Posts Tagged ‘World War II’


I was really intrigued by this image of the Statue of Liberty located in Tehran. I think it would be safe to say it frightened me. I am not naive. I realize the deep-seeded hate toward the United States around the world, probably the most in all of its history. But it frightens me because I am reminded of the just what people hating the United States can mean. It is the reason why I am always slightly scared when I get on a subway in NYC. It is a hyperawareness that terror attacks are real. Saying that seems so foreign to me, because I hate when those in power use fear to control the masses, but this fear is actually real. It is clear that the people in Tehran see the United States as an oppressive force. It is quite interesting because the same could be said about anyone who commits an act of terror. As Americans we have given up a bit of our freedom because of the threat of an attack. We have given up personal freedoms in the name of security but we have also given up our freedoms of expression, as seen with the recent release of the  Interview. I found it frightening that we were so eager to listen to threats of terror. Instead of condemning those threats, we gave in. At the same time, the United States threatens other nations all the time. So why is it different? I guess it is because acts of terror hurt everyday people, no matter what country they are in. This is bothersome because it is not everyday people in a country that create war, condemn other governments, generate coups or infringe on other nations’ freedoms. It is extremism and ideologies that create this fear, that create this hate, weather that be someone in the United States, France, Iran or Afghanistan or any other country. It is so easily forgotten that we are all humans. We all want the same things: a good life, success, love and safety.

With that being said, this image struck me so much because of its similarities between an Italian propaganda poster from World War II. It reads, “behold the liberators.”


Propaganda posters are fascinating. They are pure proof of the use of fear to turn nations against each other. This particular poster is one of my favorites because it caused me to begin to question my own government’s intentions in the world. It is important to realize The United States is not perfect, it is not the best place on earth to live. America has its own problems to address, severe issues we must grapple with before we condemn or tell another nation what to do. Since when did we decide what was moral and ethical? The city on a hill is a myth. Once the United States accepts that this too is propaganda and comes to terms with its own hypocrisy and myth, maybe we can begin to reconcile our relationships around the world. Maybe we can begin to stand for something just again, if we ever did.

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This advertisement, originally released in the 1940s, appropriates a number of American symbols in order to support its campaign. Advertising a Scottish whisky, commissioned from a French artist, its origins are a strange mixture of things both American and non-American.

The 1940s were, ostensibly, the time of greatest unifying patriotism among American citizens. “We” were fighting the good fight, our boys battling overseas to stop Hitler in his tracks, everyone back at home expected to pitch in and do their part for the war effort. So, naturally, in the height of this bombardment of American pride, companies would be looking for ways to maximize their profits based on the zeitgeist. Therefore, it makes sense that Heig, the Scottish whisky brand, would look to these most American of symbols in order to equivocate their brand with the same ideals that were important to the American people.

By replacing Lady Liberty’s torch with a bottle of whisky, advertisers could not be more clear about their intended message: Haig Whisky stands for freedom and enlightenment–though it may be from a foreign nation, its meaning is the same. If that weren’t crystalline enough, the poster also depicts Uncle Sam–literally an embodiment of the United States–tipping his hat to it, all while a plane flies overhead proclaiming to bring the, “Spirit of Haig” along with it.

Liberty herself is depicted as a beautiful woman (because no matter the time period, sex still sells, after all). By lining her up with a Scottish whiskey, the advertisers hope to give the impression that they are not only on the side of the Americans, not only fighting for freedom, but also that support of their product is support of America itself–I mean, if the Statue of Liberty is displaying it to the world while Uncle Sam looks on in admiration, that’s gotta tell you something, right?

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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)

2dn RosieTheRiveter

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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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Rosie was a creation of the American government, as a ploy to lure women into the workforce during the Second World War. This however ironically contradicted pre-war perceptions of women and work, especially during the not so distant Depression years when women were encouraged to stay at home, however emphasis was placed on the fact that this concept of women in work was only a temporary one. In this sense the government can be seen as trying to manipulate gender roles in accordance to the needs of the country, and thus they were happy to break traditional gender roles and liberate women for a patriotic cause. However this liberation was seen in terms of the war, and generally women were expected to return to their original roles post-war, something that was a lot harder for some women than it was for others. It could be argued that the government saw the female population during this period as their pawns that they could control and move at will, and the encouragement of propaganda such as Rosie the Riveter would allow this kind of control to be deemed acceptable. However Rosie acted as a kind of fictional role model for a lot of women and this idea that “we can do it” penetrated some women further than the government had intended.

This concept generally would have been controversial in mid 20th century America as not only did it interfere with gender roles but it also touched upon class divisions, as typically working women would have been from lower classes. Middle and Upper class women would have viewed such propaganda as offensive especially married women. However Rosie was a huge success and by the end of the war there were around 18 million women working, making up one third of the workforce. Norman Rockwell’s image of Rosie was interpreted and adapted across the country, which gave further encouragement to women proving the effectiveness of propaganda upon society trends. Class divisions however remained and tended to define the type of jobs that women went into, nonetheless women on a whole were empowered during this period. Most women acquired typical female positions within the workforce, as very few actually carried out jobs such as riveting and in this respect Rosie the Riveter was perhaps an over ambitious image for women but it did launch an awareness of women as capable and willing workers. There were women that did choose to remain at home because of various family responsibilities or traditional values that could not be broken and this highlights how the pre-war image of women did not disappear and remained an important part of American society. Therefore gender roles were not so easily malleable and women still remained ‘fragile’ figures, even those within the workforce who faced discrimination because of their sex, which proved that male attitudes had not yet caught up with the demands of the day. It was not until many years later that male attitudes accepted women in the workforce, however sadly inequality still exists today.

Rosie the Riveter nonetheless is an important American icon, despite portraying an over ambitious launch of women into the workforce during the Second World War, she portrays a strong empowered, loyal woman within American society making an effective contribution to the countries war effort. Rosie today can still empower women to work and this image will remain iconic for women, despite being a male construction within a male industry. 

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ImageWhilst primarily acting as an icon for femininity and female duty during the war Rosie the Riveter also reflects issues of masculinity. The cartoon figure ‘Rosie’ was the product of a government propaganda campaign to encourage more women into the workforce during the Second World War. Rosie represented the ideal woman; she was loyal, efficient, patriotic and pretty. However, the cartoon image and symbolic nature of ‘Rosie’ was one that also touched on masculine feelings during the war. Rosie was used to encourage women into the workforce but it was also implied that this move into industry was temporary and that pre-war feminine ideals were still valued within society. Rosie, in cartoon form, reflected the government’s idea of a women worker: she was playing her part in the war effort but she still had a pretty face and her femininity was not lost within her new role. Rosie was a riveter, she was not engaging in complicated, heavy-duty tasks which reflected the encouragement of women into menial tasks with the majority of women taking jobs in sectors that were considered traditionally female.

In the modern day the symbolic nature of Rosie the Riveter is not just realised as a female icon but a universal icon. The ‘Rosie the Riveter Trust’ webpage uses Rosie to encourage others to step out of their comfort zone, try new things and believe in themselves.  The Trust uses Rosie to represent one of the many stories from the war that helped break social barriers and had a lasting impact on society into the modern day.

(Queen’s University Belfast)

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