It was a shocking scene to me when I was invited to a pageant of Indonesian women domestic workers in Hong Kong last year. I was told that the theme of the pageant was “Tomboy Funky” with all participants wearing the trendiest clothes and make-up and walking with masculine gestures. I was shocked because their masculinities were under the spotlight — they displayed no smile, short hair, flat chest, leather boots and heavy metal accessories.
My shock did not go away with the end of the “Tomboy Funky” pageant; instead, it was further intensified when the “Miss Evening Dress” pageant began right after the Tomboy Funky show. The candidates’ sweet smiles, soft gestures and slim-cutting evening dresses highlighted their body curves, making a strong contrast with those tomboys’ masculinities. I was amazed to see both Tomboy Funky and Miss Evening Dress taking place in one event because it suggests that female-bodied persons are now free to choose what attributes, either femininity or masculinity, they want to show off in one event. Everyone has a place to run if one likes to, no matter you are a tomboy or a femme. Isn’t it fair?
Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are live-in domestic workers. They are required by law to live with their employers. The only holiday they get every week is Sunday. And so, Sunday is the only day they can really express themselves, especially in a gendered way, as either a tomboy or a femme. Some Indonesian domestic workers told me that at their employer’s house they could only wear simple clothes (such as T-shirts and sweatpants) and were asked to tie up their hair. Neither hyper-femininity nor hyper-masculinity is allowed. They are being de-sexualized from Monday to Saturday. Sunday is the only day they can celebrate their beauty and their masculinity, and also refresh and recover themselves from the laborious 6-day work.