Women's Work, Men's Work: Gender and Tourism among the Miao in Rural China



In this article, I examine the changes in gender division of labor resulting from a shift from agriculture to wage labor, followed by the growth of tourism, among the ethnic Miao in Fenghuang County of rural China. I argue that the increased flexibility of women's roles might be interpreted as a result of the reality that Miao women, who occupy the low end of every form of power in the local and national social structure, are being pushed around by other more powerful internal and external agents. This increased flexibility did not necessarily empower them but might instead maintain their subordination to men under changing socioeconomic circumstances. The traditional gender ideology of men's superiority was therefore not challenged but reinforced with the penetration of the market economy to rural Fenghuang. Through this ethnographic case, I emphasize two general points regarding gender analysis in tourism: first, in order to fully understand gender dynamics in tourism, it is important to contextualize such analysis with the particular historical and sociocultural factors in a given locality and against the backdrop of the global economic trend; second, for a fair evaluation of women's role and status change, such exploration needs to be situated in the interactive relations between women and men, rather than only focusing specifically on women.