Migrant women are the primary source of paid domestic labor around the world. Since the 1980s, the newly prosperous countries of East Asia have recruited foreign household workers at a rapidly increasing rate. Many come from the Philippines and Indonesia. Pei-Chia Lan interviewed and spent time with dozens of Filipina and Indonesian domestics working in and around Taipei as well as many of their Taiwanese employers. On the basis of the vivid ethnographic detail she collected, Lan provides a nuanced look at how boundaries between worker and employer are maintained and negotiated in private households. She also sheds light on the fate of the workers, “global Cinderellas” who seek an escape from poverty at home only to find themselves treated as disposable labor abroad.
Lan demonstrates how economic disparities, immigration policies, race, ethnicity, and gender intersect in the relationship between the migrant workers and their Taiwanese employers. The employers are eager to flex their recently acquired financial muscle; many are first-generation career women as well as first-generation employers. The domestics are recruited from abroad as contract and “guest” workers; restrictive immigration policies prohibit them from seeking permanent residence or transferring from one employer to another. They care for Taiwanese families’ children, often having left their own behind. Throughout Global Cinderellas, Lan pays particular attention to how the women she studied identify themselves in relation to “others”—whether they be of different classes, nationalities, ethnicities, or education levels. In so doing, she offers a framework for thinking about how migrant workers and their employers understand themselves in the midst of dynamic transnational labor flows.
Imitation of Life
Fannie Hurst Duke University Press, 2004 Library of Congress PS3515.U785I46 2004 | Dewey Decimal 813.52
A bestseller in 1933, and subsequently adapted into two beloved and controversial films, Imitation of Life has played a vital role in ongoing conversations about race, femininity, and the American Dream. Bea Pullman, a white single mother, and her African American maid, Delilah Johnston, also a single mother, rear their daughters together and become business partners. Combining Bea’s business savvy with Delilah’s irresistible southern recipes, they build an Aunt Jemima-like waffle business and an international restaurant empire. Yet their public success brings them little happiness. Bea is torn between her responsibilities as a businesswoman and those of a mother; Delilah is devastated when her light-skinned daughter, Peola, moves away to pass as white. Imitation of Life struck a chord in the 1930s, and it continues to resonate powerfully today.
The author of numerous bestselling novels, a masterful short story writer, and an outspoken social activist, Fannie Hurst was a major celebrity in the first half of the twentieth century. Daniel Itzkovitz’s introduction situates Imitation of Life in its literary, biographical, and cultural contexts, addressing such topics as the debates over the novel and films, the role of Hurst’s one-time secretary and great friend Zora Neale Hurston in the novel’s development, and the response to the novel by Hurst’s friend Langston Hughes, whose one-act satire, “Limitations of Life” (which reverses the races of Bea and Delilah), played to a raucous Harlem crowd in the late 1930s. This edition brings a classic of popular American literature back into print.
Three Generations of Japanese American Women in Domestic Service
Evelyn Nakano Glenn
"A richly detailed and sophisticated examination of...how historical and economic forces restricted women's lives and how women devised strategies for dealing with their plight."
--Canadian Woman Studies
In this unique study of Japanese American women employed as domestic workers, Evelyn Nakano Glenn reveals through historical research and in-depth interviews how the careers of these strong but oppressed women affected the history of Asian immigration in the San Francisco-Bay Area. Three generations of women speak in their own words about coping with degraded employment and how this work related to family and community life.
The disproportionate concentration of Japanese American women in domestic service from the early part of this century to the present resulted from their status as immigrants and women of color in a race and gender stratified local labor market. The three generations covered by this study--pre-1924 immigrants (issei), first American born generation (nisei), and post-World War II immigrants (war brides)--were subjected to multiple forms of oppression but were not appendages of men nor passive victims. Dr. Glenn shows how their struggles to achieve autonomy, dignity, and a suitable livelihood were essential to the survival of the family and the community.
Although unique in many ways, the situation of the Japanese American woman has important parallels with that of other women of color in the United States. Ironically her role as a domestic cast her in a menial, degraded job but often elevated her to the position of valued confidant to her employer. Issei, Nisei, War Bride is the first study to offer a sociological/historical perspective on these women. It addresses issues about the nature of labor systems in capitalist economies, the role of immigrant and racial ethnic women in those systems, and the consequences of participation in race and gender stratified systems for minority families and communities.
"A beautifully written, well-organized, and sociologically rich study of three generations of Japanese-American women who worked as domestics. Glenn's study fits well into a women's studies collection, particularly with those materials focusing on immigrants or the working class."
"... A much welcome contribution to the literature on women and work and on Japanese American women, in particular. Glenn has artfully combined a rich case study approach with detailed sociodemographics in an historical framework.... Glenn writes well and skillfully incorporates detailed historical and demographic facts with a descriptive style. The presentation of labor statistics is excellent.... This book is an important contribution, not only to Asian American Studies but to women's studies and the literature on labor and immigrant groups."
"A revealing view into the role of Japanese women immigrants in the United States not only as domestic workers but also in their family lives. This study is enlivened by the life stories and quotations from the women themselves..."
--Edwin O. Reischauer
"This work is a valuable contribution to the literature on immigration and an important addition to the literature on occupations. It contains a fascinating and highly readable account of the array of perspectives on work and family that Glenn was uniquely positioned to collect from Japanese women and provides an extremely useful study for those who teach women and work, gender roles, and sociology of occupations courses."
--Arlene Kaplan Daniels
About the Author(s)
Evelyn Nakano Glenn is Associate Professor of Sociology at State University of New York at Binghamton.
On March 9, 1996, tens of thousands of readers of a daily newspaper in China’s Anhui province saw a photograph of two young women at a local long-distance bus station. Dressed in fashionable new winter coats and carrying luggage printed with Latin letters, the women were returning home from their jobs in one of China’s large cities. As the photo caption indicated, the image represented the “transformation of migrant women”; the women’s “transformation” was signaled by their status as consumers. New Masters, New Servants is an ethnography of class dynamics and the subject formation of migrant domestic workers. Based on her interviews with young women who migrated from China’s Anhui province to the city of Beijing to engage in domestic service for middle-class families, as well as interviews with employers, job placement agencies, and government officials, Yan Hairong explores what these migrant workers mean to the families that hire them, to urban economies, to rural provinces such as Anhui, and to the Chinese state. Above all, Yan focuses on the domestic workers’ self-conceptions, desires, and struggles.
Yan analyzes how the migrant women workers are subjected to, make sense of, and reflect on a range of state and neoliberal discourses about development, modernity, consumption, self-worth, quality, and individual and collective longing and struggle. She offers keen insight into the workers’ desire and efforts to achieve suzhi (quality) through self-improvement, the way workers are treated by their employers, and representations of migrant domestic workers on television and the Internet and in newspapers and magazines. In so doing, Yan demonstrates that contestations over the meanings of migrant workers raise broad questions about the nature of wage labor, market economy, sociality, and postsocialism in contemporary China.
What Diantha Did
Charlotte Perkins Gilman Duke University Press, 2005 Library of Congress PS1744.G57W47 2005 | Dewey Decimal 813.4
This edition of What Diantha Did makes newly available Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s first novel, complete with an in-depth introduction. First published serially in Gilman’s magazine TheForerunner in 1909–10, the novel tells the story of Diantha Bell, a young woman who leaves her home and her fiancé to start a housecleaning business. A resourceful heroine, Diantha quickly expands her business into an enterprise that includes a maid service, cooked food delivery service, restaurant, and hotel. By assigning a cash value to women’s “invisible” work, providing a means for the well-being and moral uplift of working girls, and releasing middle-class and leisure-class women from the burden of conventional domestic chores, Diantha proves to her family and community the benefits of professionalized housekeeping.
In her introduction to the novel, Charlotte J. Rich highlights Gilman’s engagement with such hotly debated Progressive Era issues as the “servant question,” the rise of domestic science, and middle-class efforts to protect and aid the working girl. She illuminates the novel’s connections to Gilman’s other feminist works, including “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Herland; to her personal life; and to her commitment to women’s social and economic freedom. Rich contends that the novel’s engagement with class and race makes it particularly significant to the newly complex understanding of Gilman that has emerged in recent scholarship. What Diantha Did provides essential insight into Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s important legacy of social thought.