Fouron, Georges and Nina G. Schiller. 2001. “All in the Family: Gender, Transnational Migration, and the Nation-state,” Identities, 7(4):539-582.
The article explores whether gender sustains/creates hirarchies and divisions, or equitable relations between men and women as it is lived across the borders of nation-states. The authors draw on the life stories of three generations of Haitian-American transmigrants, using Fouron’s family as a case study. The contemporary ideology of Haiti as a nation is based on the folk concept of “blood” as that which binds Haitians together, regardless of class, gender and territory (543, 553). The 1804 revolution led to a gendered division of labor, such that agriculture became a male activity, while the marketing of the food produced became a female one. In contemporary Haitian society, the social mobility of women through, for example, involvement in the market trade, has become equated with greater sexual accessibility of women. Men see women walking/living alone as an invitation to rape, or an invitation for negotiation over sexual favours, in return for which women are promised work. When women marry, their domestication contributes to the attainment of higher status for the husband. It is in such a context that Fouron’s mother has welcomed her migration to the U.S., as it has allowed her to have access to jobs and financial independence without being confined to the home, as practised in her homeland. This experience contrasts with that of Fouron’s father, whose sense of loss experienced while living in the U.S. is due to the loss of social standing resulting from migration. As the authors find, Haitian women in transnational environments do not, however, leave behind the gender and class hierarchies of their homeland. Through what Michaela di Leonardo (1984) calls “kin work,” such as the sending of financial remittances, financing of relatives’ education, etc., Haitian women live in “gendered contradictions in transnational space.” Simultaneously, women directly create a position of prestige for themselves in Haiti, while also contributing to the reinforcement of “a vision of the nation based on male power” (559). The transnational kin work women engage in is not merely “disembodied sentimental imaginings,” but is instead part of the processes of social reproduction and of creation of “transnational nation-states” (571). Thus, the authors suggest that the political leadership coming from these transnational nation-states may maintain gender inequalities and patriarchal authority (571). Nationalism has different meanings, and it can either provide liberation, or reinforce class and gender hierarchies (572).