Deconstructing Language

Posted: March 28, 2012 by lildanadoo in Uncategorized

I feel that Rhacel Salazar Parreñas’ book: Servants of Globalization does not adequately deconstruct ideology of the female migrant worker. The composition of the book and the use language reinforce the socially constructed notions of transnational migrant workers. Parreñas initial interviews of the migrant women focus heavily upon their role as mothers, and the fact that their children are living separate lives in the Philippines. This focus makes her interviews come across as critical and judgmental nearly vilifying the migrant workers.

The first three chapters set up Parreñas’ study of migrant workers and introduce key terms for understanding their experiences. These chapters start to divulge into the women’s experiences but mainly focus on introducing the study she is constructing. Chapter four is the first glimpse we have into the lives of migrant women. This chapter heavily focuses on motherhood, and the distance between mother and child. I understand that Parreñas is using this method as an attempt of showing the situation in the Philippines which forces women to transnationally find employment to sustain their families. However, Parreñas uses very negative language when talking about the women; several times she uses the terms absentee (mother) and talk about the women as having abandoned their children. These term have very negative connotations and reinforce the blaming of migrant women.

In Parreñas’ interviews with the women in Chapter Four, she goes so far as to intentionally make the women feel uncomfortable on the basis of their family situations. In the interview she conducts with Lolita, it seems as though she is badgering her and deliberately trying to make her feel guilty and uncomfortable. After Lolita shuts down and will no longer speak on issues about her children, Parreñas inserts her opinion: “Although she claims to work and struggle, using her own words ‘for the happiness of her children,’ her discomfort and inability to earnestly discuss her relationship with them alluded to feelings of guilt and wrongdoing” (93). This comment places the blame on the women, because they are not adequately fulfilling the socially constructed gendered of the mother. The focus on Lolitas’ feelings of “guilt and wrong doing” trivializes the sacrifices she is making her children.


In the next chapter, five, the focus continues to be on the role of the woman as mother, but from the perspective of the children in the Philippines. The chapter explores the situation of financial instability which is the driving force behind the women finding work outside of the Philippines. Yet the main focus is on the experience of the children and continues to use negative and critical language. While discussing the women who have children who live with them, while at the same time have other children living in the Philippines she explains: “…the different relationships that they have developed and maintained with their two sets of children are inexplicable, transforming into a grief they are unwilling or unable to confront” (130).  The problematic word choice of “inexplicable” sets the women up to be wrong, and the implication that their choice cannot be explained or justified automatically sets them up as the villains. Parreñas presents Gay’s life story, as an example of a Filipino child’s experience. Parreñas makes the connection that a contributing factor to her mother’s employment outside of the Philippines was the fact that her father had relationships with other women. As a result, Gay was raped by her father and Gay said that he did it because she looked like her mother when she was younger. I think that this interview is a prime example of how Parreñas veers away from the social issues which drive women to seek work elsewhere and instead places blame, or partial blame on the women. Now, I am not questioning the truth behind Gay’s story, nor am I attempting to trivialize her experience. I personally believe that these initial chapters which introduce the reader to the personal stories of migrant women do not deconstruct the traditionally family roles that women are forced into, but perpetuate them. 

Parreñas goal was to remove the stigma from women and depict the social issues which are shaking the foundation of the traditional Filipino family. Yet I personally believe that in order to do so, one has to go outside of the negative language, which hinges on normative gendered roles to complete that goal. By setting up a gendered binary of the roles of mother and father, Parreñas leads the reader to assume that there are certain roles that both should perform according to their gender. Parreñas does show how the Filipino children assign these gendered roles to their parents by exposing the ideology that a majority of the children believed that it is the role of the father to leave, or that it would be easier to have the father find work outside of the Philippines. Yet I feel that she falls short by not taking that ideology further to deconstruct this notion.


The following chapters focus on the experience of the migrant worker, and place them in terms of being human beings instead of only being mothers. These chapters also focus on the individual experience of the workers and the struggles they face as a result of the work and pressure placed on the women. I think that if these chapters would have been presented earlier, the critical and judgmental tone may not have been so heavy. Also if these chapters would have introduced the women’s experiences it would make the reader more sympathetic to their experience instead of viewing them in extremely gendered tones and may have also allowed for a clearer understanding of Parreñas’ goals.

While reading chapters four and five of Servants of Globalization I became enraged at the critical and negative tone towards the migrant women. After reading further I was understand the situation that Parreñas was presenting. However I believe that in order to deconstruct the constructed social ideology around gendered understandings of transnational workers the language has to be carefully chosen to correctly convey the stand point of the author. I feel as though the focus, setup and language in this book blur the distinctions that Parreñas is trying to convey by failing trap to these gendered notions. Looking at only chapters 4 and 5, did Parreñas’ language affect your view of the migrant workers? Is there another angle Parreñas could have taken to discuss the migrant women?


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