Annotation: Margold, Jane A. 1995. Narratives of Masculinity and Transnational Migration

Margold, Jane A. 1995. Narratives of Masculinity and Transnational Migration: Filipino Workers in the Middle East. Aihwa Ong and Michael G. Peletz (eds), Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in Southeast Asia, 274-298.

Margold interviews Ilocano labourers working in the Arab Gulf States (permanent or temporary returnees) to investigate how labour migration affects subaltern men and their masculine identities. In Ilocos, men are judged on their “verbal grace, emotional availability, a capacity for deep friendship with other men, and a willingness to be involved closely with children” (282) and manhood is shaped by interactions with women. Margold shows that the men’s sense of manhood is impaired when they become “ghettoized” as they enter the lowest ranks of the global labour force. In the Gulf States, “sexuality (is) frozen by multiple, interlocking regulations; color (is) stigmatized and intelligence (is) discounted” (289). While the racialized surveillance of labour migrants is reminscent of the period of colonialism, the peasant-labourers could only be “baffled by the politics that isolated them as aliens” (289). These labour inequalities experienced by the men evoke experiences of colonialism. However, multinational capitalism’s access to a cheap labour market has allowed it to regiment subaltern men’s bodies and to suppress unionism, making it difficult for men to rally against labour inequalities. The author suggests that within this global political economy where opportunities for self-assertion are restricted, the Ilocano migrants remain at a liminal stage. Their silence about their humiliation experienced overseas underlies an international political economy, which, supported by restrictive labour and migration laws around the world, considers male bodies as “tools” and strips them of their human totality (292-293). Ilocano returnees relate a migratory experience which is an assault on their sense of manhood (e.g. fears of homosexual rape, absolute subordination to the supervisor, loss of control over their spouse’s sexuality, etc.). Returning home, they find the family is also no longer a “a warm, enfolding community” (292), as migration disrupts personal relationships between migrant husbands, wives and children.

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