Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences

By Anne C. Herrmann; Abigail J. Stewart | Go to book overview

WORK, CLASS, AND GENDER

17 From High Heels to
Swathed Bodies

Geridered Meanings Under
Production in Mexico's
Export-Processing Industry

LESLIE SALZINGER

In recent decades, young, Third World women have emerged as transnational capital's paradigmatic workers. Managerial manifestos recast women's "natural" affinity for the home as a transferable set of skills and dispositions. These then crystallize into "docility" and "dexterity"—terms that go on to have autonomous effects as "labor force requirements" for assembly workers internationally. 1 In this process, men have been redefined as nonworkers—lazy, demanding, and unreliable. This public narrative of home-grown sex differences provides a backdrop to the constitution of localized gendered meanings in export factories throughout the Third World.

During the first decades of the boom in transnational production, managers and feminists were in substantive agreement about the utility of young women's preconstituted "femininity" for capitalist production, although their moral evaluations of the process were markedly divergent. 2 However, in recent years, poststructuralist feminist theorists of work have turned their attention to understanding the formation of "gendered categories," rather than uncritically narrating history within them. 3 This has enabled them to go beyond recounting the fate of "woman workers" to investigate the processes through which the gendered character of labor power itself is established. Focusing on public narratives, they have described the deployment of images of the "exploitable woman worker" from nineteenth-century France to the contemporary Third World. 4

-365-

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