Drawing upon the existing theoretical and empirical sourced knowledge of aesthetic labour and gender, this paper aims to explore the exploitation of women’s aesthetic labour in the Chinese airline industry and the underlying causes from a contextual point of view.
This qualitative study has emerged from a broader research project which aimed to explore women’s experiences of work-family conflict and their career aspirations in the Chinese airline industry in which aesthetic labour was prevalent as a significant issue during semi-structured interviews with female employees and HR/line management. Thus, the study draws upon interview data focusing on recruitment and selection of flight attendants in three Chinese airlines. This is complemented by secondary sources of data from Chinese television programmes and job advertisements.
This study reveals that aesthetics is both gendered and context-bound. It exposes that aesthetic labour in Chinese airlines is demanded from women but not men. It highlights that gendered aesthetic labour is continuously shaped by four influential contextual issues – legislation, labour market practices, national culture and airline management practices.
By uncovering the dynamic interconnectedness of gender and aesthetics and illustrating the exploitation of women’s aesthetic labour for commercial gains in Chinese airlines, this paper contributes to the understanding of the gendered aesthetics in the airline industry. It also offers new insights into the theory of aesthetic labour by locating it in a context that differs significantly from other socio-cultural contexts.
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