Out to Workis an engaging account of the lives of a group of rural Chinese women who, while still in their teens, moved from villages to Beijing to take up work as maids, office cleaners, hotel chambermaids, and schoolteachers. Among the vanguard of China's great rural-urban migration in the 1990s, these women confronted challenges that were unique to their generation. They were deprived of an education because their families could not afford school fees for both sons and daughters, yet their plans to leave home and better their lives met with strong objections from parents who feared for their daughters' safety and reputations in the big city. Lacking the local, urban household registration (hukou), they were channeled into inferior jobs and denied social welfare.
This longitudinal and biographical exploration of migrant women's lives demonstrates how the intersection of gendered norms and rural-urban inequalities shapes women's identities and desires, and has deleterious material consequences. Yet, by pursuing new opportunities afforded by migration, and strategically applying accumulated knowledge and resources, these women forged better lives for themselves and their families. The book thus convincingly shows that migration for work increases rural women's choices and possibilities for exercising agency, and advances gender equality. But it also makes clear that broader social inequalities persist to make these women's futures precarious.
Subjects: History, Sociology
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