Femininity and the Factory: Women’s Labouring Bodies in the Moir’s Candy Plant, 1949-1970
Mulrooney, Margaret Anne
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In post-war Canada, married women’s labour force participation rose dramatically. Labour historians have studied this trend with a primary focus on married women’s disadvantaged position in the labour market. This thesis examines female factory workers as manual labourers and asks how their bodies affected and were affected by their jobs, and how specifically female embodiment shaped their experience of work. Using the framework of job-related, cultural, and reproductive body work developed by sociologist Chris Shilling, this case study examines the experiences of eleven women who worked at the Moir’s candy plant in Halifax between 1949 and 1970. Semi-structured interviews are the main source of research data for this study. This case study explores working conditions at Moir’s, such as work on conveyor belts, the gendered division of labour, piece-work, and breaks, and determines the ways the women responded to and also shaped these conditions. The women’s testimonies reveal that their embodied experience as labourers was based both in workplace conditions (such as company regulations) and in family responsibilities. There are three main findings. First, I argue that in the context of the Moir’s factory, women’s acts of sabotage (in the form of breaking the conveyor belts), use of make-work, and development of other coping strategies were intended to create needed leisure time in the workplace. Second, I challenge the common assumption in labour sociology that factory work does not require that employees carry out true emotional labour. I argue that feelings of pride and shame had a strong influence over the women’s workplace dress and behaviour; managing these feelings were an important part of the women’s occupation. Finally, I argue that in the post-war era, women’s reproductive body work was directly connected to their paid labour because of the lack of public childcare and other reproductive labour resources available to wives and working mothers.