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Posts Tagged ‘Gender’

Rocky and Gender

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Before last week, I’d never seen Rocky. It’s a sports movie, which is generally not my thing. When I actually sat down to watch it, I spent a lot of time noticing the way that extremely traditional American expectations of masculinity drove the plot, and informed both Rocky’s and Adrian’s characterization.
The relationship between Rocky and Adrian relies on the fact that he is a protector and she is the protected. Achieving the American dream, which is what this film is about, requires attaining the social and economic power to control your own life. In the case of Rocky, this power is accessible through masculine gender performance, and seems to require a feminine counterpart with whom he can demonstrate his appropriate masculinity. This becomes more obvious when you compare Rocky to Adrian’s brother, Paulie. Rocky is set up as a benevolent protector in comparison to Paulie, the man who was previously dominant in her life. Rocky, the film says, really cares about her. He utilizes his power in the way the film says is correct. It’s one of the ways in which downtrodden Rocky asserts his masculinity over the course of the film, in addition to the slightly more obvious aspect of his measure of triumph in the match against Creed. Being able to win over a woman is as much a part of his character arc as his physical training is, and the way this subplot plays out, it’s clear that he’s pretty much the only active player. Rocky essentially has to coerce her into beginning a relationship with him. I don’t know if that aspect was notable to audiences when the film came out, but the lack of respect that Rocky shows for Adrian’s boundaries, which is framed as acceptable by the film, was unsettling to me. Adrian’s role as a character is to resist, and then give in once Rocky proves his worth to the audience. Though Adrian changes after beginning her relationship with Rocky, her motivations are still fairly unclear to us. She’s whatever she needs to be in order to advance Rocky’s story.
A lot of Rocky’s character growth comes from regaining a sense of pride and drive. Earning the love of a woman enables his success down the line when it comes to his fight. The same characteristics that make him eligible for achieving the American dream also make him entitled to Adrian’s love. That’s how these stories work. And while Rocky doesn’t win, in the most literal sense, he still achieves his goal and retains his pride, which is here defined in accordance with his masculine gender performance.

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The icon of Rosie the Riveter challenged the gender stereotype of American women in mid-20th century America.  Rosie the Riveter is significant because, despite being a woman, she was also a worker, which was typically seen as a masculine role.  Whilst many women had worked before World War II, it is important to note that not many white middle class women worked.  For these women, their role was seen to be in the home, looking after their husband and raising children.  However, since the war created a labour shortage, white middle class women were able to work in jobs that could no longer be taken by men, many of whom were fighting in the US army.  Rosie the Riveter’s ethnicity is important; since she is white, the character suggests that the role of women who, previously, could only aspire to be housewives, were capable of working in the same world as men.  Rosie the Riveter acted as an icon to challenge the idea that women were not welcome in the workplace.

Rosie the Riveter is also important in the period soon after World War II.  Whilst women were still far away from gender equality, they had made significant steps towards it during World War II.  However, after the war, many women were forced to give up their jobs to returning soldiers, as society still asserted that a woman’s place was in the home and a man’s place at work.  Whilst during the 1940s Rosie had been a symbol of how women were capable of contributing to the workforce, during the 1950s it had become an icon of a bygone era for women.  Rosie the Riveter continued to be used as a feminist icon, showing how women were fully capable of working in the same jobs as men.

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 PLEASE EXPLAIN HOW ONE OF THESE TWO IMAGINARY ICONS, SYMBOLIC OF AMERICA, REFLECTS ISSUES OF MASCULINITY OR FEMININITY IN MID-20TH CENTURY AMERICA. 

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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.

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Alana Johnston (QUB)

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Sexy Liberty

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I found this image of a feminized and oversexualized Lady Liberty very interesting. She has stripped off her robe and thrown down her tablet and torch. Her eyes look blank and devoid of any emotion or virtue that the Statue of Liberty represents. Finally, she poses suggestively in a bikini.

The fact that she is wearing a bikini is a very subtle, but to me it was the most striking part of this image. The origin of the name of the two-piece is both disturbing and fascinating.  It is named after Bikini Atoll, a small island where the atomic bomb was tested. Soon after, the bomb would reign destruction on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and end World War II. The bathing suit was named the bikini because it was supposed to elicit the same shock and awe that people experienced about the bombings. In this image, Lady Liberty has thrown down her torch and her tablet, metaphorically throwing down her values. Since the statue arrived here from France in the 19th century, Lady Liberty has come to represent ideals held as traditionally American such as liberty and freedom. She has torn off her virtuous robe to reveal a more current representation of American ideals: essentialism, sexuality, objectification of tragedy, obsession with appearances. The rest of the aspects of this image—her suggestive pose, emotionless face, and the revealing nature of her outfit—represent a lot about American notions of beauty. But to me, nothing is more important than her bikini.

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