Melissa Wright’s Dispoasble Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism

Wright, Melissa W. Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Too lazy to tie these quotes together in any coherent way. This was a very easy book to read, so I don’t feel it necessary to expand greatly on her words. This book documents the role of globalized myths in FTZ factories operating on direct foreign investment: “Several scholars and journalists have found that many Chinese women experience an independence and renovated sense of their own worth as a result of their employment beyond the family purview” (27). This feeling of “worth” is engendered by many ideological forces as well as material ones (clean water, etc), but Wright’s focus is on the role of the disposable third world woman.

The management in the Chinese factories that Wright investigates depend upon a division of labor that segregates workers according to sex difference, paying “particular attention to the female workers’ reproductive cycles and sexual drives” (32). Such a surveillance system was instituted as “a procedure for making use of the rhythm of the workers’ reproductive drives to accommodate the company’s time frame for extracting value from a disposable labor force” (32). A strict surveillance over the women’s bodies, requiring monthly physical checks for pregnancy and menstruation cycles, was ideologically possible by perpetuating an artificial kinship between the managers and the female workers. According to Wright, “the managers explain the stricter surveillance of their female employees by describing their roles as those of a parent with an unpredictable teenage girl who requires a strong patriarchal hand to keep her under control” (34). With the “degradation” of Chinese culture and the fear of “public women” as prostitutes and drug addicts, this idea of artificial kinship was able to produce “a young woman worker who must be patrolled for her own good” (44).

“Individual assertions of identity intersect with myriad social structures, such as race, class, nationality, and gender, such that no single identity wins out as more significant than the others” (96).

“class neither forms a discrete category nor is isolated from the social politics of identity in the cultural backgrounds” (97).

Wright divides women in the global factory into two types which are in a supplemental relationship, the “’real women’ (women as social agents) and ‘woman’ (an ideological representation of a female subject)” (124). In these two types, finding agency in a subject becomes an impossible task, as any autonomous individual may actively participate in representing themselves as “woman”, and rather than chasing our own tail, it seems much more productive to focus on women who “participate in their own representation of themselves as ‘real women’ while simultaneously rejecting the representation of themselves as exemplars of “woman” (124).

Through the study of these types of women, Wright discovers ruptures in the myth of the disposable woman by the new managerial women who consciously resignify themselves. However, “the resignification of her identity, as radical as it may be, is not a resignification of capitalist processes. Exploitation of labor continues to be her primary goal” (149). A new resignificaiton, that of the public middle class third world woman protesting the myths which enables their exploitation, Wright refers to as a “public woman”, a label that “continues to be used effectively to dismiss and devalue women for ‘prostituting’ themselves by venturing beyond the domestic sphere, that traditional domain of female purity and obligation” (154). It is in the very act of debunking a myth of global capital through democratic public protest that creates a new myth, that of the unfit female citizen or the public woman/prostitute, that engenders a new formation which global capital may then take up to enable further exploitation. Yet the type of exploitation that this enables may be different, so too the resignificaiton of public protest defends “an economic model of development that relies upon ready acceptance of this tale” (169).

“the capitalist continuum of uneven development works through the negotiations of local identities specific to a particular place in time. The working out of social identities at the local level is not epiphenomenal to the functioning of the global firm. Instead, as we see here, the crafting of a local schema for recognizing the abstract categories of the division of labor…within the local working population is of paramount importance to the generation of capital” (126).

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