Framing the Au Pair: Problems of Sex, Work and Motherhood in Norwegian Au Pair Documentaries
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionNORA. Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research. 2015, 23 (2), 125-139. 10.1080/08038740.2015.1023072
The Norwegian au pair documentaries Mammaranet (“The Mummy Robbery”) (2006) and Herskap og tenarar (“Masters and Servants”) (2013) tell the stories of two Filipina women who have left behind their children to become au pairs in Norway. The films portray the hardship of au pairing and focus on trafficking and labour and sexual abuse. Both films are problem-orientated, and I explore the way in which they construct the figure of the au pair. I argue that the films draw on a global care chain framework to construct au pairs as mothers who are primarily financially motivated, while their children in the home country are cast as self-evidently suffering. Furthermore, the films cross-cut between stories of sexual abuse and scenes of the au pairs' highly feminized self-presentation. This cross-cutting contributes to a construction of the au pairs as vulnerable “girls”, but also as sexually available women. Using Bhattacharyya's concept of “the exotic”, I argue that this particular construction draws on a colonial discourse that makes unequal racialized power relations appear more attractive to the privileged. In conclusion, I discuss the implicit solutions to the problems presented in the films, and argue that their constructions of au pairs contribute to a certain cultural circulation of “truths” that allows for discourses favouring certain policies—namely closing the scheme to mothers and, eventually, to all au pairs from outside the EU/Schengen Area.