Shopfloor in the Maquiladoras

When I was being hired, after the interview, they asked me when I would have my next period…They said I couldn’t actually start work until I had my period. [I]t was still three weeks away so I had to wait. On the first day of my period, I came back. The nurse was here and she said “Let’s see it. Show me the sanitary napkin.” They accepted me that same day.

Reka S. Koerner, “Pregnancy Discrimination in Mexico: Has Mexico Complied With the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation?” Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights 4.2 (1999): 235, Academic Search Premier, EBSCO. 6 Sep. 2010 <>

The maquiladora shopfloor is a space where the cheap, temporary labour meets a sexualized form of femininity through the female maquiladora workers.  Row upon row of women working, constructed as dextrous and docile, exhibit the signs of a sexualized work environment that reads deeper than simply male managerial staff desiring to gaze at their female employees during the long hours.

Looking more closely, the ideas of productivity become linked to the control over women’s bodies and their sexuality.  Feminist ethnographer, Leslie Salzinger, has seen this first hand and recalled:

[r]ows of them, darkened lashes lowered to computer boards, lids fluttering intermittently at hovering supervisors who monitor finger speed and manicure, concentration and hair style, in a single glance.  Apparent embodiment of availability – cheap labour, willing flirtation – these young women have become the paradigmatic workers for a transnational political economy in which a highly sexualized form of femininity has become a standard ‘factor of production.’[i]

The apparent presence of sexuality on the shopfloor is inextricably to the control over the female workers’ labour and production itself.  Despite making a shocking $3.40USD per day for a 9-12 hour workday, the expectations placed on female maquiladora workers to maintain their appearance on the shopfloor and accept the levels of control and surveillance that come with maquiladora work has become naturalized and distinctly associated with the shopfloor environment in Mexico’s maquiladora zones.[ii]

For the female maquiladora workers, gaining and maintaining employment in a maquiladora is an experience of surveillance and control. With men making up the majority of the managerial staff “monitoring becomes the gaze of sexual objectification as soon as it locks on the women.”[iii] Prior to being employed at a maquiladora, the women are required to undergo medical exams, specifically pregnancy tests, and release their relationship and sexual history.[iv] Pre-employment pregnancy discrimination often occurs, meaning that women who are pregnant prior to application do not gain employment as the company would be required to pay maternity benefits in the third-trimester of the woman’s pregnancy.[v] Adding to the difficulties of gaining work in maquiladoras, pregnancy tests are routinely administered, and if a female becomes pregnant while employed, she is often harassed into resigning.[vi] This also means that birth control is readily available to the female maquiladora workers to the point of being required, while other health services are almost non-existent in the workplace.[vii]

As well as the control over women’s reproductive health, female maquiladora workers are required to adhere to certain beauty standards.  This is enforced both my the male managerial staff’s comments, as well as by company-wide beauty pageants for the female workers, where the female workers are judged on their ‘attractiveness’  and are eligible for prize money that makes up more than a week’s wages.[viii] This underlying sexualized pressure has the male managerial staff telling the female workers, “Girls, utilize your sexuality.”[ix]

The implications of this highly sexualized form of femininity enables the control over women’s bodies and their labour in the maquiladora zones.  Moreover, it is leads to the emergence of increased tensions between traditional Mexican views of femininity and the “New Female maquiladora Labourer.” And yet, even with the emergence of the “New Female maquiladora Labourer,” who uses birth control, has children later in life, and earns a wage, with the sexualization by her male counterparts and managers on the shopfloor the female maquiladora worker is continually stuck in a process of being put in her “traditional,” subordinate place.[x] These never-ending cycles of control take their most horrifying form in the cases of the Disappeared women, whose bodies turn up on the outskirts of maquiladora districts, having been brutally raped and mutilated to the point of being unrecognizable.


[i] Leslie Salzinger, Genders in Production: Making Workers in Mexico’s Global Factories. (Berkley: University of California Press, 2003) 164.

[ii] “Maquiladoras at a Glance,” CorpWatch (1999): 3, 8 October 2010 <>.

[iii] Salzinger 165.

[iv] Jessica Livingston, “Murder in Juárez: Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Global Assembly Line,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 25.1 (2004): 62, JSTOR, 1 Sep. 2010 <>.

[v] Reka S. Koerner, “Pregnancy Discrimination in Mexico: Has Mexico Complied With the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation?” Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights 4.2 (1999): 2, Academic Search Premier, EBSCO. 6 Sep. 2010 <>.

[vi] Livingston 62.

[vii] Livingston 62.

[viii] Livingston 62.

[ix] Livingston 62.

[x] Livingston 70.