Giving Compass' Take:
- This author explores the industrial revolution's role in women empowerment's past and in today's world.
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Factories producing Ivanka Trump-brand clothing have recently drawn “sweatshop” accusations. Of course, the United States had its own sweatshops once, often with worse conditions than factories in poor countries today.
Those who imagine Industrial Revolution factory work in the United States as a dark and oppressive moment in history might benefit from reading the words of those who lived through it. Today, across the developing world, factory work continues to serve as a path out of poverty and an escape from agricultural drudgery, with particular benefits for women seeking economic independence. In China, many women move on from factories to white-collar careers or start their own small businesses. Very few choose to return to subsistence farming.
Women factory workers are often thought of as “undifferentiated, homogenous, faceless and voiceless” passive victims, but even a cursory examination of their words and lives reveals unique individuals with agency.
Today, just as in the nineteenth century, industrialization not only spurs economic development and reduces poverty, but also expands women’s options.