Rosie the Riveter is a fictional character created by the U.S. government that emerged at the beginning of World War 2 as part of their propaganda campaign. She was used as a tool to encourage white middle class woman to temporarily enter the workforce in order to contribute to the war effort and allow more males to go into service. Rosie is most commonly associated with J. Howard Millar’s, 1942 depiction of a very attractive and strong female worker. Posters of Rosie tended to ‘Glamorize’ the work place and breakdown the stigma of grimy and tough physical labour. The idea was to elevate factory work into a fashionable thing to do, something that wouldn’t take away from the femininity of a woman. These women were encouraged not to worry about their self image in the working world as they were presented with a strong, empowered and patriotic role model. However, this message didn’t translate entirely smoothly and can be described as being quite a deceptive image. It was a contradiction of the role of woman that had been previously endorsed by the government during the Depression era. During this time woman were actually discouraged from entering into the workforce and taking jobs away from men. Additionally, this was only meant to be a temporary solution to the problems of a swift armament agenda, it was not intended to be used as a feminist icon, merely an incentive for woman to go out and enter the workforce. Although promoting feminist ideals -such as woman being just as capable as doing the jobs men could do- Rosie was the product of a patriarchal hierarchy that was using woman for their own agenda when it suited them. For example, when woman initially entered into the workforce, they were not regarded as being as important an asset as their fellow male employees and were thus treated differently. In many cases, they were sent home once the war ended.
Woman in the workforce was not an entirely new concept, especially for the lower classes. Rosie was really intended to appeal to the middle class, who would probably not have been the most enthusiastic about leaving their family in order to work. While Rosie was not as revolutionary as a modern interpretation would assume, she was effective in mobilizing woman to enter the workforce. The amount of woman in the workforce at the beginning of the war stood at 12 million and by the end of the war, this number had jumped to 18 million. Therefore, Rosie can be regarded as a success in fulfilling her purpose. However, in many cases, woman still took on ‘white collar’ jobs, or jobs that were deemed appropriate for them. The promotion of ‘Rosie the Riveter’ during World War 2, is an example of the government challenging the traditional female role in American society and potentially paving the way for gender equality. However, even today her presence as an American Icon has been heavily glorified to transcend her initial purpose.
Lucinda Humphreys (QUB)
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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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The famous image of ‘Rosie the Riveter’ was brought to life by Norman Rockwell and utilised by the government in a 1942 propaganda campaign. This call for women workers brought Rosie in to the public consciousness and ingrained her there right through to the twenty-first century. Her likeness has been imitated and exploited by strong female icons of modern times and by music artists in particular e.g. Pink, Christina Aguilera and Beyonce. The irony remains that Rosie’s promotion was meant to be temporary and her conception originated from a time of crisis. She developed because of necessity but was bestowed a much greater depth of meaning. Rockwell not only created an image but a state of mind which would perpetually transcend time. Her lasting presence is captivating as is her iconic status not just as an American symbol but as a feminist icon worldwide.
Rosie the empoweress of women certified ‘We can do it!’ and her existence challenged gender roles, asserting that whatever a man can do a woman can too. Women did not only take on their husbands roles in the workforce but maintained domestic duties as well. Rosie’s verification of women’ s ‘double shift’ capabilities not only placed the sexes on the same level but suggested the superhuman eminence of the fairer sex. Perhaps this threat to masculinity explains the popularity of ‘Superman’ during this period, women on the home-front were the superheroes and men naturally turned to the male counterpart. After all Superman/ Clark Kent took on his share of ‘double shift’ life too.
Rosie the Riveter, Rosie the Feminist or Rosie the Superwoman, whatever significance she assumes her iconic status is more than justified. Her birth perhaps sparked the gender debate and changed the attitudes of both sexes not just in 1940s America but twenty-first century global life. And as the gender debate rolls on so too does Rosie the Riveter. For every young girl who sees Rosie’s image for the first time, it captivates their minds and hearts and ignites the realisation that‘ [I] can do it!’
Shanice Atkins (QUB)
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At the heart of the Second World War, in the United Sates, men enlisted in the army and went to the front in Europe and in the Pacific. Workers lacked terribly in factories, and the men who left needed to be replaced. Therefore, the American government decided to launch a propaganda campaign to encourage women to participate into the war effort. They promoted the fictional character of “Rosie the Riveter”, taken from a song, as the ideal woman worker. Rosie went on to become perhaps the most widely recognized icon of that era. The films and persuasive posters she appeared in, as the famous “We Can Do It!” image (1942) or Norman Rockwell’s one (1943), were used to encourage women to go to work. They called on, among other things, patriotic duty, high earning, and glamour of work. This inspired a social movement, women responded to the call, and the ones who went and work in factories were called “Rosies”. If patriotism influenced them at first time, they soon discovered the economic benefits linked to their new work, and realised that they could do a “man’s job”. At the beginning of the war, 12 million of women were working and the number was up to 18 million at the end of it. Nevertheless, this change was superficial and temporary. Even if 80% of women wanted to continue their profession after the war, they were encouraged to give way to soldiers when they came back, and to return to traditional jobs. The cultural division of labor by sex reasserted itself and they were sent back into lower-paying female jobs and to their homes. However, society had changed, and the next generations of women continued on the road of emancipation. The character of Rosie the Riveter gained significance over the years and became both a feminist icon, and a symbol for women’s economic power. But she also embodied women equality and women as being capable.
Orlane Liscouët (QUB)
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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.
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)
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Rosie the Riveter is an American cultural icon symbolic of feminism and women’s empowerment. At core, she represents the American woman who worked in armaments and munitions factories during the Second World War, many the result of a government propaganda campaign. Many of those women were filling the vacancies left by men as they went to fight on the front line.
Rosie The Riveter is very much was a symbol of feminism and women’s economic power both during the way and persisting to the present day. However, the image also reveals issues of masculinity during the way. In the poster, which was at crux a propaganda publication, Rosie is presented in a very interesting, and in my opinion, deliberate way. Dressed in overalls and tensing her bicep, Rosie appears deeply patriotic and committed to her contribution to the war effort. However, one also notes that Rosie is also very pretty and her spotted hairband gives a sense of femininity to the very masculine pose and overalls. One could suggest that this could be considered a subtle message from the government; that women’s move into industry was a temporary one and that pre- war ideals for women (primary role being a mother and homemaker) would not be lost and were still valued in American society. Although Rosie was taking on work which was not part of her traditional role, her femininity was not lost.
Moreover, one notes the nature of the work that these women were carrying out- they were working mostly in assembly lines in munitions factories not carrying out heavy manual labour. Thus suggesting that traditional notions of femininity and womanhood were not completely thrown out the window during the war and that after the war women’s roles in society somewhat normalised.
Interesting, the image of the Rosie the Riveter has been used across the internet so celebrate International Woman’s Day, a day encourage women to celebrate womanhood and unite together.
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