Gender and Labor in the Post-War Era by Amy Clark
The pictures seen here offer a glimpse into the relationship between gender and work at Seabrook. In the photograph entitled "Heading home," women workers leave the plant at the end of a long workday in early September 1952. Work at Seabrook was highly gendered - women were generally stationed inside processing plants while men labored in the fields. The next photograph, taken in 1950, shows Satsujo Hashimoto and Tamako Mukushina checking spinach for defects in a sorting line. The juxtaposition of the machinery and the work of sorting by hand, illustrates the intersection of manual labor with modernized methods of production, Seabrook's claim to fame. For all of Seabrook's innovations in flash-freezing technology, the women workers in this photo must still compensate for the limitations of mechanized processes by performing repetitive, machine-like labor themselves. In framing the hands of Hashimoto and Mukushina, the photograph also inadvertently alludes to the then-commonplace notion that women workers were better outfitted for factory work because of their smaller, more dexterous hands. However, business owners such as C. F. Seabrook also sought out women workers because they could pay women approximately five cents less than men.
On the spinach sorting line, Hashimoto and Mukushina both wear pristine uniforms and matching hats, although these hats do not appear to serve any utilitarian purpose - save for perhaps keeping hair out of the product. By having workers wear standardized attire, Seabrook forced workers' bodies to conform in ways that extend beyond the repetitive movement involved in the actual labor. While the women heading home also wear similar uniforms, they appear more disheveled at the end of the workday. Unlike the "Heading Home" image, the angle of the camera over the spinach sorting line removes Hashimoto and Mukushina's expressions from full view. Consequently, they appear diligently immersed in their work, despite its tedium and repetition. The picture does not convey the monotony of the work, the long hours, or the factory noise. Instead, the spinach becomes the subject of the photo, rather than the experience of the workers who prepare it. The image of the women workers leaving the factory tells a different story. The gaze of Kaneyo Ogata, the woman facing the camera, is particularly striking. She appears preoccupied and wearied, possibly of the camera itself. Her countenance raises questions about the performance of factory work for the camera, as contrasted with the quotidian reality of the harsh working conditions at Seabrook.
World War II and its lingering influence, still felt in the 1950s, provides broader context for the gendered structure of work at Seabrook. The photograph originally entitled "Checking out the 'chick' on her way home" crystallizes the conservatism and chauvinism around gender that flourished at Seabrook and throughout the nation in the years after the war. The title suggests romantic and sexual advances on the part of the man in the car. Although the woman's dress indicates that she is probably not coming home from a shift at the plant, her "feminine" attire informs the photographer's reading of the interaction. While the gendered segregation of labor and women workers' uniforms evidence anxieties about the incorporation of women into the workforce at Seabrook, the fact that the photographer took four pictures of this interchange - regardless of the actual nature of the conversation - affirms traditional, misogynist conventions. Despite (or perhaps in response to) the woman's employment status, the man's catcalling puts the woman back in her "place." Neither the conservatism around women's propriety, nor women's increased participation in the workforce, necessarily protected them from unwanted attention from men. This bind proved especially constraining for Japanese American women, whose questioned loyalty had already placed them under scrutiny.