terça-feira, 23 de junho de 2009

Global Women

Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy.
Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, editors. New York: Metropolitan Books. 2003

“The personal is global”. With this new take on the old 60s and 70s feminist slogan “the personal is political” sociologist Arlie Hochschild finalizes her own contribution to the edited volume, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the Global Economy, a wonderful book replete with tales that move from sad and harrowing to fascinating and, occasionally, hopeful. Its well-documented stories from around the globe also present some excellent sociological and anthropological analysis of how women (and children, and families and men) navigate the contemporary world system.
I became intrigued by Arlie Hochschild’s more recent work after having the opportunity to hear her speak at the Centro de Cultura Contemporanea de Barcelona, and immediately set myself to the task of getting to know it better. The essays and articles that make up the volume are suggestive and inspiring for several of the ongoing projects I share, at present, with numerous students, colleagues and friends, and what I will try to do here is to present some general ideas so that those of you who visit this little piece of cyberspace get a better idea of what the book has to offer.
In the introduction, editors Ehrenreich (another one of my longstanding favorite critical social analysts) and Hochschild expound on their basic topic, the current and ongoing process of feminization of transnational migration. They point to how this process is intimately linked to the “care deficit” that has been created in “First World” societies: as more women devote themselves to work and public life outside the home (and trends toward increased male investment in home and domestic life continue to be relatively negligible) the scenario for a “global transfer” of services associated with a “traditional wife´s role”* is created. An intensified influx of women from countries and communities ravaged by debt, poverty, colonial histories and “problems of development” to the kitchens and households (and sweatshops, restaurants and streets) of the world’s “global cities” and richest nations enables life to go on smoothly for many, though the consequences and ramifications this has for the lives of villages, communities and families in poor and developing countries is not often considered.
When Hochschild suggests that perhaps a “woman’s care” constitutes the “new gold” flowing from south to north, she may not be exaggerating. There really does seem to be an ongoing reversal of trends if we consider that one of the most oft-discussed aspects of the history of women and work from the 19th to the 20th century in advancing industrial nations was the shrinking of domestic service, a type of employment that had been fundamental in an earlier period of Western bourgeois culture and society.
And what about the other side of care deficit, that one that is generated "on the other side of the ocean" by this new scenario? Parreñas’ article on the care crisis in the Philippines discusses repercussions in the care-exporting country (how children and families adapt to women’s absence) and is careful to point out that, considerable suffering notwithstanding, activists and policy-makers who take a stand against women’s migration become moralizing forces calling for the disciplining of women, while it is truly important to re-think the issues in ways that can work to dismantle or at least alleviate not only global inequalities and also to promote re-thinking the gender order (which would include new ways of thinking about fathers’ caring for children and families). Anther fascinating contribution shows how in contexts like that of Sri Lanki, emigrating women may spend years toiling abroad while unemployed husbands “mismanage” the remittances received, thus blocking family routes out of poverty. Among the saddest of texts is one which discusses cases of African women who were virtually imprisoned within the U.S. households where they were providing domestic services – often for professionals with high level positions in international organisms such as the UN, World Bank, IMF and in one incredibly paradoxical case, within the home of a human rights lawyer.
Young women’s incorporation in the global sex industry is the theme of one of the most powerful contributions to the volume, Brennan’s account of her ethnographic study of sex-workers in transnational sex/love circuits of the Dominican Republic. In the cases she discusses of young women from desperately impoverished rural areas of the island – most often, young mothers struggling to feed, clothe and raise their children on their own – and their relationships with German men who flock there to enjoy its beaches and ample opportunities for “sex tourism”, strategies up and out of poverty figure more clearly than concerns with conventional “romantic love”. And in the book’s concluding chapter, Sasskia Sassen speaks poignantly of the “feminization of survival” yet also makes it clear that women are not mere victims of global capitalism – nor are they mere victims of the specific beneficiaries of their services, such as more privileged social groups, elite households or mafias (and governments) who profit from trafficking of women. In many ways, she suggests, women involved in particular forms of transnational movement (particularly- I would imagine - those in which transnational circuits are linked to female and familial networks at a grassroots level) actively strive to have access to opportunities and often acquire new resources that enhance their ability to re-shape their own lives outside of conventional patriarchal constraints. In fact, the possibility of shaping and re-shaping one’s life, beyond conventional borders and boundaries - , geographic and the symbolic – and to do so, while creating new communities (local and/or global) is a hope and a struggle for women all over the globe. It is perhaps the best of the “cultural consequences of globalization” to which Indian Anthropologist Arjun Appadurai refers, this possibility to (re)imagine the self that is part of intensified global circulation of people, goods and images. Whether these “re-imaginings” can be connected to the genesis of more egalitarian forms of social life and culture is a major issue, and is clearly linked to the patterns of a global economic order which would require fundamental restructuring to loosen the forces of suffering and economic (and political) coercion that send so many people out to distant corners of the globe against the backdrop of a dire lack of options. For the time being, - and only exacerbated by the current context of crisis - women and men all over the world will continue packing bags and knapsacks, crossing oceans in planes or flimsy wooden boats, smuggling themselves or being smuggled across borders with no guarantees of what luck will be theirs “on the other side” - because this is all they feel they can do. The young woman who, while cutting my hair in a beauty salon ( a franchise of a national chain) in Barcelona shared her story of migration away from a small town in the Brazilian north east claims not to have been disappointed by her sojourn, guided as it was by her hope that somewhere else, things could be better. Or if not better, at least different, worth seeing, knowing and perhaps (as suggested by another informant, a Brazilian architect also residing in Barcelona) de-mystifying.

* As Saskia Sassen, in her contribution to the volume clarifies, a new household type has emerged which can be referred to as a “professional household without a ‘wife’ regardless of whether its adult couple consists of a man and a woman, two men or two women.” (p.259)

8 comentários:

  1. Anônimo6/23/2009

    Miriam! Super clara sua resenha, parabens!Estou saindo de viagem, mas nos falamos antes disso, bj,Z.

  2. Obrigada, me escreva, estou com saudades!!!

  3. Good analysis but with too much emphasis on the gender aspects of the globalization. Women who escape from powerty and patriarcal structures in their country to risk to find bad situations in more developed countries face the same suffering than men who cross the Sahara desert first and then the Mediterranean Sea in insecure boats. Of course, women have different issues. Not all of them are bad: if they are pregnant when they arrive and their kid is born in Europe, then they cannot be sent back to their country, as it is possible to do with men.
    Sexual tourism is punished by law, and prosecuted either in the origin and in the destination. Of course there is a sexual offer that benefit first to those that have more money, could they be from rich countries or the rich men from the concerned country. But nothing new in that. The Roman Legionnaires were the "rich" 2000 years ago that inaugurated the "sexual tourism", and the poor iberian girls for example, the exploited women. The result has been the spanish identity.
    In my opinion, it is more useful to search for answers to avoid some "worse migrations" like the ones that affect the doctors or the nurses. Spain is full of latin american nurses, because England is full of spanish nurses. Near to my home, there is a medical center. The urologist is from Syria, and the dermatologist from Sudan. They are here because they earn more than in their countries, but the needs of their services are much bigger there than in Spain. The needs but not the money. Poor have to suffer and die then, if we don´t find solutions. Another problem is the one of the "petites bonnes", young girls that are living as slaves in the rich african countries, in the rich households that "employ" them. There the migration is not from Third World to First World, but internally in the Third World. I knew about that problem that happens in Gabon, but I am sure it happens also in Saudi Arabia, or in other countries where the information about what happens in reality is inexistent. But the problem is not a gender problem. We have to find solutions to eradicate powerty, and then women will be more free. But as long as powerty will exist, the services offered by women (sex, care and housecleaning) will always be exploited by "rich" men.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Nicolas. I definitely agree that the "brain drain" as it has been called, and in general the problem of semi-professionals and professionals who move from Third to First World is an important issue for us to research and think about. (It is certainly an issue that Brazilian financing agencies worry about when they send their scientists and researchers and university professors off with scholarships to study in England, France, Germany and the US...) And of course the point is not to think about women - as "opposed" to men - as immigrants, but rather to realize that most of the literature has not dealt with specific women´s issues or has not used a gender perspective, not even to better understand family strategies around survival and migration.

  5. But I have discussed that many times with you, in our trips together, and I think we arrived to the conclusion that men and women are opposed, in fact, in our gender perspectives and family strategies... Aren´t they for you now?

  6. A "linguistic" clarification: what I meant here is that they BOTH have to be studied in relation to one another. Whether or not men´s and women's gender ideologies and strategies position them in opposition to one another. Which as you have noted, they OFTEN do

  7. Anônimo7/02/2009

    Olá Miriam, um bela análise tem aqui neste post, e também em um de meus blogs faço referência a livros em inglês, gostei daqui ...


  8. Muito obrigada, Marco. Olharei seu blog também. até logo e grande abraço, Miriam