Imperialism, Female Diaspora, and Feminism

Delia D. Aguilar


These are perilous times. Those who lived through the dark days of the McCarthy period regretfully underscore the far greater dangers confronting us all today following the Bush administration’s declaration of a perpetual "war on terror."  Sadly, long before 9/11, the conservative political climate brought on by the 80s had already succeeded in diminishing the capacity of leftist intellectuals to imagine the possible. This fear of ideas that a voluntary curtailment of the imagination suggests prompted long-time activist and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz to draw a parallel with McCarthyism when, in contrast, such fears were justifiable. That was two years ago.  Now the eagle has bared its talons.  In response, youthful anti-war, anti-globalization activists, suspiciously untutored in antifoundationalism and the profundities of indeterminacy, are out in the streets.  One can only hope that scholars engaged in what these days passes for leftist thinking will follow suit and rise to the challenge.

For the time being, regressive currents have caused paradoxes of all sorts to proliferate. What are we to make of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's denial of the fact that the United States is the world's reigning superpower and their argument that globalization must not be simplistically viewed as univocal and unified (2000)? Juxtapose this with economist Joseph E. Stiglitz' censure of his former employer, the World Bank, in which he validates anti-globalization activists' allegation that structural adjustment programs have merely served to further impoverish the poor of the world today (2002). Or with patrician financier George Soros (2002) who writes that year after year the flow of money has been from the poor nations to the rich, and advises that the process be halted.  And how are we to take historian Kristin Hoganson's contention (1998) that the United States' 1898 adventure in the Philippines was driven by the "problem of male degeneracy"?  Is it to stamp out incipient effeminacy that U.S. troops are now patrolling its former colony?  And is the reclamation of manliness why Colin Powell, speaking for the U.S. State Department, has designated the New People's Army, led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, a "terrorist organization"?  How about the postmodern/postcolonial preoccupation with "difference" and  "intersectionality," along with the valorization of "interstitial spaces" as the most favorable site for radical positioning?  Does not Eve Ensler's border-crossing, widely translated "Vagina Monologues" deftly reassert U.S. cultural hegemony by rushing to save Afghan women from their repressive menfolk (poor benighted sisters), while outfitting vaginas with Louis Vuitton boots, Birkin bag, and Lolita Lempicke perfume?

What confusion is being sown at the very moment when it is clarity that we most need! Something is awry when it is rock star Bono and the Secretary of Treasury, not radical intellectuals, whom we observe publicly bemoaning Third World plight like indebtedness and lack of safe water.  Yet it is probably a good guess that, along with the noblesse oblige of Stiglitz and Soros, such cooptational moves by the bourgeoisie are designed to preempt the emergence of a new social movement from which leftist academics have so far abstained.

To be sure, not all Marxists in the academy have yielded to the postmodern turn of the 80s and abandoned the socialist project.  But debates among Marxists about the meaning of globalization—whether it is a mere continuation of the old or whether it represents an epochal shift, a distinct break from the past, for example— have been confined to very limited circles.  Ellen Meiksins Wood (1998) rejects the notion of an epochal shift and views as erroneous the assumption that the forces of production are determinant and that the global reach of giant corporations means a diminished nation-state and a fragmented working class.  While pointing to the disintegrative effects that "totalization" may likely produce on capital (she nixes the use of "globalization" because it hides the contradictions inherent in capitalist accumulation and indicates the withdrawal of the state from regulatory functions), she insists on both the possibility and urgency of recuperating the socialist project.  Agreeing with Meiksins Wood's exhortations to organize opposition to capital, David Harvey (2000) attributes the promotion of "globalization" as a concept to the financial press which coined it to explain the financial deregulation of the early 70s.  He laments the Western left's (himself included) concession to its adoption in place of politically charged words used previously—"colonialism,” "neocolonialism," and "imperialism."  Perhaps less insistent than Meiksins Wood that quantitative rather than qualitative change (i.e., a fundamental change in the mode of production) has occurred, he proposes the substitution of "uneven geographical development" for "globalization" as a framework better able to locate spaces of hope within which progressives might mount opposition.

Going further than either Harvey or Meiksins Wood, James Petras (2000) proclaims globalization to be nothing more than a code word for U.S. imperialism, and proceeds to provide evidence for this assertion.  He demolishes the myth of an interdependent, bi-polar or tri-polar "global village"—dismissing the "Asian Miracles" as a mirage—by documenting what he presents as the unquestionable economic supremacy of the United States.  He cites 1998 as the year in which the dominance of the United States was established, furnishing the following information, among others: the U.S. holds 244 of the 500 biggest companies in the world, Japan 46, Germany 23; of the 25 largest firms whose capitalization exceeds $86 billion, over 70% are U.S., 26% European, and 4% Japanese; of the top 100 companies, 61% are U.S., 33% European, 2% Japanese.  Thus, control of the global economy by transnationals is, in effect, tantamount to control by the United States.

Needless to say, economic domination by the United States has been known for decades by most of the world's peoples.  They've felt it in their blood and bones.  That they've also viewed the United States today as the most dangerous threat to world peace is only now reaching the consciousness of citizens of this country.  Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, lambasting the bombing of Afghanistan (when food packages were dropped) in retaliation for the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon, wrote searingly of US "brutality smeared in peanut butter" (2001).  More recently, Kenyan development worker E.D. Mathew (2002) writes of the imminent war on Iraq: "But the horror of horrors is the fact that there is feeble public opinion around major international issues in the United States." It apparently takes Third World nationals to speak truth to power.  For reading cultural studies publications these days can be a deeply alienating experience.  It is as if the stark realities of globalization have been carefully concealed from scholars whose writings continue to be replete with fantasies of the demise of the nation-state, seamlessness, border-crossing, fragmentation, multiplicity, heterogeneous and fluctuating identities.

Feminists, on the other hand, ruefully remark on their exclusion from discussions of globalization.  I think one can safely assume that it is not discussions about the US imperium that feminists are raring to join, given that Marxists are a negligible number in the U.S. and that U.S. feminism is nothing if not postmodern.  For example, the editorial in a Feminist Review (a UK-based, formerly Marxist-feminist publication) issue on women and globalization complains that male intellectuals have monopolized the construction of macro analyses of globalization in spite of women's participation in anti-globalization movements internationally (Brah et al 2002).  The editors seem not to have noticed the state of disconnect characterizing theory and practice in the North.  Nor do they hesitate to claim credit for the active role that women in the South have taken in anti-globalization efforts.  Moreover, the issue itself, while indeed tackling the topic of Third World female diaspora, has little to offer that truly illuminates, simply reiterating as it does the idea of "positionality" and the banal "intersections" formula—of race, class, and gender, sexuality, etc.—currently a staple in women's studies courses.  In a more activist mode, Charlotte Bunch (2002) raises an urgent call for US women to oppose George W. Bush' call to war, bringing to notice the puzzlement of women elsewhere over US feminism's utter lack of influence on the country's foreign policy.

The fact is, there is no viable U.S. women's movement to speak of.  Marxist feminists have wondered about its disappearance beginning in the early 80s, but public expression of this has been resisted (Epstein 2001).  It is the dissolution of the progressive movement in general and the institutionalization of feminism in particular that have divested the latter of both urgency and substance.  If feminist theory has surrendered to postmodernism and culturalism, in the process becoming vacuous, jargon-laden and ineffectual, it is because there has been no collective practice upon which to bring theory to bear.  This, only a mass movement can supply.  Nor is there a place to test the validity of theories spun in the sequestered cranny of the university.  In such a context, it is to be expected that feminist theoretical production would be undertaken chiefly for professional career purposes, even as a pretext of "transformation" might still be implied as its goal.  It should be no surprise when feminists whose focus is on globalization can construct airy concepts like "transnationalism" and "transmigration" to refer to the flow of people from the South to the North, effectively flattening international relations of power and obfuscating the racialization  (i.e., exclusion from the mainstream) and class status of the migrants involved (Basch, et al 1994; Kaplan et al 1999).

In spite of this main trend, the start of the 90s witnessed the publication of works that began to interrogate the progressive claims of postmodern feminism, clearly doing so against the current.  Barbara Epstein (1995) saw postmodernism as a dead end for feminism, pointing to the ways in which its focus on difference and the pursuit of anti-essentialism served to inhibit its radical potential.  Sylvia Walby (1992 ) wrote that the fragmentation of identities had gone too far, and Carole Stabile (1995) decried the middle-class character of feminism and its confinement to educational institutions.  Joanne Naiman argued that "left feminism" had strayed off the mark of social change as a consequence of what Ellen Meiksins Wood called a "retreat from class," and urged a return to Marxism (1996).  But the most thorough study, review, and critique of the major theories that inform feminist theoretical production is that of Teresa Ebert (1996) whose unequivocal emphasis on class and the social relations of production lifts the cover off their complicity, in one way or another, with the existing order.  All of these writers are among the minority who have sought to demonstrate that underlying the shift to postmodernism and discursive analysis is the totally mistaken perception that Marxism is economist, determinist and, surely to the delight of those in power, outdated and irrelevant; that is, that postmodernism is anti-Marxism.  Overall, feminists who have bravely persisted in thinking within a Marxist conceptual frame reveal the conservative bias in analyses that valorize discourse over historical materialism, consumption over production, and culture over production relations.  Instead, they call for a recuperation of a class analysis.

Those who write along the lines of "transculture," which is to say culture perceived in  aesthetic terms, are so detached from the dirt and grime of the workaday world that they can perhaps be forgiven for their sometimes vapid, if elegant, commentaries.  But it is difficult to be generous with feminists doing research on migrant labor—domestic workers, mail-order brides, or prostitutes ("sex workers" in postmodern-speak)— when they shirk the responsibility of telling us what the deal is.  Feminists writing about the subject normally come face to face with distinctly class-marked Third World actors and compile a remarkable wealth of empirical data to draw conclusions from.  Moreover, because migrant labor lies at the very heart of globalization processes, feminist researchers are in an excellent position to query pressing inequities in North/South relations.  Yet they do not.  Tangible evidence of migrant workers' heightened role in the economic survival of their countries is provided by the remittances they provide.  The IMF put worldwide remittances at $2 billion in 1970; this figure climbed to $73 billion in the year 2000, according to the International Labor Organization (Diamond 2001).  I will turn shortly to a sample of studies of Filipino migrant workers, but let me first give a brief overview of the phenomenon.

While the enlistment of migrant labor has been integral to the history of capitalist development, with free trade, deregulation, and neoliberalism as globalization's guideposts, the diasporic flow of migrant women from peripheral formations to more affluent countries is today quite unprecedented.  Our comprehension of the situation of Filipino overseas contract workers (OCWs) would be hugely aided by Petras' unflinching use of "U.S. imperialism" instead of "globalization" or even of "global capitalism."

Taken over from Spain and colonized for 50 years by the United States, the Philippines today maintains relations with the U.S. that can only be accurately defined as neocolonial. In this regard military arrangements bear mention, for economic domination in tandem with military might are intended to banish dreams of resistance and revolution.  The U.S. bases, Clark and Subic, closed down in 1992 in the face of official nationalist calls for their dismantling, but a new agreement, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), was ratified in 1999 against massive public protests.  Allowing the U.S. military 22 entry points in the country, the VFA gives the latter more freedom than before.  Today US forces are stationed in the southern island of Mindanao purportedly in pursuit of a Muslim group that has been revealed to have only a tenuous connection to Al Qaeda.  A Mutual Logistics and Service Agreement is being devised to permit the US to bring equipment and supplies for easy deployment of troops without worry over sovereignty trespass. Addressing an international solidarity forum in Manila recently, Lawrence University professor Kathryn Poethig referred to such brazen maneuvers as impelled by "a racist nationalist imperialism" (2002).  As previously mentioned, Colin Powell recently declared the New People's Army a "terrorist" organization.  True to her standing as neocolonial puppet, President Gloria M. Arroyo obediently echoed the pronouncement.

An export-oriented production and the establishment of free-trade zones evolved with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos under the direction of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank (IMF/WB), instruments of empire that impose "structural adjustment programs."  This export-led model of development subsequently became linked with the exportation of human labor that, in the 1990s, began to assume a predominantly female character.  In the main, this export of women has taken the form of mail-order marriage contracts, "entertainment," and domestic work.  Compliance with IMF/WB dictates by Presidents Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, and now Arroyo have simply perpetuated, if not exacerbated, the distorted economic program inaugurated by Marcos.

Today the deployment of women overseas is a phenomenon in which the Philippines can claim "number one" status.  Indeed, OCWs have become a normal feature of the socioeconomic landscape.  Fully 10% of the population of  82 million is overseas; 70% of OCWs are women, large numbers serving as domestic workers for families in 162 countries.  These women have been lauded by Presidents Aquino and Ramos as "the country's new heroines," and by Ramos as "the Philippines' contribution to other countries' development."  Without the remittances these workers send home, $7 billion in 2000, the government would not have managed its debt-service payments to financial lending agencies.  It is a widely acknowledged fact in the Philippines that the survival of the economy has been made possible by the remittances of OCWs, which represent the largest source of foreign exchange.  Even ruling out such mishaps as the execution in Singapore of Flor Contemplacion in 1995; the death sentence on 16-year-old Sarah Balabagan later that year in the Middle East; and the arrival in Manila every day of an average of four dead OCWs, the mere practice of shipping out labor in such volume (800,000 in 2001) is mind-boggling.  In the midst of talk about an impending war on Iraq, the 1.5 million migrant workers in the Gulf States have been advised by the Philippine government to "stay put."

So how are feminist scholars handling this information? In Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Filipina Workers (1997), Nicole Constable draws attention to the predicament of 150,000 "guest workers" in the then newly reunified Chinese territory.  Her account is rich and dense with the minutiae of the maids' day-to-day struggles in the hands of Chinese employers who are often prone to meting out harsh, racialized treatment. Drawing on Michel Foucault's disciplinary regimes, Constable outlines the ways in which various institutions (employment agencies, state policy, employers) manage, regulate, and control the behavior of these women through the deployment of a variety of disciplinary forms, physical and psychological.  To the extent that she exposes the institutions profiting from the extraction of Filipina domestics' surplus labor, she does a commendable job.  However, this is not the task that she set out to undertake.  Proof of this is that she allots but a few pages to the history of labor migration in the Philippines, omitting any meaningful reference to the country's colonial history or to its neocolonial status.

Although Constable states that "Filipino migrant workers are the Philippines' largest source of foreign exchange," this is not quite the same as acknowledging that their remittances have fuelled consumerism and kept the economy above water, common knowledge in the country.  Nor does the author evince deep interest in probing the reasons for such a situation.  Further, even though she describes the operations and instruments of repressive institutions, she ultimately downplays their role.  Finally (and from here springs the energy that unmistakably drives her work), she trains the spotlight on the quotidian—the everyday practices of "resistance" that she perceives domestic helpers to engage in.  Clarifying her point of view, Constable declares: "To regard these women simply as oppressed by those "with power" is to ignore the subtler and more complex forms of power, discipline, and resistance in their everyday lives" (202).

With this in mind, Constable devotes the entire book to unravelling the precise mechanisms employed by domestic helpers in myriad acts of defiance and rebellion.  The result is a book that explains how those normally believed to be without power are shown to be actually in possession of it.  Demonstrations of this "power" range from the use of subtle insider jokes, intelligible only to Filipino cohorts, to cajolery and chicanery, and to confrontation and quitting work.  Constable interprets as acts of protest ("in a Gandhian sense") the Sunday gatherings of domestic workers in public spaces, acknowledging that the women themselves may view it as no more than their simple right to be there.  On Sundays at fast-food restaurants, Filipinas relish the reversed role of being served instead of serving, even as McDonald's and other establishments "do a roaring business" off them.  Constable cites one woman who protested poor service at McDonalds’s by writing a letter to the newspaper, another by requesting extra catsup and napkins.  Admittedly, unlike factory workers who loudly raise voices to protest, domestic workers "whisper admonitions to compatriots. . .imploring them to work harder, to complain less, and to behave better.  Their everyday forms of resistance are geared toward surviving their situation with their sense of humanity intact" (206).

The author admits the discursive character of most of these acts of resistance, herself doubting their efficacy in making changes either in the conditions of work or in mitigating power relations.  But she is determined to disprove the idea that women are passive victims, a notion ostensibly stemming from systemic explanations of gender subordination, although this is not made explicit.  She accepts the possibility that deferential behavior may, indeed, signify nothing more than accommodation; that, despite all this resistance, relations between predominantly Chinese employers and Filipina domestics have remained the same, and that domestic work persists as a degrading and dehumanizing occupation.  Nevertheless, in the final chapter, entitled "Pleasure and Power," she concludes:

we can begin to see how Filipina domestic workers derive pleasure, or at least some satisfaction, from attempts to organize their work better and maximize their productivity, to get along better with employers, and to "professionalize" their image, even at the cost of becoming ever more obedient and hardworking.  Their work, after all, is what allows them to remain in Hong Kong, a wealthy and cosmopolitan place that excites their imaginations while extracting their labor (210).

In this passage, Constable indubitably wants the reader to view Filipina domestics as endowed with human agency—individual agency, more precisely.  Because she has allowed existing social relations to define the parameters of her conceptual framework, she seems unperturbed by the irony of seeing these women as deriving pleasure from maximizing their productivity and performing in a more organized and "professional" manner the very activity that solidifies their exploitation.  Blind to an international division of labor that is inherently unequal, she can speak of a seemingly neutral, depersonalized entity (a "wealthy and cosmopolitan" Hong Kong) "that excites their imaginations while extracting their labor" in the same breath— as though the two notions were equally benign.  Given this stance, it is no surprise that one approving reviewer of Constable's book prescribed it as useful reading for Chinese employers of Filipina domestic helpers (Smart 1998).

Compared to Constable, Rhacel Parrenas' articulation of the situation of Filipina domestic workers as indicated by the title of her book, Servants of Globalization, is quite straightforward: "Migrant Filipina domestic workers are the global servants of late capitalism" (2001, 243).  From this one would expect a lucid explanation of how they came to acquire this rank in the world community.  Instead, we are handed something of a tautology: "The relegation of developing countries as a source of secondary-tier transnational workers perpetuates the status of these states as developing countries and maintains the inequalities that cause the outmigration and social decline of their educated workers" (250).  The book, a comparison of domestic workers in Los Angeles and in Rome, though liberally peppered with the vocabulary of the left, fails to name the force or forces that cause this relegation.  All the ingredients accounting for diaspora are present, including colonialism (but tellingly, not imperialism), export-led development, transnational corporatism, globalization of the market economy, IMF/WB, global restructuring and so on, but these are put forth in scattershot fashion and do not cohere to render a clear picture.  Far from it.  For instance, on the same page that describes the relegation of the Philippines as a source of "secondary-tier transnational workers" (read: cheap migrant labor), it is also named as a "winner" (the domestic helpers and their families being the losers), along with the host countries, Italy and the United States.  Such is the magic of "transnationalism," where racism and immense power differentials are easily wiped out.

It is true that the macrostructural is not, as Parrenas states at the outset, the defining conceptual frame for her study.  She specifies her perspective as an analysis of migration "from the level of the subject" that will give the reader a "sense of various fragmentations imposed by structural processes" (252), thereby avoiding essentialism, the bugaboo of postmodernists.  In her view this differs also from an institutional approach,  that of households and social networks, in which the agency of the subject still needs to be established.  We can here immediately detect her theoretical kinship with Constable.  From here on we can likewise predict with reasonable accuracy that Parrenas' project will be to show how fragmented, multiply constituted subjects engage in "everyday acts of resistance," now a standard motif in feminist studies. 

Comparing and contrasting the experiences of these two groups of migrants, Parrenas arrives at four themes which she labels their "key dislocations": 1) partial citizenship, 2) pain of family separation, 3) contradictory class mobility, and 4) non-belonging in the migrant community.  These dislocations comprise the sites for the "immediate struggles" in which migrant workers deploy their agency.  This is how she sums up their resistance:

 ...the actions of domestic workers involve the maintenance of inequalities, particularly the system of global restructuring in which their constitution as subjects is situated.  For example, the construction of the Philippines as "home" supports their stunted incorporation into the host society and consequently their construction as "guests" in receiving nations.  With the turn that they take against the pain of family separation, commodification rules the transnational family, as relationships are reduced to material goods.  Capitalism is thus heightened by the actions of migrant Filipina domestic workers in regard to the dislocation imposed by the formation of the transnational household. Capitalism is further reconstituted in the relationships of domestic workers in the community with the emergence of the hyperreality of making money in Rome and the reduction of the basis of membership in the migrant community of Los Angeles to class.  Finally, the mechanisms of control in domestic work as they are neither eliminated nor reconstituted but instead only manipulated, are consequently maintained (253).

Let us parse this paragraph, filling in some of the blanks with information from elsewhere in the text.  In response to "partial citizenship" (a semantic blunder, because neither Italy nor the US grant migrants citizenship), the women "resist" by continuing to envision the Philippines as home.  By doing so they hinder their own assimilation into the host society.  To ease the pain of family separation, particularly from their small children, they resort to sending material goods as a substitute for their maternal presence.  By doing so they commodify transnational family relations.  In response to the injuries of downward mobility, they utilize a few strategies: they imagine themselves returning home and hiring their own domestics; use mystifications such as "like one of the family" and maternalism to manipulate their employers; and in relation to Latina and Black workers, perceive themselves to be the superior "educated domestics."  In response to their sense of non-belonging, in Rome (where Filipino presence is fairly recent, official Filipino migration having begun only in the 70s) they attempt to hasten their departure through "capital accumulation" (translation: the practice of renting out beds and lending money to compatriots).  In Los Angeles where Filipinos are an established immigrant community, sharp class divisions trigger "anomie" (read: distress over class injuries) in migrant domestic workers who are objects of condescension by the professional class.  In response they turn to each other for solidarity, thus cementing their outsider status.

In short, although wishing to valorize domestic workers as empowered agents, Parrenas herself concludes that their acts of resistance serve only to perpetuate their subordination.  Not only that.  They even heighten capitalist relations, according to her, when they engage in "microcapitalist" ventures where their "primary goal" is one of "capital accumulation." Forget for a moment the new definitions of capitalist relations and capital accumulation.  But note how her conclusions that derive directly from her conceptual lens conjure the unfortunate image of "lifting a rock only to drop it on one's feet" and, furthermore, resonate with the conservative tactic of blaming the victim, neither of which, one must grant, she can possibly intend.

Both Constable and Parrenas make a mockery of the plight of Filipina domestic workers by fetishising their pragmatic "make-do" skills.  Their interest in the quotidian comes out as petty and patronizing under scrutiny.  Purposely shunning an explanatory framework that could raise necessary questions about an international division of labor stemming directly from U.S. control of the Philippine polity via the IMF/WB, they turn to a decontextualized micropolitics, ultimately defeating their stated aim.  Unlike Constable, Parrenas has amassed data on the global political economy that she supplies generously throughout and reports matter-of-factly.  Here's an example: "...they [export-based nations] also export bodies of their citizens to induce foreign currency into their economies," then proceeds to cite figures disclosing how "the number of bodies annually exported has increased steadily..." (51) But unanchored to a critique of imperialism, this becomes no more than a neutered statement of fact that, moreover, stands removed from and has no bearing on her study of migrant women.  These women are, without a doubt, racialized, class-defined subjects.  Yet race and class are conspicuously absent from the analysis, "resistance" having been substituted for class struggle.  In this connection, are we seriously urged to interpret as an "act of resistance" the supposed "goal of capital accumulation" that the researcher has put upon her hapless objects of study?

The retreat from anything symptomatic of a class-informed analysis that underlies relations between dependent nations and powerful states like the United States is a crucial lack that makes studies like Parrenas' and Constable's lose their radical potential.  In fact, poverty itself is discounted as a causal factor in migration.  Constable dismisses the importance of class by declaring that many of the Filipina domestics in Hong Kong do not hail from the poorest or least educated sector in Philippine society.  Interestingly enough, Arlie Hochschild strikes the same chord in an article in which she proposes viewing the flow of migration from the South to the North as a "global care chain" or, better yet, the "globalization of love" (2000). Beginning from the peasant woman in the Philippines paid a miserly sum to look after the children of the domestic helper now in Beverly Hills caring for offspring not her own, the chain ends with the affluent white woman whose on-the-job duties as a female include that of creating a caring corporate climate.   Using some of Parrenas' data (the prerogative of a senior professor), Hochschild maintains that some of the women who were interviewed spoke not of escaping poverty but domestic violence.  And even if poverty generated by underdevelopment is the problem, she continues, immigration scholars have demonstrated that attempts at transforming these societies would merely have the effect of raising expectations, initially increasing rather than decreasing migration.  So much for feminism's social change agenda.

There is hope, however.  Two empirical studies of an entirely different character stand out as significant contributions to progressive thinking and practice.  The first is by Grace Chang (Disposable Domestics 2000), who utilizes an anti-imperialist gendered perspective to demonstrate how U.S. immigration and welfare policies connive to facilitate the exploitation of the labor of Latina and Filipina domestics in California, while curtailing much-needed support for biological and social reproduction.  The cheap labor of migrant women is welcomed by middle- and upper-class women who are freed from household and caregiving duties to pursue careers.  Although she documents the vulnerability of these women who cook, clean, and provide care, nothing in the book suggests their passive victimization; instead, they are shown participating in grassroots organizations working toward collective solutions to their problems.  The second book is Bridget Anderson's  Doing the Dirty Work?, to which I  will now turn.

Anderson deploys historical materialism to frame her empirical research into the living and working conditions of migrant women in five European cities (Athens, Barcelona, Bologna, Berlin, and Paris) and has produced an analysis that is at once exhaustive, complex, and pointed.  Zeroing in on the conditions under which migrant workers toil in private households, she summons for comparison the practice of slavery, which the United Nations defines thus: "any institution or practice which, by restricting the freedom of the individual, is susceptible of causing severe hardship and serious deprivation of liberty" (quoted in her earlier work, Britain's Secret Slaves 1993: 11).  She maintains that the existence of a contract by no means negates slavery, a contention amply supported by her subjects' narration of their often horrid experiences, and given immigration policy requiring that a domestic's visa be linked to a specified employer.  Overall her book may be read as evidence that "...conquest in global economic terms makes contemporary legal slaves of the poor of the Third World, giving the middle class of the First World materialistic forms of power over them" (149).  She refers to Aristotle's distinction between "legal" and "natural" slaves, arguing that it is their race and gender that naturalize these migrant workers' subjugation—their presumed closeness to nature suiting them for the occupation—while citizenship (lack thereof) and nationality furnish the legal justification.  Once the export of Third World domestic labor—Filipino, Dominican, Ethiopian, and Peruvian, among others in her sample—is understood in this way, the ground is laid for her inquiry into the migrant worker/employer relationship.

Anderson asks the critical question, exactly what is being bought by the employer/mistress when she hires a racialized migrant domestic? Her answer is that it is not labor power, but the very self, the personhood of the worker, that is transformed into a commodity.  What the employer pays for is the "power to command" not merely labor power, but the whole person.  Employers often specify what kind of person they want to hire, as in: one who is affectionate, good with children or old people, who doesn't have strong body odor, etc. Anderson charges that it is this authority over the person of the racialized, inferior Other that enables a mistress to order her domestic to clean the floor three times a day with a toothbrush, to call her "dog" or "donkey," or to require her to stand in the same position all day.  The domestic is herself the means of production, what she produces being "...the physical, cultural and ideological reproduction of human beings" (113).  Her role is that of status-giver, "to give honor through dishonor" (164) in a script in which the mistress must carefully construct as part of her daily routine a relationship of pronounced asymmetry.  The two positions, then, are in basic conflict: the employer, wishing to extract the most labor for the least sum, is interested in devaluing housework, while the domestic, in order to survive, must work against her own interests.  Liberated from the drudgery of housework, the mistress becomes like a man who can engage in production unhampered by the physical labor of social reproduction, while continuing to enjoy the emotional aspects of mothering.  For the migrant, it is as family provider that she is engaged in domestic work, but her experience of it as a person who is at the same time a non-person (because she is commodified) cannot but be exploitative.  To fulfill her maternal role, she is reduced to showing care through impersonal remittances, the fruits of her hard labor (118).  (Recall Parrenas' notion of "commodified transnational families.") This objective relationship obtains, the personal characteristics of the individuals who happen to occupy the positions notwithstanding.

Anderson's placement of social reproduction at the center of her analysis allows her to examine the ways in which class, gender, race, and nation are tightly interwoven into the mistress/domestic relationship.  It is European women's responsibilities in the private sphere of reproduction that hinder their full participation as citizens in the way that men can and do.  But Anderson notes that it is also this very role that permits their formal incorporation into society.  Both in Britain and France the argument was that the unremunerated work of married women enabled their husbands to do paid work (187).  Although qualitatively different, women's work is vital to the social order, perhaps the most important component of reproductive labor being the biological reproduction of the race.  Anderson connects the latter with the historical development of nation-states where membership in the community was determined by race, a circumscription that is constantly being negotiated.  It is in this racialized setting that European women's positioning as citizens acquires significance, and it is here, too, that domestic workers play their major role: "The fact that they are migrants is important: in order to participate like men women must have workers who will provide the same flexibility as wives, in particular working long hours and combining caring and domestic chores" (190, italics in the original).  Anderson observes further that the duty of "a woman with good European genes" is to ensure their biological reproduction in the next generation (190).  But bearing children is not enough.  The European woman is additionally entrusted with the inculcation of morals and values in her offspring, an obligation she can now fulfill minus the burden of their physical care.  Care as labor is the domestic's assignment, the experience of care as emotion, the employer's privilege.  Suddenly Hochschild's "global care chain," now a phrase incorporated into feminist parlance, appears trivial, off-course, and diversionary.

As a long-standing member of Kalayaan (Tagalog for "freedom"), a UK-based organization of migrant workers, Anderson has worked in the areas of immigration and citizenship where she believes some change is possible.  Her advice to organizers of live-in migrant domestics clearly shows her commitment to struggle even as she recognizes the limits inherent in the conditions of their labor: "I would...put forward for the consideration of workers and activists that live-in domestic work, for all the benefits it apparently offers the worker, binds her into a relation of status and dependence mediated by racism" (196).  Curiously, her book has been cited but not reviewed.  Like her, Grace Chang is an immigrants' and workers' rights advocate. Chang credits the Third World women she met at the Beijing conference in 1995 for the global political economy turn in her thinking.  The publication of these books heralds a return to Marxism at a moment when historical events demand nothing less.  Both studies portend a hopeful new direction for a feminism finely in tune with the anti-war, anti-globalization clamor in the streets that we are hearing today.  When ruling-class men like Ted Kennedy can speak openly of "twenty-first century American imperialism" (Featherstone 2002: 5), we ought to be well warned that it's long past time to debunk culturalism and all foolish notions of a benevolent "Empire."


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 THE RED CRITIQUE 6 (September/October 2002)