'Telephone girls' at the frontline of Third World telephony: The Turkish case between the 1950s and the 1980s

2019-02-18T14:25:49Z (GMT) by Burce Celik
The long and complicated work history of women at Third World countries’ national switchboard centrals is a crucial but largely overlooked aspect of the history of telecommunications and the feminist history of labour regimes. By focusing on the Turkish case between the 1950s and the 1980s, this article aims to unveil the authoritarian labour regimes that the telephone girls were exposed to in relation to the capitalist developmentalism, state-led cultural modernisation and nationalism policies of Third World countries. The archival and oral history research conducted with the female operators show that women at the centrals were expected to compensate for the deteriorated infrastructure, function as the surveillance apparatus of the state, and educate the male public to engage with modern and secular gender relations through their sacrificial and caring emotional work. Women have developed their own strategies of survival and struggle against this labour regime through their work practices and solidarity mechanisms.