Moral Dilemmas of Transnational Migration: Vietnamese Women in Taiwan

By Lan Anh Hoang

The unprecedented rise in female migration in the past decades has engendered profound social change within both host and origin societies across the world. At present, women account for 48% of the world’s migrant population and the majority of them are found in the South – North migration pathway (IOM 2013: 65). In Asia, where 75% of international migrants are from the same region, contract labour migration has made it easier than ever for women to migrate transnationally for work. Female migration, especially when it involves mothers leaving their children behind, tends to be fraught with disruptions and dilemmas. Migration and physical separation from one’s family challenge the universal ideology of womanhood and femininity with caregiving and nurturing duties at its core.

Drawing on an ethnographic study of Vietnamese migrant mothers in Taiwan, this article provides important insights into the women’s renegotiations of notions of motherhood and femininity in the context of transnational labour migration. Because care has been essentialized as a feminine vocation that makes a woman womanly, the migrant’s inability to perform care duties in the conventional manner inevitably subjects her to the social stigma of  “bad motherhood” and  “failed femininity.” West and Zimmerman have pointed out that gender is not ascribed but achieved through  “social doings” which involve not only perceptual but also  “interactional and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine “natures”. Migrant mothers defy the prevailing notion of an ideal woman not only by engaging in masculine pursuits of mobility and breadwinning but also by vacating what is considered central to the woman’s nature – caregiving. She is thus called to account for failing to do gender appropriately.

The study engages with and advances West and Zimmerman’s idea of accountability in gender doings. In particular, it underscores their view that social doings of gender are often designed in such a way that they would be characterized as in accord with culturally approved standards. Yet, it highlights at the same time the reflexivity and instrumentalism in such actions. In other words, seemingly compliant behaviors are not necessarily a passive enactment of social norms but may be a strategic means to other ends. What is often taken for granted as an oppressive gender regime could be exploited by those perceived as its perennial victims to further their interests.

With its analytical focus on hy sinh (self-sacrifice) and chịu đựng (endurance) – core values of Vietnamese womanhood – the article also reveals important changes in Vietnamese women’s subjective interpretation and practice of Vietnamese femininity ideals. It brings attention to migrant women’s embrace of the values of endurance and self-sacrifice does not, as it might appear, embody an inert internalization of patriarchal but is rather a conscious strategy.Because gender is a performance with clearly punitive consequences (Butler, 2008), adopting compelled performances of dominant gender discourses is critical in a context where the woman’s social security is volatile and uncertain. Combating the stigma of bad motherhood and failed femininity is not just about reasserting one’s sense of gendered self but also about reassuring her access to the future support and care of the family. The study emphasizes intentionality and pragmatism in women’s social doings of gender and highlights moral dilemmas in gender politics.

Lan Anh Hoang is Senior Lecturer in Development Studies in the School of Social and Political Sciences, the University of Melbourne.Her main research interests include migration and transnationalism, sexualities and gender, children and childhood, marriage and family, social networks and social capital, and identities and belonging. Her current project looks at irregular Vietnamese migrants in Moscow, Russia. Her article can be found in the December 2016; 30 (6) issue of Gender & Society here

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Queering the Atmosphere

By George Sanders

On June 12, 2016, an armed man ended the lives of 49 people inside a gay nightclub in Orlando.

The following day, the hardcore punk band G.L.O.S.S. (an acronym for Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit) self-released their second album, titled “Trans Day of Revenge.” The first track, “Give Violence a Chance” is a full-throttle rampager that clocks in under the two-minute mark. The lead vocalist, Sadie, a self-identified trans-woman, opens the song with an ear-shredding scream of “When peace is just another word for death/ It’s our turn to give violence a chance.”

Listening to G.L.O.S.S. on June 13th was less a salve than a re-figuring of the heartache from the previous day. The music provided a space for grief yield to cathartic fury.

Music effuses affect and by “affect” I mean to refer to the tenor and color underlying emotional experience. Affect is the pre-discursive feeling tone that, as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick writes, contributes to a kind of “texture [that] is not coextensive with any single sense but rather tends to be liminally registered” (2003: 15). Affects lurk viscerally and enfold themselves into our dispositions and tendencies. They are aided, intensified, or attenuated by our environments, its aural qualities, and the bodies around us among other things. Our emotional affects are generally apprehended and experienced “at the edge of the unsayable” (Anderson, 2009: 78). Continue reading

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Bridgework: globalization, gender, and service labor at a luxury hotel

By Eileen M. Otis

Sociological studies of work have long ventured overseas to understand the conditions of employment and global networks that produce goods consumed in the global north. Scarce are studies that take a look at globalization and work at the other end of the supply chain: consumer services. This is important because in recent years retailers and hoteliers have traveled from the global north to the global south nearly as fast as manufactured goods have journeyed the opposite direction. This is also critical because the sociology of service work has rarely ventured beyond contexts in which customers and workers largely share in a single culture (with all its etiquettes, manners, symbols and rules), even as class, race and gender differences may be present. As a result, sociologists tend to focus on how workers use familiar habits of behavior in workplaces that require interaction with customers. For example the word “emotion work” is used to describe the psychological effort expended when workers are asked to treat strangers with the warmth they might reserve for family members or friends. Another term “aesthetic labor” describes the ways in which workers’ manner of dress, style, grooming and speech must conform to the meet the expectations of posh or hip clientele. Employers hire workers of the appropriate class backgrounds to perform such labor. Overlooked by these two terms is the effort workers make to learn new ways of expressing emotions, novel styles of presenting themselves and unfamiliar modes of interacting when their customers originate from different nations and cultures.

To remedy these limitations, my research follows the path of one of the largest hoteliers in the world, a U.S. chain, to Beijing China. I conducted an ethnography of an outlet of this hotel chain, interviewing workers and managers, part of a project that lasted over a year. In this hotel, managers hire and train young women who are native to Beijing to enact what I term “bridgework”: the acquisition of body and feeling rules dominant among customers whose national and cultural origins diverge from workers. Customers at the hotel were mostly white, male, upper class and traveled from the U.S. and other points in the global north to engage in various business ventures while lodging at the Beijing Transluxury (a pseudonym). The women hotel workers who serve them must speak English, adopt English names, and comport themselves in a manner reflective of an American middle class femininity. Managers spent countless hours training these young women workers to adopt the emotional expressions, modes of interaction and manner of comportment expected by their customers. Managers showed them how and when to smile –and when not to smile. They were taught how to greet customers using the appropriate titles and making eye contact. They were even taught how to walk.  They were not allowed to lift tables or heavy trays; they wore uniforms that limited their range of motion, preventing even occasional heavy labor. Managers sought to create a staff of young women workers who would appeal to the heterosexual and class sensibilities of their clientele. But there was a constant tug-of-war between workers’ long held sense of appropriate behavior and these new practices. A few workers resisted some of the practices; a more common response was reinterpreting the new standards of behavior to conform to workers’ long held sense of etiquette and ethics. Continue reading

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Intersectionality in Real Life

By Elroi J. Windsor

What is intersectionality, and what does it look like in real life?

Sociologist Zakiya Luna explored these questions as they relate to the national coalition, SisterSong. For this collective of reproductive justice advocates, intersectional praxis was more than putting diverse groups of people in rooms together for meetings and events. Luna’s research described activists working in coalitions where “constructing identities and alliances is an iterative, never-ending process.”The participants in this women of color collective had similar experiences based on belonging to marginalized race and gender groups. Yet they also experienced challenges in their work due to intragroup differences based on ethnicity, ability, and citizenship. For SisterSong, the practice of intersectionality in real life is “ongoing” and “multidimensional.” It’s not always easy, and even woke folks have learning to do.

In the last few weeks, I’ve asked students in my Introduction to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies class questions about intersectional feminist praxis. We’ve been reading Black Girl Dangerous,by black queer writer Mia McKenzie, and thinking about how intersectional politics play out in everyday life. My students and I currently live in North Carolina, a state that has made national news this past year. Our time and place is ripe for some intersectional analysis and praxis.

In February, the city of Charlotte passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that expanded protections to LGBT people. A month later, the state government overturned it, and passed the controversial House Bill 2. Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts called HB2 “the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country.”But the so-called “bathroom law” went beyond LGBT issues by prohibiting workers from filing race-, gender-, and religion-based discrimination claims in state courts. HB2 affected multiple groups. Consequently, its passage resulted in countless community protests and public statements of opposition. HB2 was never just a bathroom issue for trans folks; it was connected to systematic oppression, and so was met with resistance from many groups of people. From celebrity entertainers to sports associations, the boycotts of the state of North Carolina keep coming. Last month, Business Insider reported that HB2 has cost the state nearly $400 million in economic losses.

windsor_1.pngNorth Carolina has been in the news again more recently, with protests erupting in Charlotte over the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a black man with a disability. The reality of police violence against black and brown people is well documented, and its effects are far-reaching. One research study focused on the emotional labor of black middle- and upper-middle-class mothers. For these women, mothering involved teaching sons how to stay safe when dealing with the police. In her descriptive study, Dawn Marie Dow describes how mothers carefully worked to ensure their sons were not perceived as criminals. These moms contended with the controlling image of the “thug,” teaching their sons strategies to survive gendered racism in everyday life. In Dow’s analysis of intersectional practice, the benefits of class did not mediate against structural racism. These economically advantaged black boys “were not immune to a social system that required them to police their behaviors, emotions, and appearance to signal to others that they were respectable and safe middle-class African American males.”


Back in class, I asked my students what intersectionality looks like in the activism that has been happening in our state this year. A few people noted that the protesters represent people of diverse genders, races, sexual identities, and religions. But beyond embodying differences in the spaces, students struggled to identify how activist strategies framed issues through an intersectional lens.

One student mentioned seeing a photo of a protest where someone wore a shirt that read: “Latinos for Black Lives.” So it seems like someone is connecting the dots across racial lines.

But overall, some people still struggle to see intersectionality in practice, in real life. We need more research like the studies above. And we need better examples of making these connections apparent in our everyday lives and communities.

As Audre Lorde preached in her 1982 address at Harvard University, ‘Learning from the 60s’:

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

Elroi J. Windsor is an Assistant Professor who lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and teaches about intersectionality in every course. As a sociologist, Windsor studies the body and embodiment, gender, sexualities, and critical medical sociology.  Elroi is also an editorial board member for Gender & Society.

Photo #1:

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G&S Blog Post – Weight Stigma, Gender & Medicine: A Tale of Two Times

By Natalie Ingraham

Recently, New York Times science journalist Gina Kolata wrote two stories about stigma related to fatness, often called weight stigma. These articles address that way fat people, and fat women in particular, are treated poorly by society because of body size. In her September 25th article, Kolata considers weight stigma specific to medical settings and the emotional and physical consequences of this stigma for fat patients. However, it’s important to note that she doesn’t  describe cases of medical neglect or mistreatment as a weight stigma. However, less than a week later on October 1st, she devotes and entire pieces to the “shame” of weight stigma and its negative outcomes for individuals who experience it. Here, she focuses heavily on the work of the Rudd Center, which works extensively on weight stigma and its impacts.

Weight Stigma & Medicine


Photo by Parker Knight (CC) 

Kolata reviews important evidence by social scientists and public health professionals (Drury and Louis 2002; Puhl, Peterson, and Luedicke 2012; Teachman and Brownell 2001; Teixeira and Budd 2010) about the various types of discrimination fat patient’s face. Such discrimination includes hostile language about a lack of willpower to lose weight, shaming from medical staff about weight gain, or increased costs for medical services based on BMI. The stigma becomes medical neglect when misdiagnosis of a problem or medical equipment is unsafe or inaccurate for larger patients (e.g. a small blood pressure cuff causing both pain to the patient and an inaccurate higher blood pressure). The stories from patients in this article reflect both empirical work and personal narratives about weight-based medical mistreatment. Continue reading

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The importance of feminist research

By Jo Reger

Thursday morning, I had just come back from my Methods of Feminist Analysis class where I ended class by asking students if they wanted to talk about the election. It had been a pretty somber meeting and we had just finished talking about community action and participatory research. Their question was “What can we do?” It was more than the class context that led me to answer, “We need to keep researching.”

As the editor of Gender & Society, I am so proud of the work that we publish six times a year but I am even more proud of all the work that crosses my desk, much of which we cannot fit into the journal. I see research daily on the major issues of this world – poverty, discrimination, persecution, lack of education, the deficit of basic needs for survival, and more. I also see research on how we fare in social institutions from the systemic issues that plague our country to the micro analyses for how we interact and come to understand one another.

What I see in all of this amazing work is love – yes, love. Love as a verb that draws us to understand the world and make it a better place. Love that brings us together to ask the questions that need to be asked. I see love in the research questions, the data collection and the analysis. I see love in the thoughtful and detailed peer reviews. I see love in the willingness to take on this work to make a better world.

Now more than ever the work we are drawn to do is essential for the world we want to live in. I am humbled that I get to play a role in helping bring that to world.

For my daughter and your children, for my family and your family, for my colleagues and your colleagues, for my community and your communities, let us continue to work and love.

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Get out & vote, please. We did. Did you? vote

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Playing (Fantasy) Sport with the Guys

By Sarah Winslow and Rebecca Joyce Kissane

In the next week, we will have crowned a new World Series Champion, thus ending the MLB season, NFL football is now in full gear, and both NHL hockey and NBA basketball are a few weeks into their seasons. If you’re one of the nearly 57 million people in the United States and Canada who play fantasy sports, it’s likely that your enjoyment of these events is accompanied by the excitement of drafting, monitoring, and competing with your fantasy sports team. But does this experience differ for men and women? Both men and women play fantasy sports, frequently competing against one another in a context in which the presumed physical differences between males and females are seemingly irrelevant, conditions that may make gender irrelevant as well. Yet, our research demonstrates that is not the case. Women are treated as outsiders and consequently challenge, to varying degrees and in varying and sometimes contradictory ways, how they are treated and perceived.


Final “Bro League” standings, image by Grace Greene

In fantasy sports, individuals build virtual sports teams comprised of real athletes who accumulate points based on their performance in actual games. The majority of participants compete in fantasy football, baseball, and basketball, although fantasy sports leagues exist for a wide range of sports. Although recent attention has been focused on daily fantasy sports, with some states moving to declare these activities illegal, the majority of players—and those that we focus on in our work—currently play in traditional fantasy sports leagues like that depicted in the popular FX series The League; this means they create and manage their teams over the course of an entire sports season and compete against other managers doing the same in a virtual league.

Despite its skyrocketing popularity, there is a dearth of research on fantasy sports, and little serious attention has been given to how gender operates in this space. We know that since the 1972 passage of Title IX, women’s and girls’ participation in athletics has substantially increased, female athletes have become cultural icons, and a few women, like baseball player Kelsie Whitmore or NBA assistant coaches Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman, have made inroads into male-dominated sports. Yet, we also know that women’s sports still receive less attention from fans and the media than men’s, female athletes are often treated as sex symbols, sports largely remain sex-segregated, and women in sports still garner lower financial rewards and hold fewer positions of power than men do. As an example of the contradictory position occupied by women in sports —simultaneously celebrated for their accomplishments and cast as outsiders and publicly denigrated when they veer too far into what has historically been men’s domain – on October 6, 2015, two-time Olympic Gold Medal-winning softball player Jessica Mendoza, already a regular analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” made history when she became the first woman to call a nationally-televised MLB playoff game. Touted as a major step forward for women in sports, the event was also swiftly met with what can only be described as sexist, misogynistic backlash. Continue reading

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Gender & Society: Table Of Contents, Volume 30, No. 6

GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 30 No. 6
Read this issue on SAGE:

In this issue, our authors delve into the concept of “gendered geographies of struggle,” as articulated by Manisha Desai, the 2015 SWS Feminist lecturer. Lan Ahn Hoang takes us into the lives of Vietnamese migrant mothers and their struggle with moral expectations of motherhood. Eileen M. Otis illustrates the labor that goes into constructing the “correctly” gendered Chinese worker in a transnational hotel. Christie Sennott and Nicole Angotte capture how living in an AIDS epidemic in South Africa alters the ways in which sexuality is constructed. Finally, Katie Ann Hasson makes clear the ways in which the embodiment of menstruation is in flux through the efforts of government agencies and drug companies. Although the contexts differ, this issue represents how gender is at the core of so many issues of control and change.

The Gendered Geographies of Struggle:
The World Social Forum and its Sometimes Overlapping Other Worlds
SWS 2015 Feminist Lecture

Moral Dilemmas of Transnational Migration:
Vietnamese Women in Taiwan

Bridgework: Globalization, Gender and Service Labor at a Luxury Hotel

Reconsidering Gendered Sexualities in a Generalized AIDS Epidemic

Not a “Real” Period:
Redefining Menstruation in the Wake of Menstrual Suppression

Book Reviews
Unequal Time: Gender, Class, and Family in Employment Schedules
by Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel

The Hyper(in) Visible Fat Woman: Weight and Gender Discourse in Contemporary Society
by Jeannine A. Gailey

Fan Girls and the Media: Creating Characters, Consuming Culture
Edited by Adrienne Trier-Bieniek

Taking the Heat: Women Chefs and Gender Inequality in the Professional Kitchen
by Deborah A. Harris and Patti Giuffre

Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility
by Susan Starr Sered and Maureen Norton-Hawk

Raising Generation Rx: Mothering Kids with Invisible Disabilities in an Age of Inequality 

by Linda M. Blum

Au Pairs’ Lives in Global Context: Sisters or Servants?

by Rosie Cox

No One Will Let Her Live: Women’s Struggle for Well-Being in a Delhi Slum
by Claire Snell-Rood

Desi Hoop Dreams: Pickup Basketball and the Making of Asian American Masculinity
by Stanley I. Thangaraj

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Tokyo’s First Female Governor and Japan’s Glass Ceiling

By Kumiko Nemoto


Yuriko Koike, a former Japanese defense minister, became the first woman elected governor of Tokyo. The recent New York Times article “Breaking Japan’s Glass Ceiling, but Leaving Some Feminists Unconvinced” reported that voting for her, regardless of one’s political views, would be a revolutionary act because there are few women at the top in Japan. However, the article also noted that some Japanese feminists have expressed disagreement with Koike because of her conservatism.

In the election, some Japanese feminists opposed Koike for her conservatism and for being a right-wing militarist, and instead explicitly supported the male candidate, Shintaro Torigoe, who lacked an effective campaign and ironically struggled with an allegation of sexual assault by a female college student. Some also believe that Koike lacks enthusiasm about improving women’s social status. A subset of feminists in Japan also tend to be more concerned about issues confronting working-class women than those facing women in high positions.

Koike is known to be a core member of, or has had deep ties to, the nationalistic right-wing cult Nippon Kaigi (or Japan Conference), which has 38,000 members and is said to have, among its aims, the restoration of the status of the emperor; keeping women in the home; reducing Western notions of rights and equality; beefing up the military; removing the pacifist section from the Constitution; rewriting textbooks to follow a right-wing agenda; and rejecting Japan’s war crimes and sexual slavery comfort women. However, little is known about the group’s actual activities and degree of political influence. Continue reading

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