Sweet and Sour Grapes:
The Struggles of Seasonal
Women Workers in Chile
The impact of commercialized agriculture on women in Latin America is consistent with two primary trends found elsewhere in the world. When subsistence agriculture is subsumed into cash crop production for export, women's labor either becomes invisible as part of the subsistence labor force (Deere 1979; Evers, Clauss, and Wong 1984; Mies 1988; Stephen 1991) or it is channeled into appropriate “feminine” tasks such as fruit and vegetable picking and packing, as in the case of female seasonal workers in Chile (Arizpe and Aranda 1986; Nash 1989). Workers in so-called natural feminine jobs are usually remunerated less than their male counterparts because they are classified as unskilled (Nash and Fernandez Kelly 1983; Ong 1987).
Contrary to commonly held ideas, women have not been marginalized in the agricultural wage labor force with the development of global capitalism but are being increasingly employed “as seasonal workers in the most labor-intensive tasks of export agriculture” (Deere and León 1987:5). One study suggests that almost half of seasonal commercial agricultural workers in Mexico in the late 1980s were female (Arizpe, Salinas, and Velásquez 1989:237). Until the 1980s, commercial agricultural firms seemed to prefer young, childless women for seasonal work (Arizpe and Aranda 1986). Recent research in Chile suggests this is no longer the case. One study found that among seasonal fruit workers in Chile, 66 percent of female workers are or have been married, and nearly 20 percent are heads of households (Venegas and Sepulveda 1991:11, cited in Collins 1994: 27). Whatever their marital status, when women enter into the paid labor force, they are defined in terms of their domestic responsibilities. Hence, women are seen as appropriate seasonal workers who do not need a full-time