Author: Kate Ross
Type: Undergraduate coursework, University of Exeter, UK.
Availability: in full, below (look at image then read text).
Page reference: Ross, K. (2009) The pill (a.k.a a female issue). followthethings.com (www.followthethings.com/thepill.shtml last accessed <insert date here>)
I wake up in the morning and my first move is to take my ‘pill’. I grab my calendar pack of pills and figure out which way I am going. Pop the tablet out. Put it in my mouth and take a massive sallow. It is then that I feel the connection. I see this face, I think of all the girls who are doing the same thing as me, being made to do the same thing as me. They are my age, they are single and they are female. This connection is not made by what they produce in the garment factories where they work, but what they do, what we do in our daily lives connect us through cyborg ontology. We are all consuming this pill, ingesting this drug for different reasons.¹ The thought of those girls appears every morning and it triggers the thoughts of all the other terrible things Ian has made me read, relating mostly to women. It is unfair, these women have no choice but to take the pill or be fired, even though it could be dangerous for them. In many cultures and traditions, women are constructed as inferior to men. However, this is changing slowly and resistance groups are forming.² These girls have to work in awful conditions, but can any good come from being sweatshop slaves? The more I think about everything I do, I see the connections between how we are all linked together and not just through cyborg ontology. There is a standard image of women, a constructed image rooted in custom and tradition not biology.³
¹ Women in sweatshops are “forced to take birth-control pills in the presence of plant supervisors” (Krupat 1997 p51) otherwise they are fired. The term ‘girl’ is used (Cockburn 1999, Salzinger 2000, Wright 2003) as Sweatshop awareness organizations estimate that 85% of sweatshop workers are between the ages of 15-25 (see www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/background-sweatshops). In China, to find work you need an “unmarried-status certificate” (Chan 2002 p174). The textile industry has always relied on the exploitation of female labour (Hale and Wills 2007, Hammond and Jablow 1976) because of the patriarchal structures in which women are not expected to earn a living wage and in which they are regarded as pliable and docile (Elson and Pearson 1981, cited in Hale and Wills 2007). I’m not ‘defetishising’ the clothes that these girls make. I am looking at the infinite network of humans and nonhumans that are created through ingesting this drug “because a [drug using] body itself is a little machine” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988 cited in Malins 2004 p.84; Haraway 1991). Malins 2004 goes further, suggesting that if the body is conceived of as a drug user it becomes a body that is multiple. There are at least 30 varieties of birth control pills (see www.madehow.com/Volume-4/Birth-Control-Pill.html#ixzz0W SgaU9nV). I take one for cosmetic reasons, to conform to an identity, to change my body and hence lose some of my own identity, in doing this I connect to the ‘sweatshop’ girls who take it for contraception. But what about all the other networks? ‘Co-Cyprindiol’ is taken for many reasons; excessive hair growth, severe acne and in hormone therapy in male-to- female transition (MHRA 2006). 30 varieties: that’s a lot of medical knowledge, even more testing, and a lot of packaging, and the materials that package them need to be sourced, all of which is happening through the production of oil/the ‘curse’ creating social and environmental problems for I have never met (Watts 2008).
² In Southern China, factory workers are required to have pelvic exams regardless of consent (Wright 2003). A “third of married Brazilian women have been sterilized” (Pearce 2008 p364) because they have to show “proof of sterilisation” (Cox 1993 p75) before they can be hired for a job on the plantations. Entering Taiwan, immigrants from Indonesia are forced to have invasive medical examinations before being allowed to enter the country for work. Until 2003, if you were pregnant then you were declined entry (Lan 2006). Marx was, therefore, right: the workplace is the focus of capital exploitation (Cockburn 1999). Production not welfare is what factories are about.
³ To be prescribed the pill in the UK, you have to have no family history of certain illnesses. There are side effects to some of the contraceptive pills: e.g. risks of thrombosis and blood clots (Hester 2005). Physical and moral factors are deployed to create an ideology to suppress females, so they feel less adequate. Hence, they deserve to be paid less and treated worse (Cockburn 1999). Women are socially constructed as inferior to men. Cockburn (1999) highlights that the printing industry was conceived to be all about strength and size because of the size of the machinery, even though the process was ‘lightweight’. Similarly, anti-slavery boycotts were “devalued through [their] association with the feminine rather than the masculine” (Midgely 1996 p137). Ethical clothing companies have developed with the help of the “Clean Clothes Campaign, Labour Behind the Label and the Ethical Trading Initiative” (Hale and Wills 2007 p453). Smaller NGOs such as Honduras-based CODEMUH have developed grass-roots “networks of ‘promotoras’”, women workers who receive training and advise other workers on their rights (WarOnWant 2009). These local networks do not suffocate the voices of women. Women become empowered because they can provide for their families. It is the first time they have had jobs outside the home (Lan 2006, Pearce 2008). I use the term ‘sweatshop slaves’ here because that is what they are, working scandalous hours (Chan 2002, Krupat 1997) and being imprisoned in their workspaces (Wright 2003).
Chan, A. (2002) The culture of survival: lives of migrant workers through the prism of private letters. In Perry Link, Richard Madsen and Paul Pickowicz (eds) Popular China: unofficial culture in a globalizing society. Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield, p.163-188. (http://mysite.verizon.net/thlu/wto/readings/Chan_A.pdf last accessed 12 February 2011)
Cockburn, C. (1999) The material of male power. in MacKenzie, D & Wajcman, J (eds) The social shaping of technology (2nd ed.) Buckingham: Open University Press, p.177-198
Cox, C. (1993) Chocolate Unwrapped: The Politics of Pleasure. London: The Women’s Environment Network.
Hale, A. and Wills, J. (2007) Women Working Worldwide: transnational networks, corporate social responsibility and action research. Global Networks 7, 4 (2007) p.453–476.
Hammond, D. and Jablow, A. (1976) Women in cultures of the world. California: Cummings Publishing Company.
Haraway, D. (1991) Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.
Hester, S. J. (2005) Bricolage and bodies of knowledge: exploring consumer responses to controversy about the third generation oral contraceptive pill. Body & society 11(3), p.77-95.
Krupat, K. (1997) From war zone to free trade zone. In Ross, A. (ed) No sweat: fashion, free trade, and the rights of garment workers. London: Verso.
Lan, P. (2006) Global Cinderellas: migrant domestics and newly rich employers in Taiwan. London: Duke University Press.
Malins, P. (2004) Machinic assemblages: Deleuze, Guattari and an ethico-aesthetics of drug use. Janus Head 7(1), p.84-104.
MHRA (2006) CO-CYPRINDIOL 2000/35 COATED TABLETS. PL 14894/0413. wwwmhra.gov.uk (last accessed 13 November 2009) (www.mhra.gov.uk/home/groups/l-unit1/documents/websiteresources/con2025134.pdf last accessed 12 February 2011)
Midgely, C. (1996) Slave sugar boycotts, female activism and the domestic base of British anti-slavery culture. Slavery and Abolition 17(3), p.143–4.
Pearce, F. (2008) Confessions of an eco-sinner: travels to find where my stuff comes from. Reading: Eden Project Books [see the followthethings.com page on this book here]
Salzinger, L. (2000) Manufacturing sexual subjects: ‘harassment’, desire and discipline on a Maquiladora shopfloor. Ethnography 1(1), p.67-92
WarOnWant (2009) Women factory workers in Honduras. London: War On Want (www.waronwant.org/overseas-work/sweatshops-and-plantations/women-factory-workers-in-honduras last accessed 12 February 2011)
Watts, M. & Kashi, E. (2008) Curse of the black gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta. New York: Powerhouse Books [see the followthethings.com page on this book here]
Wright, M. (2003) Factory daughters and Chinese modernity: a case from Dongguan. Geoforum 34(3), p.291–301.
Edited by Ian Cook & Sue Rouillard, posted by Ian Cook (last updated February 2011). Page created as coursework for the ‘Geographies of material culture’ module at Exeter University. Reproduced with kind permission of the author.