and who are in turn seeking wives with old-world values American women don’t seem to possess.
Lynn May Rivas’ essay “Invisible Labors: Caring for the Independent Person” is reason enough to read this book. Her observation that “American individualism stresses personal independence and autonomy in all aspects” defines the essence of domestic support and its need for invisibility. Rivas’ premise is that invisibility is easily applicable to gardeners, housekeepers and others “whose job it is to be invisible and [whom] are valued for their invisibility.” More importantly, the essay examines a sense of independence that can be achieved only through paid care as opposed to dependence on care provided by families and friends.
On the one hand, paid care places a dollar value on labors of love. On the other hand, in real life, it’s much easier to fire a “caregiver” than your mother-in-law.
A grubby business
Wash when I tell you and don't talk to your friends
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Immigrant skivvies on poverty wages now service the affluent urban lifestyle
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