Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers: Their Common Element
In Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s collection of essay’s Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, several scholars address the issues of modern domestic workers. While some may wonder what nannies, maids, and sex workers actually have in common, many global feminists find that their connection is obvious. In “Love and Gold” by Hochschild and “Maid to Order” by Ehrenreich, the authors address the issues of migration as they relate to the housekeepers and nannies who care for the children of middle and upper class (and mostly white) women. Denise Brennan considers the complexities of women’s agency in “Among Women: Sex Tourism as a Stepping-stone to International Migration.” Hung Cam Thai’s “Clashing Dreams: Highly Educated Overseas Brides and Low-Wage U.S. Husbands” poignantly describes the difficulties feminists and other progressive women face in Vietnam when they want to pursue career goals in lieu of the traditional position of domestic wife and mother. In all of these investigations, women are found using migration and international relationships as an avenue to escape the oppressive nature of their own cultures and economies.
It should be of no surprise to social scientists that women are using international migration in the current global world. When faced with adversity, we only have a few options. We can run, fight, or give in. For centuries, women have accepted the status quo or given in to their surroundings for lack of other reasonable options. However, in this modern era, women hear stories and see examples of small and large victories that cause them to reevaluate their options. In the countries of origin considered in the previously mentioned articles, fighting the system was not a realistic choice for most of the women who desired an alternative lifestyle. In light of these factors, migration is a logical result. Since little can be done to change the culture in their own countries, at least in their lifetimes, women hope to use international work or connections to pull them from poverty, violence, and solitude.
nannies, maids, and sex workers have located a way to escape difficult
they are often conflicted over this way out.
While working in another country may
provide a way to earn money for themselves or their families, many
realize that this kind of work is grueling and degrading. In the case
workers, their work often causes them serious threat of disease and
death. In addition
to usually receiving poor
wages and treatment, such as the exploited housekeepers described in
“Maid to Order,” women workers are saddened by long
from their children and other family members. In “Love and
Hochschild describes the “care drain” that results
in the First
World’s consumption of
First World and
Unfortunately, separation from families and children and exploitive nature of migrant work are not the only issues troubling global women. For example, Brennan explores the limited success of sex tourism workers in “Selling Sex for Visas.” Brennan explains that while Dominican women are objectified by the sex industry, “sex workers often see the men, too, as readily exploitable – potential dupes, walking visas, means by which the women might leave the island, and poverty, behind.” (156) Despite the potential that these men hold, however, few of the women are able to actually marry foreign men. And when they do, they find that the new conditions of living with these men who have already commodified them are often not much better than those they left. While Dominican women engaged in sex tourism hope to find a more egalitarian style of partnership with men, the men they are exposed to are often seeking submissive and subservient women. While the efforts of the women are noble, the pay-offs are limited in terms of income they actually earn and opportunities to leave their country.
many Dominican women use marriage as an attempt to facilitate
Cam Thai discusses a group of women who use migration to find marriage
“Clashing Dreams.” Because highly educated women in
of the situations point to more than a global trend of women using
answer issues in their country of origin.
Nannies and maids seek domestic work to alleviate the
strain of social
and economic conditions at home; sex workers are affected by the same
It appears that even educated women cannot break through the powers of
– and, in fact, their educations may be socially harmful
financially beneficial. These push factors, however, are compounded by
pull factors in the
While these questions are complex, some of the answers are actually quite simple. It seems that the same old culprits are mostly men. Although women are often the people hiring housekeepers and nannies, they often feel that they must do this because they do not have enough support from their partners or their children’s fathers. If more men would participate fully in the maintenance of their homes and the rearing of children, many of these duties would not be so burdensome. While globalism and feminism have played parts in the trend toward female migration and continued exploitation, these are indirect roles. Although feminists are not directly involved in the misuse of migrant women’s labor, they can participate in problem solving.
First and foremost, feminists can respond to these trends by becoming aware of them. Women who use international and minority workers as domestic laborers should be very careful of how their money is being spent. We can make sure we understand how women are paid, particularly if using a corporate cleaning or child care service. In light of Ehrenreich’s “Maid to Order,” feminists may also want to boycott certain companies who keep most of the money for themselves and pay domestic employees poor wages. Ultimately, Hochschild articulates what we must do. Considering the factors aggravating and feeding the trends discussed in Global Woman, “we need to value care as our most precious resource, and to notice where it comes from and ends up.” She concludes that, “For these days, the personal is global.” (30)
Full Citation: Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie R. Hochschild, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy (New York 2003).