Thursday, April 9, 2015

[Friday Seminar Recap] Disjunctive Harmony: Life and Work of Foreign Spouses Engaging in Sex Work in Taiwan

Disjunctive Harmony: Life and Work of Foreign Spouses Engaging in Sex Work in Taiwan

Speaker: TSENG Hsunhui (Assistant Professor, Gender Studies Programme, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Time: 12:30 p.m., 27 March, 2015 (Friday)
Venue: Room 401, Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK

The influx of marriage migrants in the early 2000s had contributed to the increase of low-budget massage parlors and Karaoke clubs with hostesses in Taiwan. Growing media attention on the issue has called on police enforcement on sex work in these establishments. Foreign-born  mostly Southeast Asian  female spouses engaging in sex work have either been viewed as perpetrators of fraudulent marriage, or victims of trafficking in women.

Prof. Tseng Hsunhui, in the seminar, shared the preliminary finding of her recent fieldwork in a karaoke snack restaurant (xiaochibu), featuring Vietnamese hostesses (yuenan dian, Vietnamese store) in Douliu City, Taiwan. Her research focuses on the life of these women and the ways they interpret and negotiate their multiple identities as mothers, wives, daughters, sex workers and citizens.

Prof. Tseng Hsunhui

Tseng pointed out that the hostesses in this xiaochibu, though migrated from a foreign country, had all obtained their citizenship and therefore were eligible to work in Taiwan. They earned escorting fee (zuotaifei) for serving customers. Divorced mothers constituted the majority of hostesses, and the remaining were married women and student.

These women, being stigmatized as irresponsible mothers, promiscuous wives and shameful daughters, had to negotiate their familial relationship as a wife, mother or daughter, their employment relationship as a sex worker and their citizenship as a moral person in the country. They coped with the conflicts between motherhood and work by telephoning their children, visiting homes regularly and hiring babysitters. They dealt with the discrepant expectation between their role as a citizen and the reality of being a sex worker by holding the perception that the job was not shameful and they were preparing for their dreams.

Attendees of the seminar

Tseng also highlighted the blurred boundaries existed in xiaochibu. She mentioned that services to customers are provided in both the forestage and the backstage of xiaochibu. Workplace had also become a place similar to home, providing hostesses social and economic supports.

In short, Tseng’s research, by looking into the life and work of foreign spouses engaging in sex work in Taiwan, shed light on issues like the crash of migrants’ dream, sex workers’ negotiation of multiple identities and the productivity of hidden space.

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