Gender Essentialism in Traders’ Daily Lives
The femininity of marketplace trade in Vietnam has acquired the status of a cultural essentialism: a discursive claim whose truth-value hinges on its purported innateness, naturalness, and timelessness. Traders’ life stories and daily activities reveal instead that these natural gender roles and ideologies have been mobilized, enacted, questioned, and reproduced at specific moments since 1975 in conjunction with particular strategies of governmentality. Most Bến Thành market stalls are run by women, but these behaviors and ideas persist not simply as crystallizations of timeless Vietnamese values, but because traders have viewed them as useful and reasonable responses to the dilemmas of socialist and market socialist economy – volatile prices, uneven quality and supply, fickle consumers, political uncertainty, and lack of formal access to capital. Gender essentialisms are nonetheless key components of what traders think it means to be a trader and a woman – or a man.
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