Labor of Customer Service: Issues concerning Consumed "Feminity"

published: 2015-04-01Japanese

TANAKA Keiko Always Smile Whatever Unreasonable Behaviors May Happen: Labor of Dispatched Event Companions Hired By-the-Day who Sell Cellular Phones (Shoraisha, September 2014)

I have been conducting research on transformation of labor in the modern society mainly from the viewpoint of emotional labor of women who work in customer service.

What emotional labor means is that workers work while managing their own emotions in order to meet the expectation of companies and customers. Companies pay wages to workers and in case of emotional labor it is considered that emotional issues including anger, sorrow and stress as a result of job-related troubles are settled with its wage.

When I was a graduate student, I worked at promotional events of cellphones which were held at electronics retail stores as one of the dispatched day laborers of event companions. While working there I often met persons who said that the event companion is an easy job because a young woman can receive a good salary just by standing with her smile and that dispatched day laborers are easy workers because they are not given responsible jobs. However, in case of dispatched day laborers of event companions who work at promotional events of cellphones it IS NOT an “easy job with a high salary just by youth”.

For example, even if I am puzzled by a customer's sneaking camera shots of me or sexual harassment by a male employee who works for the electronics retail store, I have been told to accept these acts with smile by the human resource dispatch company I belonged to just because of high wages. Moreover, the event companions have not only to be at electronics retail stores with smile but also to conduct consultative sales because they have a sales quota of cellphones. Unless I achieved the sales quota of cellphones, I was sometimes forced to buy the number of cellphones I was not able to sell as my sales quota or I did not receive overwork payment because dispatching destination companies regarded this result as my own responsibility due to the lack of my consultative sales ability. Of course, these are illegal in terms of working conditions. However, under the hiring system of “dispatched laborers”, the event companions' questioning look during work could lead to immediate termination of their employment. In addition, since the event companions require good appearance, they have too much money going out for keeping their beauty. Because of these the dispatched day laborers of event companions work with anger, frustration, sorrow and emptiness within themselves although they embody pomp with their usual bright smile. My understanding of the field of the event companions with these emotions has led to the concept of “emotional labor”.

With my interests both of the framework that dispatched day laborers of event companions are forced to work unreasonably through instructions of the human resource dispatch companies and dispatching destination companies and my question of whether or not the event companions' emotional labor is exchangeable with their wages while working as one of them, I set this working field as my research field. As my research progressed I found out that the event companions' emotional labor and various troubles they face are problems which are also common to many regular workers. With my research findings, I published Always Smile Whatever Unreasonable Behaviors May Happen: Labor of Dispatched Event Companions Hired By-the-Day who Sell Cellular Phones (in Japanese) in September 2014.

Used Bottles of Beauty Health Drinks / Energy Drinks Collected in a Trash Box of an Electronics Retail Store (Reproduction)

Now I am analyzing “consumed feminity,” which is not analyzed enough in the above-mentioned book, from the viewpoint of emotional labor. For companies the commercial value of female workers is the labor power of feminity and women (unconsciously) conducts various things to improve their own commercial value—feminity. For example, they take foods, supplements and energy drinks to keep their health and youth. They also use cosmetics, clothes and everyday sundries to fix their appearance. And women are requested not only to buy products concerning health and beauty to improve their commercial value but to conduct emotional labor as women in work settings as if it were common sense so that companies can buy their feminity as a product. Especially, in consultative service settings, such issues as the framework of emotional labor that unconsciously forces approaches toward “feminity” as a commercial value for women and the issue of emotional management which copes with anger and sorrow arising from the labor have been overlooked as unquestionable issues (i.e., obviousness). From now on I would like to develop my research to break up this obviousness.

TANAKA Keiko Global COE Program for Ars Vivendi

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