The continuously expanding global free trade in domestic and sex workers intensifies old capitalist-patriarchal forms of extracting women's emotional, physical, and sexual labor. The patriarchal dream of seizing control of impure, unruly life has now entered its neoliberal stage, exemplified by money begetting money in the virtual sphere of financial speculation, and by biotechnology's promise to create a world that is no longer in need of impure female mothering bodies. The very nature of the work associated with unruly life delivers, however, a major blow to the patriarchal vision of a totally controlled, purified, body-less world. Imported female 'servants of globalization' live in a diaspora where different social spaces are stacked on top of each other in the small geographic space of an alien individual household. This home/workplace is mostly a site of exploitation and abuse. It does, however, also contain elements that not only put a brake on the patriarchal project but also allow possibilities of a non-patriarchal, non-capitalist future to shine through experiences of deprivation and misery. Removing dirt and taking care of the employer's children are actions that illustrate life's messy unruliness: Living bodies need attention and care. They challenge feminist movements to construct a transnational home that is bodily, place-bound as well as translocal or 'nomadic.'
Keywords: capitalist patriarchy, migrating bodies, nomadic home
Neoliberalism is driven by the goal to extract as much as possible from the earth and her inhabitants. Where human and natural resources are exhausted, or where other financial speculative endeavors promise to be more lucrative, capital moves on. It leaves behind destroyed habitats and impoverished, landless, or jobless laborers. By spreading like a cancerous growth over ever-expanding and deepening areas of life, neoliberal capitalism has become remarkably transnational and transcultural.
In the name of free trade the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank dictate that a country privatize public assets and services, "liberalize" investment restrictions or the flow of capital, devalue its currency by 40 percent, and jack up its interest rates. This severely curtails or destroys domestic production, and unemployment soars. What underlies these and other "conditionalities" is the imperative placed on the "emerging markets" of the south to become primarily export-oriented. Not only does this wipe out traditional areas of agricultural or craft production, it also adds women to the arsenal of exportable goods. Women are then sent to countries where there is a crisis in the availability of "domestic services" or where men are eager to pay for cheap sex workers. Moreover, migrant workers' remittances not only secure their own family's livelihood but also give indebted nations the hard currency needed to pay interests on international loans.
The subtitle to Global Woman (Ehrenreich & Hochschild, 2002) summarizes what many feminist analyses of labor migration have been focusing on: "nannies, maids, and sex workers in the new economy." What is old about these occupational titles is their association with typical women's labor. What is new about the economy is the growing number of women migrating to other countries or parts of the world in order to secure their own and their family members' livelihoods. What is also relatively new is the array of policies and institutions that propagate, mediate, and benefit from the global free trade of domestic or sex workers. National contract labor and immigration policies guide the actions of official recruitment and employment agencies, individual money lenders, clandestine border crossing agents, brothel owners, and operators of big sex trafficking businesses. They all benefit financially from migrating or trafficked women. (1)
Thus, regardless of the complex and volatile mix of class, racial-ethnic, geopolitical, or cultural differences among the actors, countries, or regions involved in these border crossing moves, old and new, national and international sexual divisions of labor are bolstered by various political and corporate actions and policies in remarkably similar ways. They therefore crisscross cultural and social differences between the nations involved or the women freely traded among them. What provides the unifying ground for all these differences is the fact that it is female migrating, border crossing bodies that cater to bodily needs, functions, and desires, whether as domestics or as prostitutes. The old extraction of women's emotional, physical, and sexual labor is here intensified to an alarming, life-threatening degree.
Many feminist analyses denounce the global market system and its super-exploitation of women's paid and unpaid labor. Delia Aguilar (2004), for instance, rightfully argues that an understanding of capitalist class and labor relations is essential for understanding the inner workings of neoliberal, border crossing capitalism, and her approach center-stages women, particularly poor, Majority World women. Hers is not the only investigation that provides important descriptions of the way neoliberalism works with respect to the lives and experiences of millions of women, and how "gender" plays into national and international labor contracts and arrangements. All these analyses depend, however, on a limited, and limiting, conceptual framework. At this stage of global capitalism we need to push our understanding of patriarchal relations into deeper layers of destructive meanings and processes that lie buried under terms such as "domestic" or "reproductive labor." In particular--and this is the focus of my essay--we need to lay bare what lies at the core of the violent extraction, control, and destruction of sexualized and racialized female bodies' life force and labor power.
'Patriarchy' is a "densely packed term" (Gordon & Hunter, 1998, p. 72). Visiting feminist debates on the notion of patriarchy in order to clarify one's own understanding of the term means trying to find one's way through a thorny thicket of many different and conflicting cultural, historical, and political meanings. Patriarchy may be described as a mere by-product of capitalism; as directly undercutting capitalism; as being rooted in father-fight or fraternal right; as being primarily located in the family or individual household; as being equivalent to male dominance; or as co-existing with "modern forms of male supremacy" (p. 73). Other writers describe how larger, supra-household patriarchal relations in different cultural contexts challenge many Western feminist assumptions underlying the use of the term. As Shelley Feldman (2001) points out, Western feminist discourses may unwittingly recast an imperialist or colonial narrative which prevents them from seeing women's roles "in social practices that altered the cultural contours of public participation, family life, and public discourse" (p. 1099). Different patriarchies therefore structure "gender" in complex, multiple ways that intertwine with other social orderings (p. 1106). Similarly, Kum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid (1989) state that patriarchies are intrinsic to the formation of and changes within the categories of class and caste, and that patriarchal practices and regulations are not superimposed to but interrelate with "political economy, religion, law, and culture" (p. 1, 2).
Today Western patriarchy interrelates with neoliberalism on a global scale. Globalization is therefore like the many-headed serpent Hydra who always grows back two heads in place of the one cut off. These two heads are neoliberal capitalism and Western-defined patriarchy. As indicated by the title of this essay I follow Claudia von Werlhof's (2001) example of choosing the term "capitalist patriarchy" precisely because it captures capitalism's continued dependence on patriarchy as one of its primary foundations.
Teresa Meade and Pamela Haag (1998) rightfully ask whether …