Companies Are Taking Advantage of the Chips and the Women that Make Them

“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

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways do you think the chip making process further takes advantage of/exploits minorities?
  2. What other working conditions throughout history and the present does the treatment of these women remind you of?
  3. 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.

8 Replies to “Companies Are Taking Advantage of the Chips and the Women that Make Them”

  1. Hi Molly, I really enjoyed your blog post. It made me further understand this reading. I think there are a lot of working conditions that women go through even today that can be related back to this article. The jobs women are given even reminds me of how today we saw a lot of women secretaries. I can’t even think of one time I saw a male secretary. In history I think a lot of times women are given more housekeeping and easy type jobs such as secretaries, and maybe cleaning jobs. I feel like women just aren’t taken seriously. I think a lot of times women are overlooked when they go for jobs where there might be more heavy lifting involved. Overall I think specifically in the US that we have made a lot of improvements in how women are treated, but in other countries that isn’t the case.

    1. Hi Molly!!
      Really interesting post. I agree a lot with what you are saying. There are a lot of female dominated jobs and I don’t think they are dominated the same way mens jobs are dominated. Women take these jobs because they are “women’s” jobs. These jobs are jobs like secretaries, nurses, teachers, caretakers, etc. In this article the quote “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) stood out to me because the women were not only being degraded in the work place but treated like lesser outside of it as well.

  2. Hey Molly,
    I enjoyed this article very much although it is very disheartening to hear that this sort of work place oppression still happens in the United States. However, I feel it is urgent to inform people of the workplace harassment present and these chip making facilities. Ever since the creation of the railroads to the industrial revolution, white men have taken advantage of minorities and their lack of cultural appropriation in order to manipulate and objectify them. This is ethically wrong and needs to be brought to the public eye. There are clear breaches of personal space by the employers of these companies and I feel that the formation of a union would be highly beneficial to these Malaysian women. This specific treatment of employees regards them as capitalist laborers rather than human beings with a right to personal and private space.

  3. Hi Molly,
    This was a great blog post. I feel like I knew that often times these big companies exploit and manipulate women, minorities, and even children. However, I didn’t realize that these men took it to the extreme, by providing housing for the women. The quote, “’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) really stuck out to me. I couldn’t believe that these companies go to such great lengths to control these women. It is extremely disheartening and speaks to the lengths companies will go to not only keep revenue flowing, but to manipulate their workers to maintain power and control. It strips these women of their freedom, but because they need these jobs to make ends meet, they continually stay and put up with the mistreatment. It is disheartening and upsetting to read about things like this, but we need to educate ourselves on topics like this so we can find a solution to ending it.

  4. Hi Molly!
    Great job on your blog post! You chose a couple of extremely strong quotes to support your main point of the horrible working condition these Malaysian women encounter and the effects it has on their health. I think as a society people try to ignore or cover up the fact that companies continue to mistreat women workers. People want to believe that it is no longer a problem because our history has proved it to be so much worse than it is now. However, it is a current issue that needs to be addressed and these companies need to change the way they treat women. To answer your third question, I believe that these companies are power hungry and will use any source of fear to control marginalized groups. Focusing on the article, the companies take advantage of these women because they are “mostly Hispanic or Asian women, many of them ‘illegal’ (or ‘undocumented’) immigrants who live in constant fear of being sacked or even deported” (103). For the company, it is easy to force these women to obey because they have their illegal citizenship against them. For the women, they do not want to be deported and sadly they are limited to the working conditions in which they are currently in. It is extremely tragic that these practices continue today. As you said in your concluding thoughts, “it is very important to call out these sickening and unjust practices . . . [they are] not okay”.

  5. Hey Molly,
    You have brought up a great argument in your blogpost. I do believe that many minorities, especially in this environment where Malasian women who are working for electronic companies for the Western world are being abused. I do believe that this is a continuous factor with countries who have power and money that will take advantage of people in other countries through their system to exploit minorities in any way. Being born and raised in the city I have made many friends and connections with people from different backgrounds, and many are or have family who do not have citizenship. Many of these people come together to talk about their struggles and say the same thing, deportation is their main fear, “…mostly Hispanic or Asian women, many of them ‘illegal’ immigrants who live in constant fear of being sacked or even deported” (103).” Therefore this is a way where people of authority silent minorities, becoming people who are silenced and are unable to have a say/ stand for their human rights without their legal status becoming compromised. This reminds me of the Triangle Waist Line Factory, many women and children faced harsh working conditions. Many were physically and possibly sexually abused (I wouldn’t be surprised unfortunately). At the end, the factory violated many humane laws that caused the death of many innocent lives. The same can be applied to these women in Malaysia who face harsh working conditions. It is basically a repetition of history unfortunately. But hopefully we can stop it soon with more woke people on the front line.

  6. Hi Molly, I really enjoyed reading your blogpost. In “Women Who Make the Chips” by Les Levidow, the author discusses the labor intensive jobs in the microelectronics industry in which Malaysian women are working in. This reading made me further understand how big industries manipulate women and other minorities. Overall, it demonstrates how they go through such great lengths to be in control. In addition, these women deal with the companies mistreatment because they need the job which shows that they have no freedom. The author states, ““mostly Hispanic or Asian women, many of them ‘illegal’ (or ‘undocumented’) immigrants who live in constant fear of being sacked or even deported” (103) which demonstrates that companies have a power over them due to them being illegal. In addition, these women will not fight for their justice and are stuck working in this environment because they don’t want to get deported.

  7. Hi Molly! I enjoyed reading your blog posts and hearing about your ideas on why you think something should be done about the mistreatment of women. Me being one of the few guys in the class I think it makes me look bad because not all guys only see women as “objects” or “tools” and in some developing countries and early America women were mistreated and given low pay jobs. America is starting to see women as equal but these other countries that have underdeveloped government see women as workers and objects for their use. The treatment of these women reminds me of the great depression when America had women and children overworked in sweatshops and would be mistreated similar to the women in this reading. the author stated when discussing who companies target“mostly Hispanic or Asian women, many of them ‘illegal’ (or ‘undocumented’) ” (103) Companies will target specific groups of women such as illegals and minorities. They do this because they know their workers wont fight back because they need the job/money.

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