Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 21, September 2009
Kathy E. Ferguson and Monique Mironesco (eds)

Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific
Method, Practice, Theory

Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8248-3159-2; xii + 420 pp. includes Index

reviewed by Gwenola Ricordeau

  1. What is globalisation? How is it gendered? How does it work in Asia and the Pacific? The authors of the sixteen original essays take fresh stock of globalisation's complexities. They pursue original insights into changing life patterns in Asian and Pacific Island societies. Rather than adding women, gender, or sexuality to an already established list of factors, these essays put the gendered dimensions of global flows into the centre of the analysis.
  2. The chapters deal with representations and reproductions, with spaces and borders, and with voices and bodies. The objects of study range from missionary discourse on sex, death and disease in Hawai'i in the 1830s to the contradictory construction of gender and family in the modernisation of the Philippines over the last several decades.
  3. The sixteen essays are organised into five sections ('Confronting colonial discourses,' 'Cultural translations,' 'Media,' 'Labor, migration, and families,' 'Trafficking,' 'Militarization'), with a challenging Introduction (by K. Ferguson, S.E. Merry and M. Mironesco) and a Conclusion (by K. Ferguson and M. Mironesco).
  4. V. Metaxas' essay on the missionary discourse on sex, death, and disease in nineteenth-century Hawai'i shows that indigenous people are never simply passive recipients of colonial encounters. They are rather active participants, sometimes resisting and other times incorporating Western practices into local ways of being. Encounters between colonial and indigenous practices of health and wellness, host continuing struggles that colonisers do not always win. Further, the colonial authorities sometimes find themselves changed as well, as their relations with those they intend to control or 'save' become unruly or take unexpected turns. Critical readings of missionary records and self-reflections dislocate the common narrative about the inevitable march of 'progress' in medical science and replace it with a political account of power and resistance.
  5. The colonial discourses are also discussed in J. Raiskin's essay about Fiegel's novel Where we once belonged (1996). The novel can be read as a sharp-eyed analysis of Pacific Island life that counters the exotic/erotic romanticisation of the 'South Seas' so familiar to literary and anthropological traditions. In the perspective of feminist theorists, Raiskin examines the 'sexually saturated figure of the Polynesian woman'[1] and more broadly how images of nonwestern women are homogenised as 'a repository for the lost femininity of "liberated" women.'[2]
  6. The book's section 'Cultural translations' focuses on how the translation of terms like 'gender' or 'gay' is problematic because representations of sex and gender are seldom simple or straightforward. M. Dongchao's exploration of the circulation of the concept of 'gender' in China in the 1990s shows conflicts between globalisation and other translation routes, specially East-West's ones. Globalisation and translation are also discussed in J. Puri's essay about the notion of 'global gay,'[3] a concept that crystallises the position that alongside economic and other cultural aspects, sexualities are also becoming globalised. The notion has been highly discussed since the (Western) LGTB movement's promotion of 'gay rights' may be an unfit with local realities.[4] Cautioning against the equation of globalisation with homogenisation, J. Puri's study in India underlines that non-western gay identities are the variegated products of globalisation and local culture. According to Puri, besides privileging some subjectivities over others (like hijra's), the discourses of sexualities' globalisation, because of their persistent westernised connotations, are often reinforcing the conservative and homophobic argument that homosexuality is foreign to Hindu traditions.
  7. It has been suggested that cultural globalisation might introduce new imaginations that would improve the women's status around the world. Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific offers the readers essays whose findings do not support this hypothesis. C. Yano's investigation on Japanese TV, in particular the TV series Sakura, parallels the gendered division that can be observed today with the one found in the early twentieth-century Japan, in which women were designated as the repositories of tradition, while men were said to be at the forefront of modernity. S. Derné underlines that cultural globalisation in India leads to the intensification of male dominance. Derné's analysis of the film-viewing practices of young, locally rooted middle-class men in India highlights their selective encounters with Western images of sexuality and gender. In fact, transnational cultural flows have often merely provided Indian men with additional cultural resources, which they layer on top of existing meanings, to strengthen their existing gender privilege.
  8. Migration, labour and families are investigated in the book's next section. Authors show how multidirectional movements within the 'Global South' complicate easy dichotomies between local and global, east and west or north and south. Several essays prove Western lenses' inefficiency in understanding women's experiences in many situations. For example, N. Riley, through interviews with rural Chinese women working in Dalian, an urban economic zone, shows the variety of experiences and agency the women express. For women, these new spaces offer the possibility of new gender expectations and norms, of new and different ways to perform gender, than those available in rural areas. Many women in Dalian find these differences from their former rural life attractive, especially their improved prospects for marrying a man of a higher status in the city.
  9. In a similar vein, V. Price's research about Indian women in construction work demonstrates that they prefer their work, even if it is low paid, precarious and exhausting, to agricultural work (it pays better and is less isolating) and to domestic duties (it has less social stigma). Price suggests as well that technology is not a solution to these women's poverty, unless technological changes are grounded in a larger context of sustainable development and political empowerment. Some misinterpretations about globalisation's consequences on women's status are also underlined by R. S. Parreñas' essay. She shows how the Philippine Government praises migrants for their contribution to the Nation, but at the same time it criticizes women for abandoning their families—especially their children. She suggests that government policies are a poor support for those women.
  10. Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific provides the readers with a challenging section about prostitution, sex work and trafficking. L. Joy and N. Caraway's essays throw light on female subjectivity within the feminist debates in the global anti-trafficking movement. They underline the possibilities of cultural inappropriateness of anti-trafficking discourses and their lack of 'fit' with the gendered self-understandings of the trafficked women and commercial sex-workers. They both show the limitations of rights discourse for addressing the full complexity of trafficking. For example, in Asia, traditionally informal mechanisms of social control, such as notions of duty and obligations, filial piety, shame and guilt, have functioned in lieu of laws and individual rights. Another important limitation of the individualistic emphasis of human rights is its tendency to overlook the ways in which human trafficking is a product of globalisation and global economic forces rather than simply an activity involving individual migrants.
  11. In Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific, gendering is shown to be constitutive of globalisation, not marginal or confined to extreme cases. Therefore, militarisation is an important field to be explored. T. Teaiwa's exploration of the contemporary militarisation of the Pacific echoes G. Kirk's essay on the environmental effects of the American military presence in the Philippines, South Korea and Japan: they both show how militarisation is gendered. That perspective is develop in several ways in the interview with Cynthia Enloe—whose Globalization and Militarism (2007) is a milestone for studies in that field.[5] Rather than analysing state strategies, Enloe calls our attention to a new civilian masculinised entrepreneurial class that is part of militarisation: comprador (local elites) allied with international capital through outside entrepreneurs from South Korea, Taiwan or Japan.
  12. Essays share reflections on how feminists study globalisation, therefore on feminist methodology. As Enloe puts it in her interview, paying attention only to the 'big arrows' is a masculinised analytical framework (p. 281). All essays articulate and privilege a neglected and devaluated point of view, pull it to the centre of the analysis, and use it to generate a critique of the power relations that produced the neglect and devaluation in the first place. Interviews and participant observation are adequate tools in order to access subaltern voices as nine out of the sixteen essays prove.
  13. Feminist methodology is exigent and feminist researchers struggle with the challenge of studying others without contributing to their oppression. This issue is considered within the perspective of global feminist 'NGOisation' that several essays illuminate. The burgeoning numbers of nongovernmental organisations transform feminist practice and action-oriented researches do not always help women if the NGOs' agendas prevail on women's needs.[6]
  14. Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific shows that relations between global and national spaces are complex and interactive. Women's participation in global paid labour does not produce a commensurate participation by men in unpaid family labour. Moreover, global flows can reinforce local power relations: Yano analyses the cultural capital circulated in a popular Japanese soap opera for its reinforcement of national hegemonies, while Parreñas tracks the persistence of patriarchal divisions of labour within Filipino families when mothers labour globally. Moreover, the deterritorialisation of people and cultural images produced by globalisation may sometimes have the effect of reinforcing the state rather than empowering peoples.
  15. These multidirectional movements complicate easy dichotomies between local and global, east and west or north and south. As the book suggests, feminist scholars should take the spotlight off western European and North American men and focus on Korean, Japanese or Taiwanese entrepreneurial men's gender strategies (p. 280) and more generally in all the gendered relations implied by globalisation.
  16. Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific is a well-presented and accessible volume that should be of interest to a wide range of scholars and students. It is a significant contribution not only for those involved in gender studies in Asia and the Pacific, but also for those who look for a substantial understanding of imperialism, colonialism, and the gendered nature of power relations.


    [1] Lenore Manderson and Margaret Jolly (eds) Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997, p. 99.

    [2] Catherine A. Lutz and Jane Collins, Reading National Geographic, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 184.

    [3] Dennis Altman, 'Rupture or continuity? the internationalization of gay identities,' in Social Text, vol. 14, no. 3 (1996):77–94.

    [4] Joseph Massad, 'Re-orienting desire: the gay international and the Arab world,' in Public Culture, vol. 14, no. 2 (2002):361–85; Arno Schmitt, 'Gay rights versus human rights: a response to Joseph Massad,' in Public Culture, vol. 15, no. 3 (2003):58–91.

    [5] Cynthia Enloe, Globalization and Militarism: Feminists Make the Link, New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007.

    [6] See also Sabine Lang, 'The NGOization of feminism,' in Transitions, Environments, Tranlations, ed. Joan Scott, Cora Kaplan and D. Keates, New York: Routledge, 1997, pp. 101 –20.


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