The erstwhile president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, launched a domestic worker training program called, the “Supermaid” (or “Supernanny”) Program in 2006 to increase the professionalization of Filipino women leaving the country as domestics. The program teaches Filipino women things like seven ways to cook eggs or how to change a diaper with speed and precision. The Supermaid Program prides itself with shipping the best kind domestic worker all over the world: a Filipino woman whose innate domestic skills have been honed and sharpened.
Since the export of migrant workers tops the national list for exports in the Philippines, administrations from Corazon Aquino to the current president, her son, Benigno Aquino II, have invested in managing the profitable $19 billion per year migration industry. In recent years, these investments have rode the international feminist wave, claiming that migration leads to women’s autonomy and empowerment. The gendered rhetoric of “bagong bayani” or modern heroes often rely on tropes of mothers, daughters, and sisters obligation to their family; twisting an old patriarchal logic on its head while distracting Filipino women with tales of travel and ability to support their families.
In reality, even if Filipino women are the best domestic workers in the world, the false hope of “empowerment” through migration leaves women in low-wage gendered labor often without worker rights in their different destination countries. Without international standards and varying national labor regulations, domestic worker jobs are often insecure, contractual and highly susceptible to exploitation. So what’s so super about being a maid anyway?
Today, it’s easy to say that women’s presence in any and all workplaces can be called a feminist victory. But we must be wary of what we trade for those victories. For women in developing nations, celebrating advances based only on gender liberation oftentimes fall flat as women are still exploited as low-wage workers, in their own countries and abroad. Although Filipino women are working, traveling the world and bringing home the bacon, they are still seen as third-class citizens in their new homes as they take up gendered work as immigrant workers. And that’s not super at all.