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26-Dec-2019 21:54

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On Sundays in Hong Kong's Central District, in what decades ago was an elite and largely male territory, young, nubile, foreign women gather in the thousands on their day off, "taking over," as the locals say, Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong are viewed as sexually threatening and thus in need of strict discipline.

In this article I present and analyze the discourse on the sexuality of Filipina domestic workers, arguing that their reputation is linked primarily to their ambiguous social and class identities, and to broad changes in the familial and economic landscape of Hong Kong.

In contrast to locals' images or memories of the Chinese "amahs" of the past, who are said to have "known their places" and to have posed no fundamental or moral challenge to existing patterns of authority (see Constable 1996; Gaw 1991 ; Ooi 1992), contemporary foreign domestic workers constitute a threat and are considered to be a symbol of a moral order turned inside out.

This inversion in the public spaces of Hong Kong on Sundays is locally regarded as scandalous, immoral, provocative, and threatening because, for the other six days of the week, the discourse on sexuality is negotiated in a far more covert arena.

This literature has emerged largely in response to Michel Foucault's Historyof Sexuality (1 990[1976]) in the form of applications, refinements, and critiques of his work (see Parker and Gagnon 1995; Stanton 1992).

Historians, literary critics, feminists, and scholars in the field of cultural studies are among those who have contributed most to this body of literature and, perhaps not surprisingly, the literature focuses almost exclusively on sexuality in western Europe and the United States.

As scholars recognize, allegations of promiscuity among the working class in Victorian England say more about the middle and upper classes who made the accusations, and about the wider socioeconomic conditions of the industrial revolution, than about those who stood accused of immorality and debauchery (see Barret-Ducrocq 1991; Gallagher 1987; Gilman 1985; Laqueur 1992).

Similarly, the discourse on foreign domestic workers is inextricably linked, not to any actual disproportionate immorality on their part, but to broader social issues in modern, capitalist, international Hong Kong.' Over the past decade and a half, the literature on histories and discourses of sexuality has grown exponentially to include entire journals devoted to the subject.

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Currently over 90 percent of these workers are women; most are between the ages of 25 and 35; and at least three quarters of them are single.

I have chosen to examine distinct modes ofdress among Filipina domestic workers because in this forum there is invaluable opportunity to examine the interface between employers' discipline of workers, domestic workers' self-discipline, and their contestation or appropriation of particular sexual images.

As Barnes and Eicher contend, "social identity expressed in dress becomes not only an answerto whoone is, but also howone is, and concerns the definition of the self in relation to a moral and religious value system" (1992:2; see also Broch-Due et al. As such, modes of dress allow us to see how Filipina domestic workers simultaneously resist and embrace the existing system of power as it is inscribed in the discourse of sex and encoded in sexuality (Abu-Lughod 19).

The Hong Kong government established special institutions and policies to control and regulate the rapidly growing number of foreign workers.

Today almost ten percent of Hong Kong households-some 600,000 individuals-benefit directly from the labor of domestic workers6 Most employers, constituting the fastest growing group, come from the middle class.

Clothing serves as one forum in which sexuality is expressed, discipline is enacted and resisted, and various forms of power are exercised.