Beauties at Work: Sexual Politics in a Chinese Professional Organization

Jieyu Liu School of Oriental and African Studies

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This article explores new forms of inequality experienced by young white-collar professional women in post-Mao China. Drawing upon ethnographic data collected during a six-month stay in a Chinese company in eastern China, I explore how sexuality is played out in its organizational culture. Through an analysis of management attitudes, everyday office encounters and organizational activities, I illustrate that the workplace culture can be eroticized. Masculine domination pervades company organization, with women controlled through the process of objectification, which intensifies vertical segregation by gender. Despite gendered and sexualized control in the white-collar workplace, I caution against misinterpreting Chinese women’s responses by viewing them through the lens of inappropriate assumptions. I indicate how women’s agency may be enacted, and reveal layers of response and resistance in the face of masculine domination at work.

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