Astronaut Wives Living Transnational Lives; Independence or Gender Inequality?
‘Astronaut wives’ refers to middle to high class women of Hong Kong and Taiwan who raise their children alone in a new country isolated with unfamiliar difficulties. The transnational arrangement is a process which women immigrate to Canada with their children; their husbands leave Canada to work in Hong Kong or Taiwan within a few months and regularly visit until retirement (Chiang, 2008). Experiences varied among each ‘astronaut wife’ interviewed by Chiang, Waters, Kobayashi and Prestont but the majority felt “an escalation of traditional gender roles’, an ‘unequal distribution of household labor’ and a deterioration of power inside and outside the home” (Waters, 2002, p.8). Hong Kong and Taiwan transnationalism is becoming more popular with middle to high class families for economic, political, educational, and lifestyle reasons but “it[‘s] primarily [the] women who absorb most of the cost in their transnational family strategy” (Chiang, 2008, p.3). Gender inequality is most evident in recent immigration due to the reasons behind choosing transnationalism, adaptation to the Canadian ‘second shift’, the loss of career, support system, and more child care and housework responsibilities. Gender inequality is more obvious in women of long-standing immigration by the sense of freedom with the absence of the husband, loss of agency when the husband is present in Canada. Taiwan and Hong Kong transnationalism does not renegotiate gender relations but perpetuates them through Canadian gender norms and the presence of the husband.
The reasons behind choosing the transnational arrangement represents the women’s sacrifice for family especially the children. Few responses from the women interviewed in the articles by Waters and Chiang chose to immigrate to Canada for reasons concerning their own interests or needs. The ‘good of the family’ (Waters, 2002, p.4), children’s education and a “desire to accumulate various forms of capital” (Waters, 2002, p.3) is commonly stated as the primary reasons for choosing transnationalism. Some women voiced they felt forced, compelled or coerced into the arrangement resulting in feelings of imprisonment and hatred for Canada and the transnational lifestyle (Kobayashi & Prestont, 2007). The majority of the women interviewed reported leaving Honk Kong or Taiwan for a “better living environment, education for children, and perceived political instability” (Chiang, 2008, p.4-5). Most commonly, the women are the ones who leave their prestigious careers to support and care for their children. Further pressure for women to immigrate is the cultural belief that the “achievement of the mother is based on the performance of the children” (Chiang, 2008, p.9). For many women, the costs for family wellbeing and the children’s education was high and “often the women voiced their regret and sacrifices” (Chiang, 2008, p.8). Women moved to Canada for family reasons and educational opportunities for their children but these reasons disregard their agency, self-value and autonomy.
Difficulties adjusting to recent immigration by most of the ‘astronaut wives’ is partly due to the Canadian ‘second shift’ described by Kimmel and Holler (2011) as women’s responsibilities in housework and child care in addition to paid work. In Taiwan and Hong Kong middle to high class women had full-time careers and hired ‘domestic helpers’ to do housework, childcare and other jobs referred to as the second shift (Chiang, 2008). When arriving in Canada, many ‘astronaut wives’ “lacked even elementary domestic skills on arrival in Canada” (Waters, 2002, p.5). Women did “not experience the ‘dual work load of housework and paid work” (Waters, 2002, p.10) they faced, along with other common struggles of recent immigration, “increased domestic and child-care responsibilities, financial dependence, and loss of a career and support networks” (Waters, 2002,...
References: Chiang, Lan-Hung Nora. (2008). ‘Astronaut families’: transnational lives of middle-classTaiwanese married women in Canada. Social and Cultural Geography, 9 (5), 505-518.
Kimmel, M., Holler, J. (2011). The Gendered Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press Canada.
Kobayashi, A., Prestont, V. (2007). Transnationalism through the life course: Hong Kong immigrants in Canada. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 48 (2), 151-167.
Waters, J. L. (2002). Flexible families? ‘Astronaut’ households and the experiences of lone mothers in Vancouver, British Columbia. Social and Cultural Geography, 3 (2), 118-134.
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