Without the mass production of the chip, our world wouldn’t be nearly as digitally advanced as it is in today’s age. Why is that? Because there is a tiny chip found in every single piece of technology that we utilize on a daily basis, continuously helping to improve our electronically dependent world one day at a time. To keep up with our world’s constant manufacturing of technology, there is an immense demand for these chips, as they are the source of power for every single technological device made today. So, how exactly are manufacturers keeping up with such high production demands of the chip?
Les Levidow’s eye opening article, “Women Who Make The Chips,” reveal the studies of three Malaysian women who share their experiences of tolerating overpowering authority and the frequent harassment in the workplace. Whether the production of the chips were occurring in the wealthy area of Silicon Valley, California, or in the poor Malaysian state of Penang, Levidow makes it apparent that most of these chip makers are immigrant women who are poorly paid for their back-breaking efforts. These poor, hard-working immigrants are taken advantage of as they “are prime targets for each firm’s attempts to minimize its labour costs in a highly competitive market.” This uncovers industries’ true colors of selfish and money-hungry attitudes as “they bear a great human cost that remains hidden to all who use microelectronic devices,” manipulating workers and the outside world to conceal what really lies behind closed doors, just for their gain of success (Levidow, 103). For example, in Penang, a National Semiconductor building is purposely located by an airport, hoping to lure new and incoming immigrants who are looking for work opportunities. Ironically, the building displays “the slogan, ‘Heart, Soul and Microelectronics,’” which conveys the industrious work that these firms expect from their workers while “offer[ing] little compensation for rapidly exhausting the hearts, souls and bodies of their workforce” (Levidow, 105).
Levidow discloses electronic industries’ claims, admitting to the preference of hiring more women than men “because they are naturally suited to the routinized work of the electronics assembly line: nimble fingers, acute eyesight, greater patience.” While the British Industrial Revolution was occurring, factory authorities also stated similar reasonings behind “why they replaced well-paid, skilled male workers with women and children” (106). Also, one of the authoritative staff at Intel confessed, “‘We hire girls because they have less energy, are more disciplined and are easier to control’” (106). These revealing statements unfortunately show the “transparent” reasoning to hiring women over men in their electronic workplaces, eventually learning how to manipulate them both mentally and physically.
With translation help from Bala, who is a member of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM, or Friends of the Earth Malaysia), Les Levidow begins his study by meeting with three Malaysian women: Rachel, Jane, and Aziza. As he continues to interview these women microelectronic workers, he comes to the realization that there is a huge problem surrounding their lives inside and outside the workplace. The “tensions” the women undergo in their work environments “invade” their own individuality (112). Aziza reveals that as soon as a woman starts the job, she automatically develops psychological problems, due to the high demands for each worker to reach an almost impossible quota. If the worker can’t meet the demanded quota, “she goes to work with a in-built fear. People can’t stand it, they scream, fall down, then get taken to the nurse.” This psychological effect is called ‘hysteria,’ stemming from the overbearing working conditions these women would encounter on a daily basis; this was more common to occur in the past, but has decreased “because now the workers are used to working conditions.” The firms would try to manipulate the workers into believing that these poor conditions were ‘normal’ in the workplace by telling them: “‘The die attachment department must be kept hot for the production process, so management reduces the air-conditioning there,” making the almost unbearable heat seem as if it is a necessary step in production (111). The ‘hysteria’ these women faced were considered a “spirit possession,” which relates back to their Malaysian culture and reveals that it correlates with a struggle of “moral violation” as they are “subjected both to factory discipline and to the sexual attentions of male supervisors, particularly non-Islamic ones.” The women would develop these psychological episodes when they began to refuse or reject their workplace’s poor conditions, which take on the appearance of a spiritual possession, believed to be caused by the “datuk, the male ancestor” (113). Being that their episodes of ‘hysteria’ were believed to be caused by a feared male figure, this clearly displays how their poor treatments in the workplace created a feeling of uneasiness toward powerful men, such as the firm’s authoritative figures who control the women. Bala also backs up the women’s claims “of sexual harassment, with supervisors using their authority to demand the girls” and If the worker requests to have time off, “its not granted, and then the supervisor uses threats and backmail with her.” The authoritative power that the firms hold over these working women have taken a toll on their sexuality as these men “directly and indirectly manipulate” their moral values (122).
These microelectronic working women continue to undergo cycles of psychological strain in the workplace as they are put through dangerous situations of sexual harassment and physical harm. The dominant power that these officials hold over these women “haunt” them, as they manipulate them both socially and sexually. The higher standpoints of these men carry an immense power over the working women, controlling their thoughts, as well as preventing their defenses with utilizing the idea of fear.
- If you had the opportunity to speak up for these women, what would you like to say to these powerful authoritative men who have control over these poor working environments?
- Can you relate this article to something you might have learned in school? What events throughout history does this remind you of? How so?
Levidow, Les. “The Women Who Make the Chips.” Free Association Books, 1991, pp. 103–124.