Gender Identity Among New Generation of Female Migrant Workers

December 25, 2018  Editor: Xie Wen

The latest generation of migrating workers are still suffering from dual pressure due to their social status and gender in urban life, even though they differ from their predecessors in terms of education, values, career choice and integration, according to commentators.

Therefore, it is necessary to start with the gender identity and cultural attributes of the new generation of female migrant workers, to analyze their multi-tier and multi-role practical communication process with attitudes and behaviors such as resistance, negotiation, imitation and identification running through it, and to explore the communication context and realistic significance of their construction of gender identity in the practice of multi-distribution.

Gender is a kind of conceptual culture. It reflects a whole set of social concepts and ideologies on the division of labor between men and women, spiritual temperament and behavioral styles of men and women. Gender identity is precisely the process of human gender recognition, with humans as the social subject.

Thus the process of gender identity construction of the new generation of female migrant workers is referred to as the fact that they recognize and adjust their gender concepts, conduct themselves through a series of behaviors expected of women according to gender norms, and meanwhile form a perception of the female image, and develop an understanding and evaluation of gender status, gender-based division of labor and gender roles.

Resistance, Dispelling: Intergenerational Communication Under Traditional Patriarchy

In traditional society, the fate of Chinese women is often oppressed and decided by the patriarchy. Therefore, the core powers such as land ownership and family economic rights are usually dominated by fathers or husbands in the most primitive rural society.

As the group of migrant workers grows in number, the traditional patriarchy begins to face challenges and resistance, whilst the deconstruction of the tradition is bound to be accompanied by long-term and repeated struggles.

For the time being, the new generation of female migrant workers still face certain dominance and influence from the patriarchal society.

Women in rural families patriarchal culture, whether unmarried or married, whether staying in the country or working in cities, all fight to escape or resist traditional gender roles.

The practice of the new generation of female migrant workers in cities promotes the germination of modern women's consciousness, which is poles apart from the female model in the relationship of patriarchal society, and poses a distinct conflict with the patriarchal culture.

The disintegration and resistance by the new generation of female migrant workers of the traditional patriarchal norms is prominently manifested in the issue of marriage and love. The struggle for such autonomy is the most powerful behavior against the patriarchal culture.

Through interviews with members of this group who come from different line of occupation, it can be found that the urban life and working experience of the new generation of female migrant workers make them inclined to approach and accept modern gender concepts.

Compared with women of older generations and rural women of the same age, they are more likely to be disposed to late marriage, late childbirth and equal division of work after marriage.

Imagination, Imitation: Medium-control Consumption on Appearance

For the new generation of female migrant workers who have just entered the urban consumption field, consumption means not only simple living expenditures, but also the best shortcut to construct their female gender identity and gain social recognition.

Deeply influenced by the mass media, they imagine and imitate the female gender image through the fantastic consumption spectacles displayed by the mass media and attempt to transform and reshape their female appearance through their consumer behavior.

The new generation of female migrant workers would also inevitably encounter identity barriers and lack in a sense of social belonging in urban life.

The simplest and most direct way to face these problems is to use the life of urban consumers in the mass media as a reference for imagination so as to form an imaginary identity. Meanwhile, they are also seeking for examples to imitate in order to narrow their social distance with urban residents and their differences with urban women.

Through their consumption behavior, they further confirm their gender characteristics and try to gain self-identity and social identity, have their original gender impression changed in the urban communication environment, and form a feminine temperament that tends to urbanization.

In addition, their transformation of gender identity is rooted in the influence of mass communication and the practice of consumerism. It is a modernization process that hinges on consumer behavior and manifests itself in external appearance. However, since they have to face the constraints of economic conditions as their economic status in the city is still at the middle and lowest levels, consumption behavior remains rational.

Negotiation, Recognition: Self-confirmation in the Process of Interpersonal Interaction

The new generation of female migrant workers have their rights frequently compromised or stripped of due to the coexistence of the urban and rural system and the residence registration system.
In this regard, they have actively self-confirmed in the process of interpersonal interaction, and constructed a female gender identity that is modern and independent. Therefore, interaction and participation are their main manifestations of self-empowerment.

They recognize and conduct a reasonable and objective analysis of the surrounding communication environment; and, engaged in interpersonal communication and interaction with other individuals around them. They also participate in urban labor production and consumption activities and actively develop independent subjective consciousness and self-ability.

They also interact with superiors at work and seniors at home.

Despite the emphasized patriarchic pressure on the new generation of female migrant workers, these women also get some verbal support from men through interpersonal interaction and struggles.

In addition, thanks to continued attention of  various volunteer groups and social work organizations, their self-confirmation has received more external support, such as the help and promotion rendered by community social workers.

Due to multiple obstacles in terms of gender, residence registration and social class, the new generation of female migrant workers may also face many thorny problems in role-playing. However, they have constructed their gender identity in urban society through diverse and rich communication practices after their geographical migration.

Although the process of identity construction is full of struggles, compromise, game and contradiction, women never cease to actively participate in mass communication, intergenerational and interpersonal communication; deconstruct traditional patriarchal norms; resist urban male hegemony; implement their fashionable consumption concept; and, constantly look for a new round of self-discovery.

They are also actively constructing the female gender identity of urbanization and modernity, and show a positive attitude of trying to integrate themselves into urban life.

The article is part of Rural-to-Urban Migration — A Study of the New Generation of Migrant Workers from the Perspective of Communication, published by Social Sciences Academic Press (China).

(Source: Translated and edited by Women of China)

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