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What Third World Women Want

According to first world feminists

Jun 27, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 39 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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In 2004 she and Andrea den Boer, a lecturer in politics and international affairs at the University of Kent, had published a book, Bare Branches, about the negative repercussions for a society, such as in China, that produces large numbers of surplus young men who cannot find wives and form families. “Those who don’t marry tend to have no skills and no education,” Hudson explained. “They are already at risk for violent behavior, since young men without stable social bonds tend to commit most violent crimes. They tend to be targets for military recruitment, and societies with surplus males tend to be marked by an aggressive foreign policy and ethnic groups pitted against each other.”

Maybe it was because abortion makes women’s studies people skittish, but Hudson’s ominous statistics​—​and indeed her entire presentation​—​were promptly forgotten, submerged in what might be called the Battle of the Filipina Hostesses. The combatants were Hudson’s two fellow panelists, Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California and self-described former Filipina hostess, and Amy O’Neill Richard, a senior adviser in the State Department’s Office of Trafficking in Persons, a priority project of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. During the 1980s and 1990s tens of thousands of young women were imported into Japan by labor contractors from the chronically impoverished Philippines to sing, dance, flirt with, and coax drink purchases from stressed-out salarymen in bars and nightclubs​—​until a 2005 crackdown by the Japanese government reduced the hostesses’ numbers by 90 percent, from 80,000 in 2004 to 8,000 in 2006. Few of the Filipinas, it seemed, had any training as the professional entertainers that their visas said they were. The Japanese government maintained that most of them were actually prostitutes or near-prostitutes, pushed into long hours of dubious servitude by the contractors and the clubs, many of which had ties to yakuza mobsters. A spate of brutal murders of hostesses​—​along with some murders committed by hostesses of their pimps​—​fueled the drive to clamp down on the hostess business and send most of the women back to the Philippines.

Taking the podium after Hudson, Parreñas went on the warpath. She announced that she had no intention of abiding by the 10-minute presentation limit for panelists and then proceeded to read a fiery 20-minute paper that she titled “Migration as Indentured Mobility: The Moral Regulation of Migrant Women.” The paper blasted the hostess crackdown as part of “a U.S.-backed war” against “sex work” fueled by “moral imperialism and conservative values” (the U.S. government funds anti-trafficking programs in about 70 countries). In the crackdown the hostesses were “stripped of their livelihood,” Parreñas lamented. “They go to Japan of their own volition​—​they’re not drugged or forced to go. They find it empowering to be a hostess.” Parreñas’s theory was that “there are multiple moralities in society,” and that some Filipinas’ moral codes happened to permit “paid sex with the men they call their boyfriends.” The problem, as Parreñas saw it, was that many Japanese clubs tended to have a different “moral culture” from that of the hostesses who worked there, but the hostesses couldn’t quit until their indentures were up. Nonetheless, Parreñas insisted, “most of them resent the United States, and they resent being rescued” from the hostess life by being kicked out of Japan. Her solution to the hostess problem: open immigration in the West for developing-world sex workers so they could get jobs in, say, the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal. 

Parreñas proved to be a tough act to follow. Richard, the human-trafficking expert from the State Department, seemed dumbfounded. “I think America is a wonderful country,” she said. She rattled off some information about the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000, along with some alarming-sounding numbers: 70 percent of the estimated 12 to 27 million human-trafficking victims in the world these days are women and girls, most of whom end up in bondage, often sexual bondage, in East Asia and the Middle East. Parreñas was having none of that. “It’s quite tricky to lump all trafficked people together,” she sniffed. “Most migrant workers are domestic workers, and many countries, including the United States, don’t even count domestic work as an occupation.” Nor did Parreñas have any positive words for Hudson and her bare-branches research. “Did you interview any of those single men you describe as psychopathic and poor?” Parreñas demanded of Hudson. “Did they see themselves as unmarriageable?”

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