In Cynthia Enloe’s 3rd chapter of The Curious Feminist, she discusses “The Globetrotting Sneaker”. This chapter basically explains the situation after the Cold War in countries such as Russia, South Korea, China and Indonesia where sneaker companies, Nike and Reebok had decided to expand. However, this has come with an enormous cost, particularly for women. Not only are the sneakers very expensive; for example, the average Russian made $40 a month while Reebok sneakers fall in the $100 range, but almost 60% of Russia’s single parents live in poverty, and most of these are women.
As she writes, “as the global economy expands, sneaker executives are looking to pay women workers less and less, even though the shoes that they produce are capturing an ever-growing share of the footwear market” (44). The companies feel that it is advantageous and increases their competitiveness by hiring these “docile” women to make their shoes. The root of this issue, she says, stems from the fact that trade agreements are made between countries governments. It is these politics that make the lives of the workers very difficult as they try to “pit working women in industrialized countries against much lower-paid working women in “developing” countries, perpetuating the misleading notion that they are inevitable rivals with each other in the global job market” (45). These practices have changed since the 1960s but still it seems that women are taken advantage of. Though woman workers have taken a stand against the government, such as in South Korea where women began organizing in response to harsh work conditions, low pay, and “humiliation”, this resulted in government riot police raping, assaulting and stripping the workers. Eventually the wage gap was closed but it still remained at around 50% of male counterparts. Many have had to determine whether or not it is better to have a low paying, humiliating job versus none at all. “Sexual service” jobs, around this time, started blossoming.
This is not only a problem for South Korean women, as women all over the world face similar painstaking situations. They have organized “unions” too, in an effort to eliminate low wages. Also, it seems that companies, such as Reebok, ignore the fact that their workers are doing so under such conditions. Nike spokesman Dusty Kidd said that “all is relative” so that even though women in Indonesia were paid only 75% of $1.89 a day (minimum wage), it was actually “the first rung on the ladder of economic opportunity” (51). A survey found that 88% of women who worked at the minimum wage (which was less than a dollar a day) were malnourished- clearly protests are legitimate, as networks like the Committee for Asian Women has tried to addressed women’s needs.
Chapter 4, “Daughters and Generals in the Politics of the Globalized Sneaker” focuses upon globalization, power and politics. She begins with a discussion about universities and their links to sportswear companies, thus linking “Michigan State University student athletes, administrators and fans to both the Asian women who stitch sneakers and the investment-hungry Asian governments that try to control these young women” (58).
The globalization of sneakers began in South Korea and Taiwan in the 1970s, as Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Puma, and others decided to move from the USA. But women have “shaped” globalization. As the author says, “Korean women who became the assembly workers were crafting their own conceptions of femininity and Nike became dependent on those women’s constructions” (60). It seems that their femininity and the later pressure to keep this femininity of the 70s and 80s as such, kept wages low. Women were encouraged at this time to be “patriots” and move to cities in order to help the progress of industrialization. It was said to be a “respectable” move for ones family and potential fiancées, one in which there was clearly manipulation by the government.
It seems that the women realized that they were being paid poorly, but felt that as “daughters” this is what was necessary in order to be considered loyal. This was also considered a way to “rise a rung on the Korean class ladder” (63) in order to bring decent dowries into marriages. Thus, women workers’ priorities and strategies were analyzed/developed and globalization tactics were then figured out.
In Korea, many factory owners set up dating services, in order to increase labor turnover, because newer workers can be paid at a lower, “training” rate. Plus, in promoting dating, would keep women focused on working to fulfill the expectation of respectable daughters and potential wives. Despite this, women in South Korea begin to consider themselves citizens in the 1980s. When this happened, executives closed many factories in the country and began looking elsewhere (e.g. Indonesia). Korean officials tried to tell women that this was best for the country/government and was, like before, an act of patriotism.
The concept of women workers in Indonesia is more related to militarization and political network formation. Women who were working for sneaker companies made it a successful endeavor in the 80s and 90s. But there were many resistances, and not all were solely composed of women. Women were recruited and told that this was the ‘daughterly’ and ‘patriotic’ thing to do. However, like in South Korea, this industrial “project” was insufficient (67).
This has brought about an issue in what is considered “respectable femininity”. It is this concept, because knowing the life goals of women make them easy to manipulate, that keeps wages low and women easy to manage. Overall, Enloe states that this is complicated system in that “while Nike, Reebok and other sneaker giants may celebrate the globalized girl athlete in their advertisements, they simultaneously rely on regimes to undermine the legitimacy of local feminist’ challenging critiques with claims that those women activists are mere dupes of Western neo-imperialism” (68).