Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women, Migration, and the Body-Less Spirit of Capitalist Patriarchy Women, Migration, and the Body-Less Spirit of Patriarchal Capitalism

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women, Migration, and the Body-Less Spirit of Capitalist Patriarchy Women, Migration, and the Body-Less Spirit of Patriarchal Capitalism

Article excerpt


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. …

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