“Women Who Make the Chips” by Les Levidow gave some insight into what the working conditions are like for the Malaysian women that are employed in the big cities of Western manufacturing. The trials that these women are forced to endure seem to be the newest of the oppressive and exploitations of marginalized groups and women of color.
The Malaysian women employed at these factories are forced to endure sexual harassment, horrible working conditions, and repressive schedules. Levidow writes, “In the case of the ‘microelectronics revolution’ in Malaysia, the employers’ real reasons are as transparent as they were in nineteenth-century Britain. As Intel’s Personnel Officer has admitted, ‘We hire girls because they have less energy, and are more disciplined and are easier to control.’…they certainly have had little to prepare them for the rigours of working for a Western multinational, especially the new health hazards involved—including dizziness, headaches, and worsening eyesight, as well as respiratory diseases” (Levidow, 106). The owners of these factories, or sweat shops, as they should really be called, are run by people who specifically hire women in order to take advantage of them. Because of their background and their culture, it is thought that these women will not fight for their own justifiable rights and will follow the “rules” of the workplace.
During Levidow’s research and interview process with these women, he questioned them on whether or not they ever felt the need to fight back. Thet responded, saying, “’Yes, but we wouldn’t succeed. And we wouldn’t want to create problems and be out of our jobs. Sometimes we are very vocal about it and want to fight with them. But after hearing their explanation, we are convinced by them. Sometimes we believe it is our fault’”(Levidow, 116). The women within these jobs have been desensitized and taken advantage of to the point that they are unwilling to fight for their own rights. Many of them are too scared that they will lose their jobs if they dare to speak up, and this is how the managers and the companies keep them down.
These women are also continually oppressed both inside and outside the factory. Many of the Malaysian women that come to work in the big cities are from villages that are mostly farm based, according to Levidow. Because of this, the companies will often times offer company housing where many of the female employees will live together. It may sound like a nice gesture on the company’s part, but this is simply another way that these companies keep their control over the women. A female employee named Rachel explained that, “’at the company provided house we would have to fill in forms saying when we are going out and coming back. The restrictions are very inconvenient, so I left the company house’ (Levidow, 117). Not only were the women forced to deal with horrible and unhealthy working conditions, they were also being controlled in every adjective of their lives. These oppressive tactics by the companies extended to some of the dress codes that women were expected to adhere to. Levidow writes,”While many of them choose to wear jeans and high-heeled shoes, at National Semiconductors they were actually told to wear a certain kind of miniskirt, that they had to wear it. So they did wear it, except for the fundamentalist Muslim women, many of whom quit their jobs in disgust” (Levidow, 119). These working women are being oppressed in the conditions they are forced to work but they are also being discriminated against in a sexual manner. They seem to be seen as objects to their male managers, good for nothing else other than their looks and relentless labor.
The women working in these factories are clearly being exploited and emotionally abused, yet no one will speak up for them. It is very important to call out this sickening and unjust practices. This is not okay, and we should not sit idly by while any woman, especially women of color are continually marginalized and exploited in more ways than one
- In what ways do you think the chip making process further takes advantage of/exploits minorities?
- What other working conditions throughout history and the present does the treatment of these women remind you of?
- In What ways do you think these companies specifically target women of marginalized groups? How do they abuse their power over them/take advantage of them?
Levidow, Les. “The Women Who Make the Chips.” Free Association Books, 1991, pp. 103–124.