When I asked a woman who has been employed in the textile industry for many years, whether there is wage inequality, she told me: “Nobody tells their wage to another. They say that they would lose their jobs if they showed their payrolls to another worker… When we demand from our boss or the accountants to address the inequality, they tell us that the men are the breadwinners of their families. Are we doing anything different?”
Gender norms continue to deafen our ears and blunt our souls like a clock that is ticking against women in every moment of their lives. As such, according to a study, “what to cook today” is still the primary question that ages our soul. From very early on, gendered colors limit our lives, gender identity and labor, and causes gender discrimination throughout our lives. The repetitive tasks in the household or in the wage labor process fall on women and cause our souls to age and wear out to a great extent.
The battery of this gender clock −that is trying to ruin our lives from the moment we were born until we die− is running low thanks to the feminist struggle led over the years. With feminism, as women against gender discrimination, we are empowered by each other and able to raise our voice at workplaces, at home, on the streets, wherever we are.
Although we have made some progress in the wage labor and domestic spheres, we still have a long way to go in our gender struggle. The goal of this article is to look at gender discrimination in textile industry through concrete experiences of women workers to help render gender of labor more visible.
Women, still and undoubtedly, face the glass ceiling, wage inequality, gender norms, violence and harassment at the workplace and struggle against them. As if the difficulties of work life were not enough of a burden, they have to defend their lives, rights and labor against the advantages granted to men by the patriarchal order. Innumerable research on this subject shed light to these findings. Within the scope of a research* on women’s labor, the responses I have got from women workers in the textile industry support these findings. Below you will find a selection of them:
When I asked a woman worker: “Why are most shift supervisors, chief workers selected among the men?” She replied: “They don’t think we are cut out for management. They think we won’t be able to manage well. In this line of work, you are praised if you can give orders harshly.” And she added with a wink, “They think men can maintain discipline, but if they can do it, we can do it much better”.
When I asked: “When there is a visitor or a client at the workshop, and tea needs to be served or there is cleaning to be done −let’s say they have spilled the tea on the ground− is it the women or the men that need to perform these?” They answered: “If the errand boy is not around, they turn to us. Men don’t even consider taking on that responsibility for a second. We don’t want to perform these services anymore, perhaps they can also start taking responsibility for these kinds of services. .”
When I asked a woman who has been employed in the textile industry for many years, whether there is wage inequality, she told me: “Nobody tells their wage to another. They say that they would lose their jobs if they showed their payrolls to another worker. That −in itself− is the proof of wage inequality. There is not a fair wages policy. When we demand from our boss or the accountants to address the inequality, they tell us that the men are the breadwinners of their families. Are we doing anything different?”
When I asked them about “the advantages and disadvantages of the textile industry”, women replied that they “are able to find a job in this industry. It’s not like that in other industries. If you leave one job, you won’t be able to find another for a very long time. Although the working conditions in textile are bad, we are quite rapidly able to find a job for minimum wage”. All these responses demonstrate that it is difficult for women to find jobs in other industries and that not much has changed since the industrial revolution − in the sense that women continue to produce labor as a cheap workforce, especially in textile and weaving, which are still considered women’s jobs.
When I asked two capital owner men whether they “lay off women workers or men workers first when their business needs to go into recession or when there is an economic crisis?”, they both replied: “I never discriminate between men and women”. I was shocked at first and thought they were not responding in a genuine manner. It’s common knowledge that during economic crises, women are the first ones to be dismissed from their jobs since men are perceived to be the real proprietors of work and production, and domestic care labor is dumped on women. Let’s put aside the fact that women, who are perceived as contributing to the finances of their family rather than being the breadwinner, are the first ones to lose their jobs. The examples I have come across in the textile industry showed otherwise. The textile bosses who claimed that they “were not discriminating during layoffs” were actually telling the truth. Since the textile industry is a woman-intensive industry and almost every stage of production goes through the quality control of women, they were afraid that the work would be disrupted significantly if they removed the women. For this reason, they also admitted that they could not afford to dismiss women. Capitalist men did not dismiss women for their own benefit, but when the unemployed men returned to their homes, they never thought of fulfilling the care labor and domestic chores that women always undertake. As men and capital owners reproduce and reinforce gender of labor, women continue to produce labor both at work and at home.
In short, these lived experiences –the life itself– shows us once again the importance of having a socialist feminist perspective and fighting capitalism and patriarchy at once, without reducing them to one another.
*This research was based on qualitative fieldwork that focused on problems of women workers in the textile industry using participant observation and in-depth interview methodology.
Translator: Deniz İnal
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan