PLEASE EXPLAIN HOW ONE OF THESE TWO IMAGINARY ICONS, SYMBOLIC OF AMERICA, REFLECTS ISSUES OF MASCULINITY OR FEMININITY IN MID-20TH CENTURY AMERICA.
Following America’s entry into World War Two, a new form of industrial labour was needed to meet the production demand, especially since large numbers of men who once worked in the factories had been sent to fight overseas. The U.S. government therefore launched a propaganda campaign to encourage women to join the workforce and the fictional character “Rosie the Riveter” was born.
In order to attract females to roles which were previously male-exclusive and promote the new “ideal” woman, 1940s Rosie blurred the gender line. In J. Howard Millers 1942 depiction, she retained her female sex appeal with a heavily made-up face, styled hair and slim figure. Yet, she was also the embodiment of strength as she flexed her muscles and she oozed confidence with her intense gaze, under the caption, “We can do it!” Women all around the country were drawn to this simple image as it convinced them that they could be beautiful and still be capable of participating in the war effort without feeling guilty about being a working mother. A lesser known portrayal is Norman Rockwell’s 1943 cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Again, Rockwell’s Rosie had some feminine features such as her nail polish, compact and sandwich (which could be interpreted as a nod to her domestic side and traditional female role). However, in this version Rosie was even more masculine than she was a year earlier. For example, her muscular arms were ridiculously oversized, she now had a powerful piece of machinery resting on her lap and her clothes were dirty to remind viewers of the demanding jobs she was now doing thanks to the war. Here, the message appeared to be that husbands on the battlefield would take pride in their wives if they weren’t afraid to get stuck in and do their bit; after all, the war would end sooner if more women worked.
“Rosie the Riveter” had a great impact on 20th century America. While husbands were at war in Europe, their wives occupied almost every aspect of industry and the number of women in the workforce increased by 57% between 1940 and 1944. While working conditions and pay were not always equal to what men enjoyed (and many women were laid off when the war ended), the experience of working outside the home allowed them the opportunity to prove their worth to the male-dominated American society and it gave them a permanent sense of empowerment. Therefore, it is not surprising that Rosie has since become a feminist icon as well as one of the great American icons.
Alana Johnston (QUB)