New study by sociology professor Steve McKay explores relationship between migratory work and masculinity

May 15, 2015

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Steve McKay onboard a bulk carrier, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Steve McKay.
Filipino crew members onboard a chemical tanker, entering San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy of Steve McKay.
Chemical Tanker, Pacific Ocean Sunse. Photo courtesy of Steve McKay.

“So They Remember Me When I’m Gone”: Remittances, Fatherhood and Gender Relations of Filipino Migrant Men, is the latest work to be published by Steven McKay, a sociology professor at UC Santa Cruz. His study is featured as a chapter in Transnational Labour Migration, Remittances and the Changing Family in Asia, edited by L.A. Hoang and B.S.A. Yeoh and published by Palgrave Macmillan. 

In the piece, McKay explores the struggle migrants face in relation to their gender and culture. He specifically focuses on merchant seafarers in the Philippines, the largest migrant workforce in the country. It is also a field dominated by Filipino men, with 1 in 3 merchant sailors hailing from the Philippines. Filipino sailors are a point of national pride, who send home remittances totaling $21billion, a figure that represents 12% of the country’s gross domestic product. This group is heralded as “exemplars of masculinity.” 

But as McKay’s study points out, seafaring men are burdened with complex expectations that come with their masculinized and migratory status. Through extensive interviews with over 100 men, McKay shares how he explored “who Filipino seafarers are; their own understandings of Filipino masculinity; the insecurities they face as migrant men, husband and fathers trying to live up to these ideal notions; and their strategies to cope with these insecurities and demands, particularly as they pertain to emotional attachment, parenting strategies, remittances and spending patterns.”

Ultimately, McKay’s study is an intense examination of identity construction in an increasingly global world. He shows how identity is tied to concepts of nationalism, gender, status, class, and power. The identify that forms is only confounded in a transnational and migratory setting. In addition, his study is a unique illustration about how identity is performed and maintained. He writes, “men actively “do gender” through their interaction with family members, through their spending and investments, and through particular actions made possible in part by their high level of earnings and remittances.”

Steven McKay is an Associate Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz and the Director of the UC Santa Cruz Center for Labor Studies. His research interests include labor and labor markets, globalization and the high-tech sector, migration, race, gender, and Southeast Asia. He is author of Satanic Mills or Silicon Islands: The Politics of High Tech Production in the Philippines (2006) and is a Principle Investigator in Working For Dignity, a comprehensive study about low-wage working conditions in Santa Cruz.