chapter  8
Fulfilling the self and transnational intimacy through emotional labor: the experiences of migrant Filipino domestic workers in South Korea
Pages 21

The above quotation shows that migrant Filipino domestic workers in South Korea (hereafter, Korea) themselves highlight their talent to care for someone tenderly as one of the important job qualifications for domestic work.1 The Philippines, as one of the major exporters of labor in the world and a country dependent on overseas remittance of these workers, has propagated an image of mostly Filipino women as “good carers” as a means for enhancing their competitiveness in the global labor market (Parreñas 2005; Ito et al. 2008). However, the government’s and individual Filipino women’s representation of what is a good carer may have different purposes and meanings (Suzuki 2007: 376; see also Yoshimizu, Chapter 7, this volume, for the making of female migrant workers as new “caring” subjects in Japan). The implications associated with such a divide draw our attention to a specific question: what are the tactics of migrant Filipino women when they profess to be “good carers”? Most studies on migration in Asia have focused on domestic work as the

primary legal entry point for most women (see Yeoh and Huang 1999; Asis et al. 2004; Cheng 2004; Chan 2005). However, fewer studies have analyzed the unique position of domestic work in other low-skilled jobs, such as factory work, undertaken by migrant women (Romero 1992; Tenegra 2006). As a result, the focus of this study will be how migrant female domestic workers, originally from the Philippines, chose their occupation voluntarily after they had entered Korea and experienced working in the factory environment. By focusing on the social dimensions of emotions in the transnational experiences of migrant Filipino women in Korea (Anderson and Smith 2001; Ahmed 2004; Bosco 2007; McKay 2007; Mai and King 2009), I argue that migrant women fulfill their selves, family obligations and intimacy by strategically mobilizing emotional labor in the comprehensive transnational situations, not only as their profession of domestic work, but also as part of their everyday lives and voluntary activities in a Catholic Church. With emotional

labor as the tactical tool for Filipino women to juggle the roles of worker, mother, breadwinner and community volunteer (leader), this chapter rethinks the normative linkage of emotional labor with femininity, domesticity and victimhood of migrant women (Romero 1992; Hochschild 2000, 2003; Parreñas 2005) by highlighting various social domains and relationships that the emotional labor of migrant women brings about. Domestic work has been discussed as being highly segmented by race, gender

and class, involving insufficient remuneration, and as providing less legal protection or social benefit than other types of work; what tends to result from such discriminatory and precarious conditions is often the diminution and devaluing of domestic work and laborers (Glenn 1986; Romero 1992; Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994; Parreñas 2001). Specifically, migrant female domestic workers have been disproportionately exploited when they are fitted into a false “one of the family” relationship that compels them to engage in unrecognized and typically under-or unpaid emotional labor (Romero 1992: 123-26). Historically, women have been pressured to provide paid and unpaid care

in the reproductive sphere on the gendered ideology that women have “innate affinities” (Morokvasic 2007: 70) for performing such tasks out of their “affection” (Hochschild 1983; Parreñas 2001; Ahmed 2004; Suzuki 2007). Arlie R. Hochschild (1983) elaborates on the origin of this ideological link between emotional labor and femininity, suggesting that the exclusion of women from power and “status in society” compels them to “make a resource out of feeling” for compensating the deficient access to better employment and money (ibid.: 163). Based on an empirical study of the practices of female flight attendants, Hochschild (1983) defines this emotional labor as the “management” and suppression of “private” feelings “to sustain the outward countenance” and “to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display,” such as smiling and behaving attentively to customers (ibid.: 7). In this way, the emotional labor of a flight attendant cannot be simply understood as an individual effort to perform tasks efficiently; the emotional status of workers is managed “from above,” by profit-making corporations, in order to sell the products (e.g. smiling) of workers and “exchange” that value for “profit” (Hochschild 1983: 185-89). She cautions that emotional labor eventually causes a sense of “estrangement” for these workers, as they lose the sense of their own feelings by detaching their “private selves” from the “official feeling” they have to display in their work (ibid.: 186-89). However, unlike the emotional labor presented in Hochschild’s (1983: 148)

study, which “[produces] a desired emotional state in others” or to suppress the private feelings of laborers, emotional labor in domestic work aims to develop a relationship with those in their care, such as young children, in order to attain the work of caring for the children through promoting their physical and emotional well-being (Himmelweit 1999: 35; Uttal and Tuominen 1999). While the emotional labor of female flight attendants is usually “transitory”—an interaction between workers and customers occurs in a limited amount of time and is almost entirely “one-sided”—emotional labor in

domestic and care work generally occurs throughout the development of a relatively “long-term” human interaction between workers and their clients (Aronson and Neysmith 1996: 67; Himmelweit 1999: 35), and emotional bonds with the client become unavoidable if the worker aims to provide good care for the client (Aronson and Neysmith 1996; Himmelweit 1999; Uttal and Tuominen 1999). Moreover, while economic gain is usually the “motivation” for emotional labor in those aforementioned transitory types of service (Hochschild 1983; Himmelweit 1999: 36), emotional labor in domestic work is sometimes motivated by the feelings of satisfaction that come from establishing emotional intimacy with their young children (Himmelweit 1999: 32-33; Uttal and Tuominen 1999). For example, migrant domestic workers demonstrate feelings of love for the children of their employers as a compensation for and to assuage the guilt they feel as a result of their inability to care directly for their own children (Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila 1997; Yeoh and Huang 1999; Parreñas 2001). Moreover, Rhacel S. Parreñas (2001: 179-88) suggests that emotional labor occasionally forms a strategic site for migrant women to protect themselves from derogatory treatment of their employers and to increase the benefit that they can obtain through domestic work. Nonetheless, the emotional labor of migrant female domestic workers has

been the center of an emergent discourse on victimhood (McKay 2007: 177), in which households in developed countries exploit the emotional and caring labor of migrant women from developing countries (Romero 1992; Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila 1997; Hochschild 2000; Parreñas 2001, 2005). Based on Parreñas’s (2001) study on migrant Filipino domestic workers, Hochschild (2000) has developed the concept of the “global care chains-a series of personal links between people across the globe based on the paid or unpaid work of caring” (ibid.: 131), in which migrant female domestic workers take the place of women in wealthier countries through undertaking housekeeping and child rearing, but can do so only by shifting the responsibility of care giving to their children onto female relatives or other impoverished women in home countries (Parreñas 2005: 23). These studies imply that migrant and nonmigrant women, alike, are placed at the bottom of global stratification that coerces them to provide care for others and neglect their own socioreproductive needs and desires (Hochschild 2000, 2003; Parreñas 2001, 2005; see also Yoshimizu, this volume). Parreñas (2005) suggests, moreover, that the positions of these women in

both paid domestic work and as transnational mothers for their own children only perpetuate their traditional gendered role as care giver; paid domestic work abroad, while providing alternative economic resources, never actually liberates these women from an obligation to nurture their own children and even forces them constantly to perform emotional labor-for example, providing guidance for their children and worrying about their well-being-from a distance (Parreñas 2005; see also Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila 1997). However, a review of these studies may raise the following question: does emotional labor necessarily reinforce the subordination of migrant women to race, class

and gender hierarchies that relegate them to occupy traditional positions and roles? (For more discussion of “global care chains” see Yeates 2004.) While emotional labor has been predominantly discussed in the paid-work

experiences of migrant domestic workers in terms of economic and political aspects of migration (Romero 1992; Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila 1997; Hochschild 2000, 2003; Parreñas 2001), other emotional dimensions of a migrant’s “decision to migrate and to continue living and working abroad” (Mai and King 2009: 297), and take a particular role in a certain context has only received cursory scholarly attention (ibid.). Although international labor migration requires one to detach from a familiar place and relationship and to adjust emotionally to new social conditions, emotional labor potentially plays a critical role in helping migrant workers to cope with such processes and proactively organize their transnational lives to achieve certain socioeconomic goals (McKay 2007). Thus, considering emotion entirely as a source of exploitation and subordination in terms of race, class and gender may neglect the multifunctionality of emotion in shaping the transnational life of a(n) (im) migrant woman, in particular (McKay 2007). Sara Ahmed (2004) states that emotions are not limited to the “cognitive” or

“psychological” sphere of an individual; rather, by creating the “effect of the surfaces and boundaries” (ibid.: 10) between the self and others, emotions carry out the function of “sociality” (ibid.: 8). Ahmed further states that emotion entails movement as “the word ‘emotion’ comes from the Latin, emovere, referring to ‘to move, to move out’” (ibid.: 11), explaining that “[t]he intensity of pain sensations makes us aware of our bodily surfaces, and points to the dynamic nature of surfacing itself” (ibid.: 26, emphasis in original): for example, pain does not fix the one in the state of helplessness, but it rather motivates her/him to strive for “moving away from the pain” (Ahmed 2004: 24). Thus, emotion is not entirely reducible to a “private” category that separates from public social domains, but it opens up unprecedented spheres and relationships to the one (Anderson and Smith 2001). Fernando J. Bosco (2007) defines emotional labor as one’s management of emotions to elevate “reactive emotions such as pain and anger” to “reciprocal emotional bonds” with others (ibid.: 551). He also explains that emotional labor is strategically mobilized by people “to create feelings of proximity, solidarity, and shared identities, often in spite of social distance and territorial separation” (ibid.: 546). Thus, emotions manifest into “a form of social presence rather than self-presence” (Ahmed 2004: 10); in this way, international labor migration may provide the best opportunity for migrants to bear various forms of emotional interaction with migrant and non-migrant members. For example, Deirdre McKay (2007) has suggested that migration can reconfigure various forms of “emotional connections within transnational families” (ibid.: 180) by allowing one to develop emotional management that accommodates “long-distance relationships” through remittances and communication technologies (ibid.: 178). Thus, emotional labor comes to be structured through the various everyday practices of individuals that are developed in the “transnational experiences” of migrant workers (McKay 2007: 181).