Pretty faces of the Free market

Women are the face of the business today. If that’s some claim the West is making to advance capitalism ethos, folks better watch out. The internal contradiction is here to stay: women stay as the face, whereas the men rule as the rest (muscle and the money).

One of the popular and reformatory feminist arguments made against the Third World nations and the former socialist block was that women are relegated to non-existence in matters of decision-making, unlike in the West where women have known to have posed for Playboy and have decided whom to go out with on an evening date.

The cultural contrasts have always been made whenever any other justification has failed. For example, if the religious fanaticism has matched (Islam Afghan, Christian Europe, Hindu India), then the proverbial burden on the white man has shifted towards cultural differences and the normative contrasts in terms of “women development”. Despite being religious, and at times because of the difference in their religions, the women have suffered so much (look at all stories on Iranian women suffering), the mainstream argument has run.

I though of looking at women in capitalism and the myth of women progress, just to see if the world at another hemisphere was indeed such fair to the fifty percent of population in terms of gender. Although there can be no comparison among the countries on basis of economic parity (remember the world is divided in two parts economically: self-proclaimed wealth accumulator group of 8 versus destined to doom group of rest 185), we need to see the attitudes of wealthy societies just to measure the yardstick. US as the citadel of capitalism tops the list, of course.

Only in August last year an assistant warehouse manager filed a class-action (yes classes do exist!!!) suit against Costco Wholesale Corp (that chain of warehouses from which Americans take pride in purchasing bulk after becoming elite members). Costco operates approximately 324 warehouses in the United States employing over less than 1 in 6 women as its senior store managers)! Yet all those faces at the counters in Costco who make us celebrate diversity at workplace are incidentally women, because the corporation employs more than 50% women! Women are 50% cheap labor and only 16% of them work at managerial positions!

Just for information, if that’s the case with United States, how does Costco employ women in the UK, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico, where it has businesses?

The worse news is Costco claims proudly that it metes better treatment than its rivals Wal-mart (yes that company whose owners are four of the ten richest billionaires of the planet), Sam’s or BJ’s. So where does the largest retail store in the world, the Wal-Mart, stand? Wal-Mart representing 1.6 million women, is facing the largest class-action sexual discrimination suit in history. The faces of Wal-Mart, its beautiful women, some of whom were picked by Playboy to pose nude recently, comprise more than 70% of its total workforce! That’s the parameter of feminist success, some claim, because what is overlooked is that Wal-Mart hires them for hourly jobs, only less than a third of them being in any store management position! Wal-Mart has more than 3,500 stores in US alone, having sales of more than $250 billion dollars annually!

Sex discrimination cases are also filed against most other giant companies, including Merrill Lynch and Home Depot. Among few cases that have been settled yet, aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. paid off $72.5 million to settle its case. Major investment bank Morgan Stanley paid off $54 million to settle claims that it underpaid and did not promote women.

Of course majority cases never get to see the trial and the systematic patterns of discriminations are never discussed in favor of individual cases.

The issue at hand is the problem. The continuing saga of discrimination that goes on even to the year 2005. If the cracks are evident with the biggest firms that hold the torch of capitalism, then one can only imagine the plights at the numerous sweatshops that have been opened at the behest of free market expansions. The myth has to be revisited, only if it will mean that we will eventually end up condemning the system that perpetuates the gaps and calls for class-actions. The least folks can do is not to get solely fascinated by the neon lights and pretend not to live the heat of oppression that the workers experience while building the lights and the buildings, the roads, the locomotives. It’s not enough to see the pretty women anchors on the television channels in order to assume advancements, its needed for us to see if they call the shots of their visual representations and decision making abilities as news editors.

Capitalism thrives on the show business. Massive consumptions, huge productions, giant media houses, lavish use of glamour, red carpets and the women, profit indexes and billionaires lists, the supermalls and blockbuster movies.

What it leaves out systematically is a narrative about the countless workers who make these take shape, and the systematic oppression they inflict on the working class in terms of wages, treatments and attitudes.


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