The Sickening Truths Behind Manufacturing The Chip

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. 
– Gabby

Discussion Questions:

  1. 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?
  2. Can you relate this article to something you might have learned in school? What events throughout history does this remind you of? How so?

Works Cited:

Levidow, Les. “The Women Who Make the Chips.” Free Association Books, 1991, pp. 103–124.

4 Replies to “The Sickening Truths Behind Manufacturing The Chip”

  1. This reading reminded me of a discussion I had in another class of sexism women face. In this article they’re doubted and given little to no respect with their poor working conditions. On page 106 they explain women are given electronic work because they are “better suited to routinized work” and have “nimble fingers, acute eyesight, greater patience.” This line isn’t necessarily so sexist, but it’s just an example of how women are judged and assumed to not be able to do more important work. Our society has tons of stereotypes that are fought but hard to break away from. Women have stereotypes that get in the way of dream jobs they want to pursue. Somethings that were brought up in my other class were that there have been no female presidents, and few women in the house of representatives. There was a sexist comment we discussed that a man said if a female was ever president with her emotions she would set off a world war three. The power that men think they have to control women, especially in the work place, is sad and seen in this article and I can only hope it soon becomes resolved.

  2. Hi Gabby,
    I really liked your blog post and how you highlighted just how bad these working conditions are for these immigrant women. I think something important to consider here is location. These immigrant women come from poor locations desperately in search of work. National Semiconductors buildings are strategically placed outside of airports as a way to lure in women to work for them. They are then subject to discrimination in the workplace and even sexual harassment. The sexual harassment these women face goes as far as “at National Semiconductors they were actually told to wear a certain kind of miniskirt, that they had to wear it” (Levidow 116). Immigrant women in these manufacturing plants are being told what to wear as a way for these men in charge to make sexually harassing these women almost easier for them. This continues one this heterosexist norm in a society where men can establish dominance and power over men just because of their gender.

    I can relate this article to immigrant workers who work in fields for bigger food companies. Many of them are sprayed by pesticides causing them to develop cancer and for many women to have children with birth defects. Larger corporations are benefiting from different immigrant groups. This article and the example from this paragraph tie into this false constructed idea that ‘immigrants are taking American jobs.” Immigrants are working the jobs American’s do not want simply because these jobs and conditions are illegal. Bigger corporations are aware of this but continue to hire undocumented immigrants because they have the power to dictate whether they can stay in this country. They threaten them with this and through this tactic, they are silencing immigrants and forcing them to be confined to the lowest rankings in society.

  3. Hi Gabby,
    I think your blog post was really well written, you also hit a lot of the main points in the article that jumped out to me! If I had the opportunity to speak to these men that ruin countless women’s lives, I wouldn’t be able to post on here what I would say. I fully understand that these companies are created to benefit world kind and to help us further our technology. But at what cost? Is it worth ruining people to get these chips? I do not know much about technology but I’m sure there is a better way to mass-produce them than making women do it and putting them through Hell in the process. Even if women still had to do it, they could be given better work wages and work environments. Big corporations forget about humanity within their companies because they figure they’re doing so much for humanity outside of their companies. I want companies like this to understand what they’re doing. To remember they’re treating actual humans like this. How would they feel if the roles were reversed? Probably not good, maybe they should think about that. Articles like this expose these big corporations which need to happen. This reminds of learning about the way factories used to be run before the U.S. made laws to prevent it. This should be a universal thing, to have these laws so that more people don’t get hurt.

  4. Hi Gabby,

    Your blog post captures the importance behind, as you put it, the sickening industry behind the manufacturing of electronic chips. Sickening makes a great adjective for companies such as Penang- in which they target immigrants and marginalized groups to work under unsafe conditions for little to no benefits. The industry behind making these electronic chips see women in the most sexist way in which they have stated that “We hire girls because they have less energy are more disciplined, and easier to control” (106, Levidow). This quote stuck out to me on a deeper level since this view is still so currently accepted by some people in society who have power. These women are just being hired because they belong to intersecting oppressed groups. Immigrants are more eager to work and considered targets, yet they are being taken advantage of due to poor pay and unsafe working conditions. I cannot believe that there are so many psychological effects that can come out of the stress from working in a factory, in which women would fall to the ground in “hysteria”.
    This modern epidemic reminds me of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution in America was the shift to technology and labor based industry in order to accumulate greater wealth and production of goods. During this time, many women and children were hired instead of men in the factories. The workplace had some of the most unsafe conditions which resulted in many injuries, in rare cases some casualties, and the people in power treated workers inhumanly.

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