Covert resistance beyond #Metoo: mobile practices of marginalized migrant women to negotiate sexual harassment in the workplace

Xin Pei, Arul Chib, Rich Ling

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Our study gives voice to socially marginalized women from the Global South whose struggles with sexual harassment are largely invisible in the #Metoo movement. Employing an ethnographic approach, this study examines the digitized resistance of Chinese rural–urban migrant women (n = 41) against sexual harassment faced in their workplaces. We adopt the lens of intersectionality to reveal the nuanced impacts of mobile communication practices negotiated in the context of gender, class, and the organizational structure across informal and formal economies. We find contrasting pictures of bottom-up disruption in the informal labor market and top-down transformation occurring in the modern factory. Migrant women working in the unregulated market restructured the existing patriarchal culture by deploying mobiles to establish collaborative groups for job information sharing. This mobile-mediated sharing enabled the rise of self-employed entrepreneurship, thus avoiding male intermediation in their livelihoods and thereby reducing the chances of encountering harassment. However, these benefits were uneven, with digitally-challenged women missing out. In contrast, migrant women employed in a registered factory with established rules actively negotiated top-down transformation of patriarchal culture. Female managers, in newly gained leadership roles, exercised their professional authority to encourage female workers to re-shape the discursive gender power of mobile spaces shared with male workers. Women actively confronted sexually provocative behavior of men on chat groups. We argue that subtle and covert mobile practices, in addition to visible and direct ones, allow for the construction of digitized female resistance culture as part of broader societal change influenced by mobile communication. We conclude with comments on the complexity and dynamism of mobile-mediated gender transformation in the context of rapid socio-economic development in the Global South.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1559-1576
Number of pages18
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number11
Early online date11 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished Online - 11 Feb 2021


  • #Metoo
  • China
  • Global South
  • marginalized female migrants
  • mobile technology
  • sexual harassment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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