"For the Family": Asian Immigrant Women's Triple Day

Article excerpt

This article examines how Asian immigrant women manage the demands of family, job training, and paid work in their new society. Using institutional ethnography, a feminist research strategy developed by Dorothy Smith, the study begins with the women's experiences to explore the extended social relations which give shape to them. The study argues that among those extended relations are the organization of the labor market in the contemporary period, immigration legislation, and the ideological practices embedded in developing, managing, and administering public policies such as job training. A critical eye is turned to social science discourses on family which penetrate the multiple sites forming the institutional complex organizing and regulating the activities of these women. Thus, for example, the article argues that notions such as the "standard North American family" (Smith, 1993) are implicated in the development of family policies designed to help families manage work and family responsibilities. However, such policies neglect the specific experiences of poor, minority, immigrant women since they rely on and reproduce a conception of family built on the experiences of primarily middle-class white women.

Introduction

This study examines how Asian immigrant women manage the triple responsibilities of family, job training, and paid work in a new society. The cases discussed here are derived from a larger field study examining Asian immigrant women's entry into the labor market via job training programs. Following a feminist research strategy developed by Dorothy Smith (1987), I look at the women's experiences and the extended social relations which shape their lives. The actual organization of their lives departs from the pervasive formulation in the discourse on "work/family balance" that posits a duality of experience, particularly for women. I argue that this dualism is founded on the experiences of middle-class white women. The dual or separate spheres approach to work/family balance treats women's responsibilities to family (reproductive work) as something separate and usually opposed to work responsibilities (productive work). Thus, it relies on and reproduces an ideological conception of the "Standard North American Family" (Smith, 1993). The dual spheres approach has not only come to dominate most studies on work/family balance but has been the overriding framework in formulation of family policy for addressing the problems identified in these studies. As a result, the "Standard North American Family" operates as an "ideological code" (1) in these different arenas. Though feminist scholars such as Glenn (1996) and Collins (1994) have challenged the idea that work and family spheres have historically been separate for women of color, the present study goes further in mapping the social relations governing the three spheres of engagement for Asian immigrant women in the contemporary period.

Since the large scale movement of middle-class women into the labor force during the 1960s, there has been considerable attention to the ramifications of their paid work for family life. As they continued to move into the labor force in the 1970s and 1980s, the demands that women faced in fulfilling domestic responsibilities and their responsibilities in the paid work sphere came to be a focus of study. In her now classic study of the phenomenon called the "second shift," Hochschild (1989) had found that in dual-earner families women still did the bulk of household work and child care after their paid work day was done. In her more recent work (Hochschild, 1997) the focus was on the time constraints that families, especially women in them, faced as they struggled to meet their responsibilities in both spheres. In these studies, women's paid work responsibilities are often presented as exerting pressure on their family responsibilities in a way which suggests that there is a necessary split between responsibilities to work and responsibilities to family. …