Consuming Respect in China’s Informal Service Sector

Seventeen- year- old Mingli had been working for three years in Kunming when I met her. Originally from a small village in Sichuan, she cleaned rooms for a medium- sized guest house in the city. After each workday she returned to her dormitory room, a spare, narrow space stuff ed with eight wooden cots. All of her possessions fi t underneath her cot. I visited her on several eve nings, and we shared stories about our homes and lives as roommates circulated through the dorm, occasionally joining the conversation. One eve ning she blithely retrieved a photo album from below the cot, setting it gently on my lap and opening the fi rst pages to show me pictures of her friends and family. But the trea sured centerpiece of her photo album was a portfolio of glossy pictures of Mingli herself. She appeared in soft focus, her bare shoulders fl oating on froths of chiffon and lace. Her makeup had been professionally applied and her eyebrows carefully manicured, making her look like a porcelain doll. She struck a series of poses. In one she carried a frilly silk umbrella, gazing at the ground, a slight pout drawing her rose red lips downward. In another photo she grinned dev ilishly, looking out of the corners of her eyes. In 4 Aspirational Urbanism Consuming Respect in China’s Informal Ser vice Sector I still feel like I have no roots. It’s like a sharp wind cut me from my string and now I’m left to fl oat in the empty sky. Mingli, 17- year- old migrant worker in Kunming, China Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 124 Aspirational Urbanism all there were about eight photos, all shot at one of the many professional studios in town. As we admired the images, other young women gathered and offered studied commentary on Mingli’s clothing, makeup, and poses: “Th e sparkle eye shadow looks great in the photo, but you can’t wear that on the streets,” Limai advised. Another queried, “Have you sent this photo home to your parents?” “I want to wear that dress for my photos, but in blue,” announced a third. A few fetched photo albums from beneath their cots to show me their cache of glamour portfolios. Others calculated when they might save enough money— the better part of a month’s salary— to have their own set of photos taken. Why would these young women who worked for just over US$2 a day in the ser vice sector indulge in such extravagance? And how are such luxuries related to the work they perform in ser vices? What do these consumption practices reveal about market- embodied labor? Rural migrants who labor in the urban informal sector, like Mingli, comprise 42 percent of China’s total urban labor force. Almost half of these workers (47 percent) are employed in ser vices (Huang 2009). Urban informal sectors represent the underbelly of the more highly visible global fl ows of capital, people, data, and resources that defi ne contemporary globalization (Sassen 1988). Informal sectors of work subsidize urban employers by providing low- cost ser vices that maintain a ceiling on the urban cost of living, at the same time availing urbanites of myriad services, including restaurants, retail stores, cafés, entertainment, saunas, gyms, and domestic care. In this case study, I extend the concept of market- embodied labor to urban China’s new informal sector. By defi nition, the ser vice sector exists outside the world of corporate service conglomerates that strategically choreograph labor to appeal to the status struggles of their clients. Th e absence of highly structured work practices raises the following questions: If fi rms are not coordinating the labor of workers to appeal to the gender and class predilections of the consumer market, what are the dominant patterns of and causes for prevailing labor practices? Do women workers adapt their behavior to appeal to consumer markets despite the absence of bureaucratic regulatory structures? If so, what forces direct these adaptations? Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 125 Unlike the employees of the Beijing and Kunming Transluxury Hotels, migrant women do not labor for large, bureaucratic, globally linked organizations. Th eir labor is not subject to ser vice protocols imported from the United States or deliberately adapted to local luxury markets. Consumer markets infl uence the character of informal sector labor, but the adaptations women make to meet the perceived struggles for status among the urban consumers they serve appear to be voluntary. Despite appearances, however, there are structural mechanisms underlying the connection between consumer markets and labor practices, mechanisms that diverge from those of the formal sector. Informal sector market- embodied labor can be traced to a state bureaucratic legacy that exercises indirect control over workers by exempting them from urban citizenship, which prevents their long- term settlement in cities and excludes them from the protection provided by employment laws. By disenfranchising migrants, the state leaves the immediate labor relationship to the discretion of employers, who pay meager wages and require long days of work. Moreover, a general absence of workplace protocols coordinating relations between customers and employees, coupled with migrants’ youth, gender, and low status, creates a ser vice context in which urban customers exercise substantial power over employees and direct their labor, with few formalized limits on their actions. Th ese urban consumers are deeply anxious about their position in China’s now fl uid status system and tend to feel superior to and often plainly contemptuous of migrants. In response, migrant women resort to one of the only arenas of discretion available to them, given the narrow circumscription of their lives in urban centers: they adjust their pre sen ta tion of femininity. Th e glamour photo sessions (and other forms of consumption) are part of a larger complement of gender strategies migrants use to achieve respectability in the urban social milieu by altering their bodies. Th ey spend their meager incomes on goods that promise to transform their bodies into urban selves so that they might court respectful responses from customers and even claim equivalence with them. Cities are not only material constructions but also “symbolic projects” created through repre sen ta tions of affl uence, culture, civility, technology, and ethnicity that form terms for inclusion and exclusion (Zukin 1996). Migrant women recognize the Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 126 Aspirational Urbanism symbolic politics at play in the city and attempt to conform their bodies accordingly. Th eir aspiration to become urban— and tragic inability to do so— resolves into a form of labor control as workers seek the approval of their urban customers. If migrants feel like kites cut loose, fl oating about the sky, then reformulating their appearance to act and look like urbanites off ers the hope of a bodily anchor in the urban center. Embeddedness in Urban Consumer Markets I’ll tell you what— this city wasn’t always such a mess. It’s the migrants. They come here and bring the dirt, their bad habits, ignorance. They basically lack quality. Beijing cabdriver It was a chorus chanted from the throats of cabdrivers, acquaintances, friends— nearly every urbanite who discovered my interest in migrant workers. “Th ey’re dangerous— don’t go into their neighborhoods,” off ered a protective local friend, echoing the attitudes of many urbanites. “Th ey’ve turned the city into a chaotic [luan] place,” announced a manager at the Beijing Transluxury. In the course of an interview at the Kunming Transluxury Hotel, I asked a cocktail waitress to defi ne “quality” (suzhi), a term she used to assess guests. She said, “Well, for example, those rural people who work in the public areas department cleaning fl oors . . . [they have] no education, poor hygiene, you can’t even understand them when they speak. . . . Th ey are of very low quality.” For urbanites, the bodies and actions of migrants constitute a lowlevel, daily, and habitual off ense to the most fundamental norms of modernity, progress, and civility (Gaetano and Jacka 2004; Guang 2003; H. Yan 2008). Without a permanent place of abode in the urban center, migrants are unable to bring the collateral of permanent residence to their relationships with urbanites. “Th ey can just run off back to their village,” a guest house manager cautioned.1 Th e presence of migrants is one particularly conspicuous manifestation of the widening inequalities that have wrenched China’s urban centers in recent years. Th ese social and material disparities are especially disorienting because of their relatively sudden emergence. In the 1970s rates of in e quality in urban China were among the lowest in the world, but by the 1990s Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 127 China’s cities were the sites of some of the highest rates of in e qual ity (Davis and Wang 2009).2 In the space of just two de cades urbanites faced massive layoff s, privatization of housing, land reclamation, forced relocations, the virtual elimination of health care, rapidly shifting labor markets, uncertain employment, and volatile consumer prices. Th ese startling transformations leave urbanites anxious and insecure (Davis and Wang 2009; Lee 2007). At the same time, migrants entering cities by the millions threaten to deprive urban dwellers of stable jobs, compounding their angst (Lee 2007).3 Broadening diff erences in standards of living and narrowing opportunity structures for those left behind the boom generate deep social and existential uncertainty about individuals’ place in the social world, as rules about what constitutes accomplishment, value, and status have been completely redefi ned. Th ese anxieties fl oat just below the surface of civility and simmer in spaces of interaction where social protocols are not clearly defi ned, such as informal sector ser vice outlets. Hence, the informal sector consumer market is constituted not only by urbanites’ desire for restaurants and places of entertainment but also by their quotidian quests for respect and distinction. As urban dwellers struggle to fi nd social, material, moral, and cultural anchoring in the rapidly shifting class landscape of China’s urban metropolises, rural people become fodder for their eff orts. Urbanites’ presumption of cultural superiority forms the basis for direct and indirect forms of labor control over migrant consumer ser vice workers. Th is control takes root in the bodies of migrant women as they respond to the behaviors of their urban customers. Th e low- status position of rural people in Chinese urban society is refl ected in new categories of language. News papers, magazines, and tele vi sion news broadcasts designate female rural migrants “working little sisters” (dagongmei), denoting a low- status kin position. Th e use of this gendered familial term summons paternalistic dispositions toward migrant women. Th e term mangliu, or “blind fl ow,” also peppers media accounts about rural sojourners, suggesting that migrants are aimless itinerants. During the 2007 Spring Festival, when extreme weather hindered the train system, thousands of migrants hoping to return home for the holiday were left stranded at train stations. Images of the throngs clamoring to board trains, so densely packed that they seem to form a Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 128 Aspirational Urbanism single, seething mass, undulating beyond the will of any individual, circulated throughout the mass media.4 Th ese images represent migrants as a chaotic and intractable force invading cities. Compounding the sense of threat, media outlets, along with some municipal agencies, have adopted “migrant crime” as a new category of legal transgression, separating migrants into a special class of deviant. Refl ecting a generalized suspicion of migrants, a building manager in Shanghai posted a sign in a public- use elevator: “Beware of fi re and migrants during the holidays. Many peasants steal before they head home for the New Year” (Guang 2003: 622). Urbanites readily scapegoat migrants for a plethora of social problems, criminal and noncriminal (Guang 2003).5 Th e pop u lar media also depict migrant women as cheap, tawdry, and gaudy. For example, an editorial in a pop u lar Shanghai newspaper indicted migrant women for acting coarse and vulgar (Guang 2003). Th ese attributes were epitomized, according to the writer, in the tawdry sandals rural women wear as they stroll the streets of Shanghai. Guang comments, “Th e cheap sandals worn by the migrant women marked warped femininity, vagrancy, underclass, and outsideness” (2003: 631). Such images make rural migrant women a foil for the tasteful, manicured urban woman. According to an editorial in a pop u lar magazine, “Th e fair lady is never a countryside bumpkin, but a refi ned city woman” (Zheng 2004: 86). At a New Year’s party I attended at the Beijing Transluxury Hotel, urban female staff performed their version of a traditional rural dance, dressing up according to a ste reo type of rural girls. Th ey donned brightly patterned skirts and tops in kaleidoscopic patterns of shocking pink, electric orange, rich scarlet, and vivid purple, all of which clashed by conventional standards. As they dressed, they poked ruthless fun at the aesthetic backwardness of rural women, mimicking their accents and manners. Within informal ser vice outlets, this disposition toward urban distinction is expressed as both symbolic and direct domination of migrant labor. Armed with ste reo types of rural peoples as “low quality” (suzhi di) and uncivilized, a blight on the urban center, urbanites view themselves as unquestionably and fundamentally superior. Many endeavor to edify the putatively poor, ignorant, backward rural girls who serve them. Belittled, distanced, and socially sequestered, migrants seek Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 129 redemption in the social and cultural assessments of urbanites; they spend substantial portions of their income remaking their appearances. Whereas in hotels management organizes labor to appeal to customers’ striving for distinction, in the informal sector women adapt their labor to the tastes and predilections of customers spontaneously in order to conceal their rural origins and gain respect. Embeddedness in Institutional Work Legacies: The Informal Sector Th e character of market- embodied labor that unfolds in the informal sector is determined in the fi rst instance by its embeddedness in macro- level regulatory work legacies that are administered by municipal governments and in the second instance in the simultaneously despotic and casual work environment permitted by this legacy. Despotism can be defi ned as labor control that draws on coercive tactics, such as fear, fi nes, and penalties. Workers tolerate these tactics because of their dependence for a livelihood on waged labor (Burawoy 1979). Informal sector employers tend to control their workers with fi nes and penalties, while scarcely regulating the relationship between customers and workers. Th e impetus for the creation of China’s informal sector was concern about urban unemployment. In 1981 the state implemented the Individual Business Policy (Geti Jingji Zhengci), allowing citizens to establish their own private, profi t- making businesses. Th e CCP had all but eradicated private businesses, and urban workers labored for either stateowned work units or collectives. But throngs of youths were returning from the countryside, after having been rusticated for reeducation during the Cultural Revolution. Th e CCP hoped that the new private businesses would be a source of employment for this population. Th e policy permitted urban residents to obtain business operating licenses. Municipal and district branches of the Bureau of Industry and Commerce licensed businesses and administered their activities (S. Young 1995).6 Government enterprises were mandated to allow new businesses access to inputs required for operation. Small businesses were limited to fi ve employees until 1987, when the number increased to eight for individually owned businesses, a category distinguished from private enterprises Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 130 Aspirational Urbanism (siyingqiye), which were permitted to employ more than eight workers (Han and Pannell 1999). Given the absence of a market in commercial real estate, private own ers were forced to rent space from state- owned enterprises, municipal bureaus, and urban street committees. Rental arrangements were diverse and included profi t sharing and, in some cases, even placing landlords on the company payroll as wage earners. Eventually, state- owned enterprises themselves began to invest in these small businesses, as a way to employ their surplus workforce and to evade costly state regulations. Th ese state- owned enterprises benefi ted from informal sector arrangements: low wages, the absence of labor laws, and unregulated work hours for employees reduced operating costs. Involvement in the informal sector was a revenue- generating strategy for state- owned enterprises in the transition from socialism to a market economy. Initially, a number of factors combined to stigmatize the new business sector: the low status of own ers (ex- convicts and retirees prevalent among them), mistrust of for- profi t businesses among the general public, and limited benefi ts and salary guarantees for its employees. Periodic state campaigns against small businesses, which were perceived as a threat to state industries, also tarnished the sector’s reputation.7 But with few obstacles to starting up and growing competition for jobs in the state sector, the number of small entrepreneurs grew steadily. As the numbers of small businesses increased, their reputations improved, even though they continued to be characterized by unstable employment relations. Meanwhile, the state’s new agricultural policy created a surplus of rural workers, who fl ooded the nascent urban labor markets. Under the house hold responsibility system, the state redistributed agricultural land from large collectives to rural house holds, leaving many families with too little land to employ all their members. As urban governments relaxed the residential policies that until 1981 prevented spontaneous population movement from the countryside to the city, rural workers began traveling to cities in search of work. Rural migrants quickly became the preferred labor force for small, private sector businesses, especially because residential policies guaranteed their exclusion from the labor laws regulating urban workers. As discussed in Chapter 1, the household registration system (hukou) that today channels migrants into an unregulated labor market was inOtis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 131 vented in the Mao era as a macro- level administrative tool for fi xing rural populations to their place of birth. After 1950 the system banned rural dwellers from leaving the village to sojourn in urban centers, as they had for centuries (Skinner 1976). Th is regulatory apparatus has been modifi ed in the reform era to channel and oversee the 147 million rural laborers moving to cities (China National Bureau of Statistics 2006). It operates much like the legal boundaries and exclusions constructed by the regulation of national borders in large immigrant- receiving nations such as the United States, Canada, and Eu ro pe an countries. Ultimately, the household registration system creates what is locally deemed a “fl oating population” (liudong renkou), a reserve army of labor exempt from labor laws that employers can hire or send home at will. Th e system requires close monitoring of population movement by state institutions at a cost that is borne by migrants through substantial regulation and documentation fees. To legally work in cities, migrants must pay for an identifi cation card and a work permit. Female migrants must acquire a family- planning certifi cate to ensure adherence to the one- child- per- family policy. Once in the city, migrants are required by the local public security bureau to apply annually for a temporary residence permit, but only after passing an offi cial health inspection. Th e cost of these documents is close to 600 yuan (about US$80) in fees, representing between one- half and two months’ salary for most ser vice workers.8 Only individuals who are gainfully employed are legally permitted to apply for a temporary residence permit. Dependents, including children and unemployed spouses, are barred from living with workers in the city. Police arbitrarily inspect these documents and interrogate migrants.9 Public security authorities can place unemployed or unauthorized migrants in detention centers and deport them to their villages (L. Zhang 2001). In the fi rst half of 2002, the Beijing municipal government announced that it had deported 180,000 migrants back to their home villages (Li et al. 2006). By preventing settlement in the urban center, the state ensures a continuous supply of neophyte laborers to staff urban consumer ser vice outlets. Th ese young women tend to abdicate their jobs upon age of marriage, usually in their mid- twenties, and are easily replaced with fresh young recruits. Hence, customers are assured of being served by a woman Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 132 Aspirational Urbanism younger than they, thereby bringing age hierarchies into play on the service fl oor (Brinton 2007). Residence laws that confi ne migrants to informal labor markets and ban migrant women from settling in cities also discourage their marriage to urbanites: children of urban- rural “mixed” marriages are not permitted to use urban educational and other ser vices.10 Workers are thus left dependent on their rural families for long- term support.11 Despite the divergent regional economic and cultural environments of the urban centers where migrants labor, the centrally mandated household registration system forms strikingly similar “contexts of reception” for migrant women in metropolitan China. Contexts of reception refer to legal, economic, and cultural patterns that condition migrants’ incorporation into a receiving society (Parreñas 2001; Portes and Rumbaut 1996). Migrant women undergo parallel pro cesses of exclusion in both Beijing and Kunming because of the household registration system. Hence, this chapter emphasizes the analogous eff ects of the system across regions. Because migrant ser vice workers are excluded from employment regulation, they become particularly vulnerable to urban customers, who harbor a degree of contempt toward them. Staff- Employer Relations Th e small businesses employing migrants are owned by urbanites, affl uent migrants (who have acquired urban residence or who sublease from urbanites), and sometimes state- owned enterprises (Duckett 1998; Guthrie 1999; Tsai 2004).12 Given the absence of employment laws, these employers can pay low wages and require long hours of work. It is not unusual for migrant women to work ten to fi fteen hours a day— and they earn meager wages for these long hours. According to the International Labour Or ga ni za tion, the average wage of urban informal sector workers in 2004 was 780 yuan per month (US$98). Th ese workers labored an average of eleven hours per day (Huang 2009: 408). Other surveys show that they earn on average 50 percent less than urban residents (Huang 2009). Th e monthly wages of workers I interviewed ranged from 150 yuan (about US$19) for live- in nannies to 800 yuan (about US$100) for skilled beauticians. Waitresses and hostesses earn wages in the low to middle range of this scale. Wages and conditions of work are Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 133 thus considerably stratifi ed in the informal sector, with workers who have skills, connections, and experience making considerably more than nannies. Th us, the informal sector contains a range of employment relationships, experiences, and labor practices (Swider 2008). However, I found that female migrant workers in the ser vice sector shared important experiences in common; specifi cally, all struggled with cultural and po liti cal exclusion from urban centers. Th ey also shared similar strategies for claiming inclusion in urban society. When the employer provides living quarters, the typical space is a long, narrow room. Bunk beds stacked two or even three platforms high fi ll most of the space. Th e occasional blank wall is fi lled with posters of pop culture icons, Hong Kong movie stars, and Taiwanese singers. Some workers must sleep inside their workplace on restaurant or bar chairs and tables. Hongmei, a hostess at a small café in Kunming, slept on thinly upholstered benches that customers used by day. She lamented, “Our living environment is wretched.” None of the workplaces that I studied systematically codifi ed a full complement of work codes, regulations, and penalties. Instead, rules and penalties emerge as ad hoc solutions to problems as they arise. Employees are usually recruited through personal connections. Training is minimal and occurs on the job. Few bureaucratic rules dictate conditions of employment, methods of interaction, or modes of self- presentation, training, penalties, or recruitment. Nevertheless, across the small businesses I examined, a few specifi c labor practices were consistently implemented. Most employers require a deposit, usually the equivalent of one- quarter to a full month’s salary. Th is deposit can be returned if the employee gives the employer adequate leave notice and returns her uniform.13 A majority of employers disburse wages only once a month. Burdensome deposits and long intervals between wages prevent migrants from departing without two weeks to one month’s notice. Employers also hold workers’ temporary residence permits and other offi cial documentation. Th is practice prevents unanticipated departures and increases workers’ reluctance to travel around the city, since without their documentation they are vulnerable to detention and deportation back to their villages by authorities. Employers tend to impose monetary sanctions for tardiness, unscheduled leaves, equipment Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 134 Aspirational Urbanism breakage, or damage to customers. Th ese penalties are often not specifi ed in advance, but rather are levied in an ad hoc fashion. Holding the employee responsible for damages to customers’ personal eff ects minimizes the employer’s losses. Zhenbao, a 17- year- old working as a nanny for 178 yuan (about US$23) per month in a three- room Kunming apartment, related that in the course of work, “I chipped a chunk of enamel off my employer’s refrigerator while I was cleaning. [Th e employer] wanted 600 yuan [about US$80] for the damage!” In an outlet of the pop u lar local fast- food chain California Beef Noodle in Beijing’s southwest Chongwen district, I witnessed one of my in for mants, Chenmei, subjected to a loud upbraiding by a customer for spilling soda from a platter she carried and soiling his new silk jacket. But he had bumped into her. He demanded compensation for the jacket. “Th is is outrageous!” he shouted as the diminutive Chenmei shrank in embarrassment, anemically wiping at the stain, now well set into his jacket, as she profusely apologized. Th e restaurant own er compensated the customer, forcing Chenmei to pay for half the sum, about one- half of her monthly salary. Although monetary sanctions can be onerous, many women feel that suff ering the often unpredictable wrath of their employers is the most unbearable part of the job. Employer anger is especially withering because workers rarely have other contacts in the city. Lonely, isolated, and far from their families for the fi rst time, many depend entirely on their employers for social and economic support, particularly in the fi rst year of employment. Xiaohe, a Beijing waitress from rural Anhui, explained, “If we make a small mistake, [the boss] cusses you out. . . . He just scolds you. When that happens, I can’t even eat— I sit on the terrace, miss home, and cry.” Isolated in often small ser vice outlets with no urban social networks, these women have few social resources to cushion such blows. When Mingli, the Kunming guest house worker featured at the beginning of this chapter, was accused by a supervisor of stealing drinking glasses from guest rooms, the supervisor forced her to enter each guest room to count each individual glass in front of guests, a form of ritual shaming. I watched her eyes well up as she counted the glasses in my friend’s room. Not only do employers levy fi nes to minimize their risk of loss, but they also recruit workers through personal connections so as to have a guarantor of their employee’s character and commitment, another means Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 135 of averting fi nancial losses.14 Employers tend to rely on friends, acquaintances, or existing employees to fi nd workers. Some employers use contacts with rural relatives to recruit workers from distant villages. Others rely on contacts with rural acquaintances in the city and hire the fellow villagers of their own or their neighbors’ nannies, or friends of rural migrant workers already in the city.15 In general, employers try to fi nd contacts with rural villagers with whom they already had a relationship so as to establish some basis for trust and loyalty. Th ese connections are also used to control workers: employers hold the intermediary responsible if the worker departs without notice, absconds with valuables, or otherwise conducts herself inappropriately. One of the clearest expressions of the casual nature of the work environment is training. Workers are usually trained on the job. Typically, on their fi rst day of work employers or fellow workers briefl y outline new employees’ work tasks, after which the workers are sent out on the ser vice fl oor to sink or swim. Zhanglei described her employer’s instructions on her fi rst day on the job at the Golden Garden restaurant in Beijing: “He told me not to talk back to customers, just take their order, be polite, and make sure they pay their bill in full.” Unpredictable penalties coupled with thin or non ex is tent guidelines for ser vices place migrant women workers at the mercy of their urban customers, who often serve as models for behavior. By excluding migrants from urban rights and entitlements, especially employment rights, the household registration system reinforces and legitimates antimigrant urban sentiments. Migrant women in the ser vice sector respond by seeking to pass as urbanites, attempting to adopt urban dress and manners in an eff ort to cultivate the respect of their urban customers. In other words, they aspire to be urban. Hence, I term the regime under which they labor “aspirational urbanism.” Urban inclusion becomes both seductive and elusive for these women. Embeddedness in Practical Gender and Class Schemata: Consumption as Coping Th e routine disapproval expressed by urban customers distressed migrant workers. Hairei is a 22- year- old waitress at the North River, a Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 136 Aspirational Urbanism ramshackle restaurant in suburban Beijing that is crammed with seven tables, each covered with a shriveling plastic gingham tablecloth. On the day we spoke, Hairei wore acid- washed jeans and a matching shortwaisted jacket outlined with decorative metal studs. We huddled around a coal burner as she described her sense of belittlement since arriving in the city: People from the city look down on rural people because they have city residence—[to them] we are hillbillies. It’s impossible for us to be accepted here; [urbanites] consider us to be basically a diff erent category of person. Sometimes I don’t even think they regard us as full human beings. Zhangyan, originally from a village in a desolate region in Yunnan’s northeast, who served chrysanthemum tea and hot towels to patrons in a Kunming bowling alley (where workers are required to clap when players score a strike), spoke of urban discrimination thus: “Customers always have that disgusted kind of look because I am from the countryside; they think we are of a diff erent class.” Liuling, 21, traveled from rural Anhui to become a cocktail waitress in the sumptuous downtown Beijing Peacock Bar. She felt demeaned by urban customers: “We are outsiders [and] of no importance to them. . . . Th ey’ve learned that by using us they can earn money.” As Xuling, who migrated to Beijing from her village in Hunan, points out: “[Urbanites] don’t trust us because we don’t have a permanent address here in the city; they assume we will just steal from them and trot off to our homes in the countryside.” One of the most demoralizing realizations for the young transplants is the yawning education gap separating them from the average urbanite. According to the China National Bureau of Statistics (2001), 50 percent of female migrants completed only primary school; the average years of education among all migrants is just over seven years, whereas urbanites average more than ten years of education. Th e educational level of the vast majority of migrant women I interviewed did not extend beyond middle school, and almost a third had completed only primary school, despite a national law passed in 1986 mandating nine years of compulsory education.16 Migrants repeatedly cited their low level of education and lack of skills to explain their exclusion from the Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 137 urban center. Th ose who dropped out of school to work in Beijing and Kunming echoed 19- year- old Chenhong from rural Gansu, who left middle school prematurely to work as a server in a Kunming teashop: “I took for granted [the opportunities for learning] when I was in school. I felt I had too little time on my hands. Now I regret [dropping out].” Th e decision to abandon education is irrevocable. Once a student exits the educational system, there are few opportunities to reenter. Th e household registration system bars migrants from participation in the urban educational system. Th e unpredictable hours women work in the ser vice sector also prevent them from attending informal extension courses in the city. Ser vice jobs off er migrants few opportunities to extend their education. Employers off er little if any training, and skills are mostly selftaught. Given the absence of training in ser vice protocols, workers tend to improvise responses to questions, issues, and problems that arise in the course of ser vice, especially when employers are not present. Many described fumbling their way through the fi rst days on the job. Siuyin answered phone calls and washed clients’ hair at a beauty salon in Beijing. She described her fi rst day: Th e boss was out and one of the guys who cuts hair just told me to answer the phone by saying “Sunrise Beauty Salon.” But then when the fi rst customer called I didn’t know how to record an appointment. I just wrote the appointments down on business cards until the boss returned. Th e fi rst weeks I had to ask about every little thing, even how to put someone on hold. When customers came in I didn’t know how much a haircut cost. I made so many mistakes. It was exhausting. In many cases employers assumed basic knowledge that employees did not possess. In the urban environment, workers confront new technology they never encountered in their villages, including refrigerators, gas stoves, micro waves, espresso makers, and calculators. Employers rarely realize that migrants have little familiarity with modern appliances. In one café that served freeze- dried coff ee, 15- year- old Xiaoqing, who had never before beheld the brown crystals, recalled placing three heaping tablespoons of coff ee into a small cup. She chuckled, “Th e Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 138 Aspirational Urbanism customer was so angry but made the funniest face when he drank the coff ee. I was afraid I’d be fi red when he complained.” In another incident, a waitress almost burned down the kitchen when she lit the gas stove after letting fumes emit for a few minutes. I heard wrenching stories about fi rst days when workers were not familiar with the menu and could not describe dishes, or how the restaurant prepared them. Daiyu, a waitress who was 14 when she arrived in Beijing, told me: When I arrived the boss had to leave immediately, so I was just left with the cook to serve customers. I didn’t know anything. I just got a pad and wrote down what they told me and gave it to the cook. I forgot to collect payment from my very fi rst customer, so I had to pay the bill. I cried that night. Lacking experience, workers often took cues from customers during the fi rst weeks on the job. For example, Yaqing, a waitress in a Kunming seafood restaurant, recalled, I was naive in the beginning. A group of four men came in to order food. I mean, before that I would remember the order and tell the cook, but they ordered so many dishes that halfway through I realized I’d forgotten the fi rst part of the order. One guy said, “Hey why aren’t you writing this down?” Th en he made some comment about how I’m a silly country girl. So I had to make them start all over again and wrote everything down carefully. As they stumble and grope through their fi rst weeks of work, migrant workers also have their fi rst encounters with disapproving or even hostile urban attitudes, amplifi ed by impatience with the neophyte employees. Th is diff use antimigrant sentiment coalesces into control of young women on the ser vice fl oor. Unequal access to legal rights and protections in the urban center underwrites control by customers; women workers have no formal rights to contest their treatment. Moreover, small outlets invite casual behavior: decorum that is taken for granted in large bureaucratic ser vice settings is often transgressed in informal sector outlets. In fact, the relatively casual environment is part of the appeal of the informal ser vice outlet. As ser vice workers, migrants are frequently in the uncomfortable (and often untenable) position of having to enforce their employers’ rules among urbanites, who mostly regard themselves as socially supeOtis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 139 rior. Customers bristle when migrant women try to restrict their actions. Although many customers act respectfully, workers reported frequent customer intransigence. An acquaintance of mine, an urban resident of Kunming, visited my dormitory, which was staff ed by migrant women who were responsible for checking all guests’ identifi cation cards. My acquaintance chafed at the gatekeeping. Her voice reverberated through the halls: “How can this ignorant, incompetent country girl act this way? I’m not going to wait around while she tells me what to do!” I regularly witnessed angry tirades against migrant workers. In another case, Xichen, an 18- year- old receptionist at an upscale Beijing salon, begged a customer to put out his cigarette, which was squeezed between his two middle fi ngers. “Sir, there are chemicals in here,” Xichen pleaded. Customers regularly challenge workers’ prerogative to enforce behavior, pricing schemes, and billing. Th e retail sector only recently supplanted traditional peasant food markets, where customers purchased food items only after haggling over prices. Urbanites persist in this habit, as they did in these more informal, traditional spaces. “Th at’s way too expensive,” a customer intoned in front of his party guests while his waitress, the diminutive Shao Lei, looked on. “I won’t pay that much for duck in a place like this,” the man insisted. Shao Lei responded demurely, “I’m sorry, sir. Th at’s the cost of the dish; we can’t adjust the price for you.” “Th at’s bullshit [ fangpi],” the man retorted, punctuating the response with a long click of his tongue at the end. One of migrant workers’ greatest challenges is the struggle to convince customers that prices cannot be negotiated. In extreme cases, customers refuse to pay their bill. When workers fail to collect payment, employers subtract the defi cit from their wages. Yuyue is a 17- year- old employee of the Prince Palace restaurant attached to a karaoke bar in Kunming. In this low- lit, upscale restaurant, patrons dine, drink, and smoke at one of the eight banquet- sized round tables. Th ey are surrounded by mossy gray limestone- like walls that simulate the Stone Forest, a major tourist destination just outside of Kunming. Tanks containing multicolored fi sh pacing the water encrust the fauxlimestone walls. When a group of soldiers dined but would not pay their bill of more than 300 yuan (about US$40), the otherwise diffi dent Yuyue Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 140 Aspirational Urbanism (clad in her red, satin, embroidered qipao) mustered up the courage to challenge them: I usually have great respect for people in the military. But after that incident, my whole idea of that was changed. Th ey were nice to me at fi rst, but then they refused to pay for dinner. . . . I would be forced to pay the bill if they weren’t going to pay. I dragged one of the guys by his jacket and insisted that he pay. Th e other soldiers didn’t want to pay, either. I fought for the money. And I cried for it because I had to fi ght for the money. Nineteen- year- old Zhanglei, who worked at the Golden Garden restaurant in Beijing’s Haidian district, described a typical episode: After the guest ordered his food, he said it tasted bad. He didn’t pay the bill. . . . He just insulted me, [saying] “I’ve been in Beijing so many years, and I’ve never seen anything like this, you small child. How can you act like this?” We had to pay for the food ourselves. Th ey took over forty yuan [about US$5] out of my salary.17 If customers’ refusal to settle receipts injures migrant women materially, sexual harassment wounds their self- esteem. Informal sector workers are especially at risk for sexual harassment because the karaoke bars, restaurants, and beauty salons that employ them are often also sites of solicitation by sex workers, leading customers to assume employees off er paid sexual favors (Hyde 2007).18 Hence, migrant workers share with the staff members of the Kunming Transluxury Hotel the problem of being mistaken as escorts and propositioned by male guests. Customers frequently refer to them as xiaojie, which, as mentioned earlier confl ates the title “miss” with prostitute. But unlike the hotel’s employees, migrants cannot avail themselves of a professional shield to protect their virtue. Small, sometimes ramshackle, informal sector workplaces off er few professional resources. After a few drinks, customers often coax restaurant workers to drink and chat, essentially asking them to cross the line between professional waitressing and escorting. Typically these male customers will accuse the waitress of making them “lose face” if she does not do their bidding. Suddenly the tables are turned, and the village girl has the power to deprive the customer of the dignity of face. Given workers’ low status, it is a puzOtis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 141 zling and disorienting gender tactic to manipulate their behavior. I heard a version of the following incident, described by Xiangling, from every woman employed in a restaurant that served alcohol: One day, some guests arrived and they wanted us to drink with them. I didn’t want to make them angry, but I didn’t want to drink with them either. I said, “I don’t know how to drink.” [Th e customer] said, “You don’t give me face, miss (xiaojie).” I said, “It’s not because I don’t give you face; I don’t know how to drink.” He said, “How can you not know how to drink when you work in the ser vice industry?” I said that it’s partly my family’s upbringing. But he insisted. I said that I would drink tea instead. I didn’t want to lose dignity. So they let me go. I said I never developed the habit of drinking. He said that I should learn. I told them it’s not who I am. Xiaobo, a 21- year- old Kunming waitress from Sichuan, over time developed methods to manage guests: “Well, if the guests want me to drink with them, I would decline . . . [and] drink tea instead, and make some fl attering remarks. By doing this, I give them what they need— I put them up on a pedestal.” By declining to drink alcoholic beverages with male customers, waitresses fi rm up the boundary between their own respectable labor and the work of escorts. At the same time, they attempt to restrict customers’ behavior. Requests to drink with customers are often followed by touching and other inappropriate behavior. Twenty- two- year- old Xiaohe described the inappropriate customer behavior she encountered in her work at a small, corner restaurant located in a residential section of Beijing: “Usually after guests drink a lot, they get fresh with us. Th ere’s a guest . . . he feels me, my hands and . . . if it’s excessive then this is unacceptable. Our work is quite bitter.” Workers in both Beijing and Kunming report such incidents, but sexual harassment is much more common in Kunming, where ser vice workers are more apt to labor in proximity to sex workers. As mentioned earlier, Kunming’s tourist industry promotes ste reo typed, exotic, and erotic images of the diverse ethnic minority populations who live in Yunnan Province. Ethnic minority– themed restaurants recruit women workers to perform ersatz traditional ethnic dances onstage, massage patrons’ upper backs and necks at their tables, lead guests in childhood games like musical chairs, and force customers to drink shots of Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 142 Aspirational Urbanism alcohol. Th ese party games implicitly invite customers’ intimate touching, and workers are left to fend off their advances. At the Blue Fox restaurant, themed vaguely after a Wa ethnic minority village, waitresses dress in costumes from a variety of Yunnan’s ethnic minority groups (Bai, Dai, Wa, and Mosuo). Th ese young women massage male guests at their tables, and some of the inebriated customers draw them close, tugging at their hands, attempting to pull them onto their laps, and sometimes even forcing hugs and kisses on them. During one particularly rousing round of musical chairs that I observed, a male patron slid onto a chair just as a waitress/performer was about to sit down. He buckled his arms around her waist and held her tightly as she tried to wiggle out of the embrace. Not everyone had exclusively negative experiences with urbanites. I also listened to stories of occasional urban kindness and generosity. For example, Yuli, a 20- year- old working in a suburban Beijing restaurant, shared this: Th e city people are very good to me. Th ere was once when I had a cold— I was so sick. One of our guests— we often meet and chat, sometimes I go to their house to visit— when I was sick she gave me medicine. Another guest sometimes brings me gifts. Th ese two guests and their families are really good to me. A handful of workers shared similar stories of generous, kindhearted, aff able urbanites. Women who worked in neighborhood establishments with a steady stream of regular clients were much more likely to have had positive and pleasant encounters with urbanites. But in ser vice outlets where customers enter and exit through a revolving door, with little chance of return, migrant workers are treated with less respect and courtesy. Consumption as a Coping and Control Strategy I expected migrant women to bristle with indignation upon encountering the profound urban bias against them. On the contrary, they respond to the unfl attering media repre sen ta tions and stinging urban prejudice with mortifi cation over their rural origins. Once in the city, their self- confi dence quickly withers. Workplaces with unpredictable Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 143 penalties do little to buff er them from the indignities suff ered at the hands of disrespectful customers. Responding to their own humiliation over ste reo types of rural backwardness, migrant ser vice workers endeavor to conceal their rural origins. Th ey indulge in an urban world of consumption to remake themselves as urban women and socially fl ee from indictments of rural defi ciency. In other words, they seek ac cep tance in urban worlds through using commodities that signal feminine urban sophistication.19 Urban customers are the primary audience for these eff orts, and workers also take their cues from customers’ style and manner. In trying to decode and adapt to urban appearances, informal sector workers voluntarily perform symbolic labor (Lan 2001). Symbolic labor, such as altering appearance to express a value the employer desires to communicate, is usually or ga nized and enforced through formal recruitment as well as through rules and protocols (Gottfried 2006; Warhurst and Nickson 2007; see also Chapters 2 and 3 in this volume). Migrants’ consumption practices reveal a self- initiated mode of ser vice (and symbolic) labor discipline. From the fi rst day they set foot in the city, young women feel awkward and alien. Twenty- one- year- old Liuling evoked her retrospective sense of the village as a closed world: “We are like frogs in the bottom of the well. Th e world outside is entirely new to us.” Upon entering the city, migrants develop acute self- consciousness of their distinctive rural accents, which brand them as uneducated, uncultured, and lacking life experience. In response, they shrink from speaking out, fearing that their accents will betray their rural origins. Railing against Beijing natives, Lixiu described the silencing eff ect: Some young people come here at about the age of 16 or 17 and can’t speak the dialect, and the locals complain and scold them, so that they don’t dare speak again— just like me when I fi rst arrived— even when they know they are right and reasonable, they don’t dare speak. In the words of Xiaohe, an otherwise plucky café waitress, who wore fi ve- inch platform shoes and a sparkly pink Hello Kitty T-shirt when I interviewed her, “No one knows where you are from when you don’t talk, but when you open your mouth then they know . . . you are a peasant.”20 Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 144 Aspirational Urbanism Taste, as expressed in clothing and styles of living, is unconsciously taken as a proxy for intelligence, morality, and education (Bourdieu 1984; Craig 2002). Migrants adopt new urban styles so that they might be regarded as people with human capacities and sensibilities like those of urbanites. Th e consumption of clothing and other items fi gures directly into labor practices, as migrants use them to infl uence the reactions of urban customers. In practice, strategic consumption off ers workers the hope of managing urban concerns about cleanliness, rural naïveté, alertness, and educational backwardness.21 Women ser vice workers cloak themselves in makeup and accessories to avoid negative ste reo types, preempt patronizing lectures by urban customers, and stave off assumptions about their rural naïveté. In the pro cess, migrants imbue simple products such as lipstick and makeup with myriad meanings related to their practical struggles for control and respect in the urban workplace (Certeau 2002). Few workers used makeup before entering the city. Wearing cosmetics signaled a transition to urban life and a coming of age as in depen dent, wage- earning women who practice an urban bodily aesthetic and are modern consumers. One of the fi rst items purchased by women new to the city is lipstick, which they carry with them in a pocket and reapply throughout the day. One worker mentioned to me that when her cousin returned to the village after working in Beijing, she gave her a tube to use when she searched for work. Eventually many young women add lip liner to their accessories and outline their already vividly painted lips with color a shade darker. Workers paint wide swaths of rosy red blush across their cheeks. Eyeliner usually outlines the entire eye in a dark black or blue circle. In most cases, women can aff ord only a few items of makeup. Wearing makeup quickly became part of workers’ daily routine. Chenmei explained, “Once you get used to putting it on, you want it on all the time. Otherwise you just don’t look as good— your lips are pale, your eyes are small, your skin is dark.” I watched migrant workers take out their makeup on the ser vice fl oor on a few occasions, consulting each other as they drew lipstick onto their lips or used foundation powder. Migrant women tend to use makeup more as a display accessory than as a means of accentuating or minimizing facial features. CosmetOtis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 145 ics are applied thickly and in abundance, rather than blended into the skin to approximate their own coloring. Compared to the workers in the Transluxury Hotels, migrant workers adopt brighter and richer colors. Th ey tend to use what they have amply, so that customers are quite clear that they possess and use makeup. In addition to the palate of color for lips and cheeks, skin whiteners are widely adopted by migrant workers, who are concerned about the sun- darkened tone of their faces, an immediate marker of their rural origins. In China, as in many cultures, feminine beauty is defi ned by light skin.22 A migrant worker selling makeup remarked, “Customers ask me how I can possibly sell cosmetics since my skin is so dark.” A few young women I interviewed used whiteners that bleached their faces slightly paler than their neck and hands. Perhaps they used such ample quantities of cosmetics as a way to combat ste reo types, including the impression that they are unclean and vectors of disease. When I asked them why they wore makeup, workers often shared comments similar to that made by Hongyang, a waitress from rural Zhejiang, who explained, “If you wear makeup . . . people think you’re a clean type.” Even though makeup serves no hygienic purpose, migrant women use it to socially communicate their conformance to hygienic practices such as frequent showers, brushing teeth, and washing hands.23 Ser vice workers believe that using cosmetics both invites and shows respect. Xiaohe asserted, “I like to dress in a way that tells people I’m a woman, I deserve your respect.” At the time, Xiaohe wore three- inch platform shoes, like so many migrant ser vice workers, who sought both to participate in urban fashion and to appear taller. She also wore ruby red lipstick and dark eyeliner painted across her eyelids. Workers suggested that cosmetics use expresses respect for customers by accentuating alertness, as a Kunming waitress, Zhanglei, indicated: “Putting on lipstick, I would look less tired; basically, I won’t look fatigued. Th e lips having a healthy glow makes me look happier, and in good spirits. So it’s showing respect to the customers.” Pop u lar media images portray migrants as dumbstruck by urban life.24 To the extent that cosmetics add dramatic highlights to the eyes and brightness to the cheeks and lips, they combat stereotypes of migrants as slow and ineff ectual. Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 146 Aspirational Urbanism I observed the connection between makeup and respect made explicit in a beauty training course for migrant women sponsored by a national welfare program. Th e course included classes in hairstyling, makeup application, aesthetics, and vocational ethics.25 In a class of about forty students, the vocational ethics instructor enjoined: In interactions with people you must give them a positive impression, which starts from the head and includes character, personality, and a spirited appearance. Some female ser vice workers— whose hair is permed and dyed strange colors— the ones who wear huge earrings and have short hair with a tiny ponytail in back— they look like ghosts! During the fi rst week of class, a makeup instructor selected one student to receive a make over, as she narrated step- by- step the application of each product: foundation, eyeliner, lipstick, and so on. But the teacher painted only one eye, blushed only a single cheek, and stopped the lipstick liner halfway across the lips. Upon completing the exercise she used a blank sheet of white paper to cover each half of the student’s face, rotating the model’s head for all to scrutinize. Concealing the unadorned half of the student’s face, she explained, “Guests will be much more respectful and you’ll look much more energetic this way”— then, concealing the side of the face that had been made up— “rather than looking shabby like this.” She continued, “Th e side with makeup looks energetic and healthy, compared to the side without— it shows respect.” Th e notion that the condition of a woman’s face invites respect or disrespect suggests that by virtue of their appearance women are accountable for the conduct of others. Th e lesson is that women exercise infl uence through beauty. Women inattentive to beauty solicit disrespect.26 Of course, not every migrant woman enlisted in a ser vice training course. Regardless, the lessons taught in these courses articulated a widely held assumption: female ser vice workers solicit specifi c types of treatment from customers through their appearance. Migrant women working in the ser vice sector adopt these lessons, embracing the idea that using makeup is a vehicle for gaining and displaying respect. By wearing makeup and sophisticated clothing, young workers also signal that they are adult women, not girls who can be subjected to Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 147 the directives of adults, as suggested by the phrase used to describe this labor force, “working little sisters” (dagongmei). Th e more overt use of bright and dark lipsticks and blushes in par tic u lar signals adult womanhood while countering the ste reo types of “little sister.” Becoming a proper adult woman also means indicating distinction from men on the body (West and Zimmerman 1987). Migrants not only use makeup but also adapt their physical mannerisms in an eff ort to look “soft” and combat widespread images of coarse rural women hardened by years of toil in the fi elds. One waitress discussed her aspiration to be “soft,” which meant distinguishing herself from boys: It’s not like boys who yell and are tough and mean . . . rambunctious [bengbengtiaotiao]. You can’t be like a boy. When you walk you should be a bit elegant. You don’t want to get fresh with people. Your hands and feet should dance. You must have a way of sitting, a way of standing. If you have your own view on things, if there’s something you want to do, people can prevent you from doing it. “Soft” is a type of praise; it’s a type of word that praises women. Accustomed to manual labor in the fi elds, migrant women’s bodies are strong and robust, so passing as urban women requires particularly selfconscious investment, unlearning manners associated with rural work and learning to exude expressions of fragility that are associated with urbane feminine softness. I was frequently asked by migrant women to appraise their softness, typically understood as being gentle, quiet, graceful, and caring, and young women also inquired as to whether or not I wanted to be soft. Softness is an accomplishment, a valuable form of urban gender capital. For migrant workers, who earn minuscule wages, the price of softness is high. Even inexpensive brands of lipstick were costly, at 25 yuan (about US$3) a tube. For women making as little as 300 yuan (about US$40) a month, this was a substantial outlay. Softness has a dear price, as Lanmei described: Th ings are expensive here, a little bottle of cream costs 10 yuan [about US$1.20], shampoo 20 yuan [about US$2.40], and it’s not even that good. And if you want to buy some clothes, you really don’t have that much Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 148 Aspirational Urbanism money. Th e expense is pretty high. Clothes are so expensive, you know, young girls want to dress nicely. So people at home tell us not to buy so much stuff , and save the money for a safety net. Yaqing reported spending her fi rst two months’ salary on clothing and lipstick. In her words, “I don’t wear a uniform, so I need to dress well.” Research among migrants in the cities of Beijing, Shenzhen, Wuhan, and Suzhou fi nds that out of all categories of migrant workers, young, single women were the least likely to remit income (Knight et al. 1999). Th is may be due, in part, to the high cost of conformity to urban standards of femininity. Th ere were exceptions to the passing strategy. I spoke with three migrant women who refused participation in urban beauty culture. One was Yundan, a Beijing café waitress who developed a diff erent selfpresentation strategy: “I try to be honest and down- to- earth. I try not to dress fl ashy. I don’t think I am pretty, so I don’t feel the necessity of making myself look worse by putting more stuff on my face.” Xiangling, who is 19 years old and from the impoverished county of Xuanwai in Yunnan, waited tables in a Beijing restaurant. Instead of spending money on makeup and clothing, she funded an addiction to snack foods: “I am fat because I like junk food. [When I receive my paycheck,] I fi rst spend my money on necessities; then I spend the rest on what ever junk food I want.” Instead of trying to pass, Maluo, who sells offi ce supplies, draws attention to rural poverty as a sales tactic: “I make them sympathize with me, you know, a young country girl working so hard trying to sell supplies. I tell them that back in my village my family eats porridge for every meal and that I often go hungry.” Workplace struggles are not the sole reason migrant women consume makeup and clothing. Many young women take plea sure in their urban self- reinvention and also bear in mind its benefi ts for attracting a desirable marriage partner. Th eir per for mances of gendered urbanity also become markers of status in their rural villages. Makeup and new clothes are explicit indicators of wage- earning status and newfound autonomy. But migrants’ new modes of self- presentation are most powerfully and immediately motivated by proximate concerns for maintaining respectability among the urban customers they serve in their jobs by Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 149 striving to achieve an urban look. Th eir self- reinventions are embodied per for mances of femininity through which they attempt to shed the symbolic references to their putatively backward rural origins and embrace modernity (Ray and Qayum 2009). Some of the eff orts to appear urban through adopting new styles of self- presentation exaggerated migrants’ diff erences from urbanites. For migrants, perception of the aesthetic requirements for ac cep tance in urban centers was fi ltered through a sense of culture and style very much infl uenced by their places of origin. Hence, their eff orts necessarily refl ected their practical schemata for displaying an aesthetic sensibility. Th e frequently exaggerated results of their endeavors to fi t into the metropolis may also refl ect attempts to overcompensate for their rural origins, to broadcast clearly and strongly their full participation and rightful inclusion in urban cultural life. Despite these fi lters and responses, ultimately their alterations of self refl ect the exercise of urban control over their bodies, a form of control that they embrace, internalize, and take plea sure in. Conclusion Why did Mingli and her roommates spend so extravagantly on their photo sessions, and what does this spending reveal about informal sector labor? When it is acknowledged that informal sector labor is mediated fi rst by the employment legacy of the household registration system, second by an urban consumer market for relatively inexpensive ser vices, and third by the sense workers make of the urban bias they confront, we begin to appreciate how what once looked like frivolous spending is a strategic response to labor conditions. Migrants like Mingli confront the status anxieties and biases of urbanites. Upon entry into the urban center, they experience profound discrimination, which, as ser vice workers, they confront directly. Patterns of labor are therefore contoured by the status frustrations of urban consumers who confront a social and economic landscape shifting suddenly and dramatically. Th ese anxieties produce a particularly acute need to seek distinction from rural peoples, who are popularly viewed as backward, impoverished, uneducated, unhygienic, of low quality, and Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. 150 Aspirational Urbanism lacking civility. In the informal ser vice workplace, urbanites therefore tend to criticize and dominate migrant women. Th e absence of formalized rules and guidelines for how to interact and manage their employment tasks disposes migrant women to seize onto the most con ve nient example for behavior and self- presentation. Th eir customers provide cues about how to interact but also seek to draw distinct boundaries between themselves and migrants. Th is lends customers a surprising degree of control and infl uence over migrant workers. Institutional embeddedness of labor in an employment legacy of the household registration system guarantees customer domination of workers by excluding migrants from legal protections, rendering them an extremely docile labor force, especially since their legal presence in the city is predicated upon maintaining employment. It constructs an institutional and social wall between migrants and urbanites, making migrants second- class citizens in the urban center. Without legal regulation of workplaces and with few rules or protocols to direct labor in the workplace, customers can readily direct workers’ labor. Instead of resisting urban disapproval, migrant women tend to absorb urbanites’ negative attitudes. Internalizing urbanites’ opinions, they respond with self- loathing and spend hard- earned wages on consumer items that off er some hope for soliciting urbanites’ respect. Th rough their commodity- enabled, self- imposed self- alterations, women workers adapt to the tastes, preferences, and expectations of urban consumers. Th ey spontaneously conform their symbolic labor, the pre sen tation of an aesthetic tied to the body, to urban gender and class expectations. In the end, workers fi lter new urban styles through their own understandings of “class,” femininity, and urbanity. Th ese interpretations are often at odds with urban aesthetics so that even in their eff orts to become urban they broadcast their rural origins: their urbanism remains aspirational. Chapter 5 provides an analytic juxtaposition of the three types of ser vice workers and labor regimes. It draws conclusions about the reach of imported service- labor practices and their embedding in consumer markets, work legacies, and workers’ own gendered schemata of meaning. Each set of workers bridges distinctive class, gender, and cultural divides; each develops strategies for straddling the divide beOtis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. Aspirational Urbanism 151 tween their own class origins and that of their customers, at the same time limiting their own commodifi cation and maintaining respectability on the ser vice fl oor. I also use the data presented in Chapters 2– 4 to assess the potential for existing theories of ser vice labor to travel across cultural and social boundaries, suggesting ways that these concepts can be made more supple and capable of capturing the cultural dimension of ser vice labor. Otis, E. M. (2011). Markets and bodies : Women, service work, and the making of inequality in china. ProQuest Ebook Central Created from ucb on 2020-11-10 13:52:46. Copyright © 2011. Stanford University Press. All rights reserved.

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