Reconceptualizing Motherhood, Reconceptualizing Resistance: Migrant Domestic Workers, Transnational Hyper-Maternalism, and Activism

Tungohan, E. (2013)
International Feminist Journal of Politics, Volume 15(1), 39-57 | doi:10.1080/14616742.2012.699781.

Female labour migrants face contradictory expectations. On the one hand, they are expected to be their families’ and communities’ economic saviours. On the other hand, they are expected to meet their maternal responsibilities even while they are abroad; otherwise, they face charges of maternal neglect. My goal in this article is to highlight how female migrant workers handle these conflicting demands. I discuss how migrant women simultaneously adapt to and challenge imposed family separation through the case study of Filipina live-in caregivers in Canada. They do this in two ways. First, they exhibit transnational hyper-maternalism which allows them to overcome accusations of neglect. They ‘mother across borders’ by providing for their families and by using technology to supervise, monitor and communicate with their children. In doing so, they reify and contest established gender roles. Second, they are active in civil society. In doing so, they highlight the negative consequences migrant women and their families face. Reconceptualized notions of motherhood characterize migrant women’s transnational parenting, while the desire to ameliorate the negative consequences of family separation and reunification explain their activism.