Brides, Maids, and Prostitutes: Reflections on the Study of 'Trafficked' Women

Nicole Constable


This essay critically examines the blurred boundaries – or the analytical shadow lines – in scholarly and popular conceptualizations of Asian women migrants. I ask what women who migrate from the global South to the North as maids, brides, or sex workers have in common? How important are the commonalities and the distinctions between them? When are such blurs warranted, and what are the implications of such blurs for women’s self-perceptions and life experiences, for feminist scholarship, and for immigration policies? Drawing from ethnographic field research among Chinese and Filipina correspondence brides, Filipina domestic workers, and from the wider literature on sex workers, this essay considers some of the problems with a ‘trafficking’ framework, and considers the analytical and ethnographic possibilities that emerge with closer examination of the real and imagined shadow lines between sex workers, domestic workers, and migrant brides.


gendered migration, ‘mail order brides,’ domestic workers, sex workers, trafficking

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