Women Work, Men Sponge, and Everyone Gossips: Macho Men and Stigmatized/ing Women in a Sex Tourist Town

By Brennan, Denise | Anthropological Quarterly, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Women Work, Men Sponge, and Everyone Gossips: Macho Men and Stigmatized/ing Women in a Sex Tourist Town


Brennan, Denise, Anthropological Quarterly


Abstract

This article focuses on gossip about Dominican womens sexual labor as an entry point into documenting shifting gender relations and ideologies in Sosúa, a sex tourist destination frequented primarily by German tourists. In Sosúas sexscape, new meanings of masculinity have emerged alongside womens earning capacity. While sex workers must temper their displays of monetary gains so as to not compromise their reputations as mothers sacrificing for their children, men openly enjoy freedom from gender ideologies that make demands on them to appear as hard working and sacrificing fathers. In this sexual economy, men even can flaunt their unemployment. Their laziness and/or dependency are recast as macho. Here is one industry where poor Dominican women have the opportunity to make significant earnings and to jump out of poverty, yet their labor strategies do not necessarily ensure a reconfiguration of gender roles and ideologies that works in their favor. Rather, migrant men in Sosúa enjoy such a reworking that lowers expectations for them, while women are caught in a set of increased expectations.

[Key words: masculinity, gossip, sex tourism, womens labor and globalization]

Carlos's wife worked in Europe.1 Everyone gossiped that she worked in the sex trade and Carlos admitted as much to his close friends. In his wife's absence he and his sons lived relatively well. Surrounded by wooden shacks, their house was constructed with cement, they always wore pressed shirts and the latest belts and jeans, and they-especially Carlos-wore many gold chains and rings. The biggest symbol of Carlos's wife success overseas, however, was his motorcycle-which set him apart from other men in town who putted around on mere motor scooters. Carlos worked hard, as a manager of a small hotel, but it is unlikely his salary alone-without his wife's remittances-would have allowed for such extravagances. His wife's remittances gave him and his two sons more disposable income than they could earn working (legally) in Sosua's tourist economy on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.

Although gender issues long have been ignored in scholarship on migration and transnational studies, a body of scholarship2 is emerging that asks, among other questions: Does the experience of migration and accompanying labor-market activities to which it gives rise, reaffirm or reconfigure (or both) gender relations and ideologies (Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994, Mahler 1998, and Pessar 1999). Some of this scholarship documents women's increased authority in the household through migration and wage work as a reconfiguration or challenge to "traditional" gender relations and ideologies (Hirsch 2003, Kibria 1993, and Pessar 1984). There also are migration studies which highlight the reproduction of traditional gender ideologies, both when families move and also when men migrate alone and women stay behind. Sarah Mahler (2001), for example, writes about the bind El Salvadoran women are placed in by their husbands who migrate north to the United States when members of their husbands' kinship networks keep a close eye on these wives in an attempt to ensure their sexual fidelity.3 If these absentee husbands suspect or discover infidelity, they could "take revenge" by withholding remittances. But, what happens when women migrate, either internationally (as Carlos's wife did) or internally to work in tourism or sex tourism (the focus of this article). And how does this migration affect the men who stay behind? Women's migration strategies and earning power in the sex industry pose interesting questions about how women-as-breadwinners become the object of gossip, particularly on how they spend money or with whom they have sexual affairs. In Carlos's case, gossip about him spending money for a motorcycle as well as on clothes and jewelry for himself centered on how lucky and smart he was to have a wife in the overseas sex trade, not on how he was an irresponsible spendthrift husband and father. …

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