Monday, July 19, 2010

Miliann Kang's "The Managed Hand"

Miliann Kang is Associate Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Managed Hand: Race, Gender, and the Body in Beauty Service Work, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls in Chapter Three: “Hooked on Nails,” which profiles six different nail salon customers. Alexandra and Jamilla seem to represent polar opposites, one with demure French nails and the other with long, hand-painted acrylics, but in actuality they both conform to the feminine norms of their respective communities. Theresa’s and Brianna’s nails are layered over their conflicted identities as mothers, while Ella and Cheryl manicure their nails to fit into their positions in the workplace. Yet all of them insist that they do their nails for themselves, denying especially that men's approval is a factor. The chapter frames these women’s manicuring practices through the lens of Pierre Bourdieu’s work in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, which argues that our aesthetics are not simply personal tastes but are conditioned by our social positions. I apply his work to show that women’s nails are not simply superfluous markers but are key signifiers of gender, race and class identities.

The book as a whole, however, does not only look at customers but also examines the experiences of manicurists (focusing on Asian immigrant women in New York City), interactions across the manicuring table, and developments in the nail salon industry writ large. I analyze the distinct kinds of work involved in these sites, particularly “emotional labor” and “body labor,” which reveal how intimate exchanges are increasingly commercialized and enacted between virtual strangers for a price.

The book concludes by asking, “What is a manicure worth?” and explores ways that this exchange can be more humanizing and equal for all parties involved. Rather than dismissing them as isolated, inconsequential services, the book regards manicures as an illuminating slice of social life in global cities.

I love the idea of this test and promptly flipped through the 99th page of a number of my favorite books to see how it applied. As for my book, The Managed Hand: Race, Gender, and the Body in Beauty Service Work, the test does not fully capture the content of the book but does highlight some key themes.
Learn more about The Managed Hand at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue