Tag Archives: services

A Migrant World of Services: the emotional, sexual and caring services of women

Since I’ll be talking about sex work as a labour issue at the Anarchist Bookfair, I thought I would re-run an early academic publication of mine, A Migrant World of Services. In my quest to understand why so many people disqualify selling sex as a potential job, I looked critically at traditional economic concepts such as the distinctions between productive and unproductive labour and between formal and informal employment sectors. I discovered these concepts are entirely arbitrary and out-dated and produce oppression for no good reason. For example, the majority of women’s work inside homes is labelled unproductive, and probably the majority of women’s jobs outside the home are also disqualified as real and productive by relegating them to the informal sector of the economy. I couldn’t see, and still cannot, how an economic sector  named Services, which takes in a raft of jobs, could exclude so many women’s jobs, so I also investigated ideas about emotional and caring work. Not only migrants are ripped off by these disqualifications – all are, and when men do these jobs they are as well.

A Migrant World of Services (pdf)

Social Politics, 10, 3, 377-96 (2003)

Laura Maria Agustín

Abstract: There is a strong demand for women’s domestic, caring and sexual labour in Europe which promotes migrations from many parts of the world. This paper examines the history of concepts that marginalise these as unproductive services (and not really ‘work’) and questions why the west accepts the semi-feudal conditions and lack of regulations pertaining to this sector. The moral panic on ‘trafficking’ and the limited feminist debate on ‘prostitution’ contribute to a climate that ignores the social problems of the majority of women migrants.

In a variety of scenarios in different parts of Europe, non-Europeans are arriving with the intention to work; these are largely migrant women and transgender people from the ‘third world’ or from Central and Eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union. The jobs available to these women in the labour market are overwhelmingly limited to three basic types: domestic work (cleaning, cooking and general housekeeping), ‘caring’ for people in their homes (children, the elderly, the sick and disabled) and providing sexual experiences in a wide range of venues known as the sex industry. All these jobs are generally said to be services.

In the majority of press accounts, migrant women are presented as selling sex in the street, while in public forums and academic writing, they are constructed as ‘victims of trafficking.’ The obsession with ‘trafficking’ obliterates not only all the human agency necessary to undertake migrations but the experiences of migrants who do not engage in sex work. Many thousands of women who more or less chose to sell sex as well as all women working in domestic or caring service are ‘disappeared’ when moralistic and often sensationalistic topics are the only ones discussed. One of the many erased subjects concerns the labour market—the demand—for the services of all these women. The context to which migrants arrive is not less important than the context from which they leave, often carelessly described as ‘poverty’ or ‘violence.’ This article addresses the European context for women migrants’ employment in these occupations. Though domestic and caring work are usually treated as two separate jobs, very often workers do both, and these jobs also often require sexual labour, though this is seldom recognised. All this confusion and ambiguity occurs within a frame that so far has escaped definition.

For the rest, get the pdf.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Psy theories come to trafficking: first brainwashing, now Stockholm Syndrome

Psychobabble as a means of social control. At the BBC World thing in Luxor I got publicly annoyed when other panellists wanted to talk about brainwashing of victims. Now Stockholm Syndrome is given as reason those rescued from trafficking situations may not react as rescuers want them to – as, for instance, in a case in India and another in Congo. It really does not get more sinister than this. This theory, utterly free from any cultural context and presented as a method for identifying victims of trafficking, is taken from The Model of Assistance for Women Victims of Human Trafficking in Lithuania, published by Klaipeda Social and Psychological Services Center, Women’s Issues Information Center and Ministry of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania. No ideas of individual agency or resistance are allowed here. No possibility that migrants or sex workers have any understandable or meaningful loyalty to people that assisted them to travel or get work. There is no allowance here for survivors’ having colluded in situations that ended up going bad.

They define Stockholm Syndrome as a ‘psychological mechanism of self-protection when a victim attempts to protect herself from more traumatic psychological experiences’ (Carver, 2001-2007). Excerpts:

. . . The characteristics of Stockholm syndrome confirm the common indicators of female sexual exploitation and female victims of trafficking. Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response, in which the victim shows signs of loyalty, sympathy to the exploiter, regardless of the danger (or at least risk) in which the victim has been placed (Carver, 2001-2007).

• Emotional bonding with the captor/abuser
• Seeking approval from the captor/abuser
• Depending on the captor/abuser for security and purpose of existence
• Befriending and caring for the captor/abuser
• Resenting police and authorities for their rescue attempts
• Losing one’s own identity in order to identify with the captor/abuser
• Seeing things from the perspective of the captor/abuser
• Valuing every small gesture of kindness, such as letting them live
• Refusing freedom even when given the opportunity

They give sub-categories that allow them to disbelieve a victim-survivor’s refusal of help:

Learnt hopelessness attributes (Seligman, 1995)

• Disability to organise one’s own private life.
Victim can avoid being helped, refuse offers of a supporting organization, and de-evaluate provided support.

Traumatic factors (Finkelhor, 1986)

• Traumatic sexuality (disorder of sexual identity development)
• Betrayal (distrust in all people around, playing with feeling of trust)
• Stigmatization (feelings of guilt and shame, behaviour according common scheme of stigma)
• Hopelessness (incapability and avoidance of support)

This makes my blood boil.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Sex on Sunday: shoppers, sirens, maids, marriage y la iglesia católica

Reginald Marsh’s Voluptuous Shopper , from The “New Woman” Revised by Ellen Wiley Todd

Marsh’s voluptuous shopper so dominated his 1930s imagery that she came to be called the Marsh girl. How are we to read this figure of hyper-glamorized working-class femininity? . . . she embodied a conservative ideal of post-franchise new womanhood; this New Woman had abandoned collective activism to express her independence, sexuality, and self-conscious femininity by applying mass-produced beauty products. . . Where she towers above helpless admirers, she can be read as a figure of sexual danger, a threat to masculinity already compromised by unemployment.

Women and their Maids, Lugar Común, from Sociological Images

Photos of pairs of identically dressed women – one the employer, one the employee – that confuse which is which. The original photographic project from 3 Latin American countries can be downloaded.

¿A qué llama ‘familia’ la Iglesia?, from Página 12

A partir de la cuestión del matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo, el autor advierte sobre la intervención de la Iglesia Católica: “Que una forma histórica sea presentada como natural exige uniformar, homogeneizar, y ésta es una razón por la cual las jerarquías eclesiásticas se adaptaron mejor al orden de las dictaduras que al desorden democrático”.

Sex on Sunday: chorus boy talk, practically-trafficked nannies and sex offenders as queers

Polari, a vibrant language born out of prejudice by Paul Baker

. . . particularly well known in London and associated with chorus boys who danced and sang in West End productions, and male prostitutes who drank endless cups of tea in seedy cafes hanging out around Piccadilly (“the dilly”) looking for “steamers” (clients).

Employment Rights for Nannies: NYS Senate Passes Domestic Workers Bill of Rights from Gender & Sexuality Law Blog

Frequently ignored in the debates about human trafficking is the vulnerability of the women (typically women of color and often immigrants with less than secure legal status) we pass every day on the street who are caring for other people’s children.  . . working conditions in many cases indistinguishable from those who the law would consider trafficked.  Because the labor of domestic workers is not primarily sexual in nature, their exploitation has been largely ignored . . . 2006 report: Home is where the work is: Inside New York’s Domestic Work Industry

Event in Chicago on sex-offender laws by Yasmin Nair

. . . Over the last many decades, laws punishing and registering sex offenders have so increased in severity that several legal critics now consider them draconian. . . a historical concurrence: the relatively high level of acceptance and even protection of LGBTs in the past 15 years has coincided with a rise in the punishment and monitoring of RSOs [registered sex offenders]. As he put it, “the sex offender takes up the space now vacated by the homosexual.”

Sex on Sunday: nannies, ‘splainers, taxi drivers and sex workers

The weather turned wintry again in northern Europe, alas, but Wednesday’s event in Copenhagen was very rewarding – thanks to those who came and asked interesting questions. Here are stories I read this week that somehow have something to do with my thinking on migration and commercial sex!

A Nannies’ Bill of Rights from Salon.com

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt unveiled his plan for a federal minimum wage in May 1937, Southern planters grumbled that they’d be required to “pay your Negro girl 11 dollars a week.” Roosevelt knew his Fair Labor Standards Act would squeeze through Congress only with the approval of Southern Democrats, so he reassured the grumblers: “No law ever suggested intended a minimum wages and hours bill to apply to domestic help.”

What is ‘splaining and why should I care? by s.e. smith

This happens to women who sell sex all the time: ’Splainin’ is an ‘explanation’ put forward in the most patronizing way possible by someone who thinks his, her or their opinions are more important than actual lived experiences. ’Splainers are unfortunately especially common in safe spaces in which the voices of people living in marginalized bodies are centered. . . 

Senegal’s Taxi Sisters break new ground from GlobalPost

Dakar’s official, supported-by-the-president “Taxi Sisters” shatter taboos and open up transport field for women.

Sex workers of SANGRAM demand rights and health care

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), an international advocacy organization for women’s health and rights, has partnered with SANGRAM and produced a documentary about their work called “SANGRAM: Sex Workers Organizing in India.” 

Fronteras asesinas de Europa

Informe sobre las violaciones de los derechos humanos en las fronteras publicado por la red Migreurop, a la que pertenece la APDHA. Este informe desea favorecer, cada vez que sea posible, la palabra de los migrantes entrevistados . . .