In 1929 the Americaneconomy plummeted leading to an era now referred to as the Great Depression, anevent that would come to impact many across the world (Bordo, Goldin, & White, 2007). As a result of thecrash, large numbers of factories and business closed their doors, resulting inincreased unemployment in the male population (Bordo et al, 2007). Moreover,the FDR administration created the ‘New Deal’ in order to reconstruct theeconomy, paving the way for a new socioeconomic system. (Digital Public Library of America, N/A) The ‘New Deal’consisted of the three R’s: Relief, Recovery and Reform (Digital Public Library of America, N/A).
‘Relief’ in this instance, refers to the prompt action aimed at stopping thedeterioration of the U.S. economy; ‘Recovery’ referred to the programs thatwere made by the administration to renew consumer demand; while ‘Reform’ signifiedthe more permanent and future oriented programs that were created in order toavoid another economic catastrophe, and furthermore, to assure the nation thatthe economy was only getting better from then on. (Digital Public Library of America, N/A).This reformcreated numerous jobs, primarily in industries dominated by men, with only 10%of these positions accessible for women.
(English, 2015) Subsequently, in 1939,right when the American economy was beginning to stabilize, a military conflictbegun in Europe. This developed into the beginning of Second World War, takingplace until 1945. With a desire to be perceived as neutral, America was initiallyreluctant to enter the war. (Reynolds, 2002) In 1941however, the nation’s position was effectively decided for them, when Japanbombed Pearl Harbor and forced America’s entry to the war (Reynolds, 2002).
Over 10 millionmen were sent to war that year due to conscription, and approximately 6 millionother men and women volunteered, mainly in the Army Air Corps, the navy, andthe Marines (Chambers, 1999). This resulted in a substantial number of jobs beingleft vacant. (English, 2015) It was thisdevelopment that led to the construction of a now famous wartime icon, namely,Rosie the Riveter.
(English, 2015) Since herportrayal in 1942 by J. Howard Miller, Rosie has come to symbolize for some the changingposition women in America inhabited during and post-World War two, while for others sherepresents a manufactured cultural object used to stimulate support for thenation’s war efforts (references need here probably 2).Regardless of contemporary opinion, undeniable is the fact that Rosie theRiveter has continued toexert a large degree of cultural significance and debate has persistedas to her importance both in the past and in modern times (references needed here probably 3 or 4). In an effort tokeep the economic momentum, the government created Rosie the Riveter as afictional character through their ‘WarProduction Coordinating Committee’ propaganda campaign (need reference for that); a strong looking woman whocould encourage other women to take over the men’s position in the domestic workforce, with her now famous catch phrase, “We Can Do It!”.Includethe image here The women were an unexploited demography. (Wallace, 2011) – Up untilthis point, the female work force was severely underutilized and therefore thiscoordinated government effort represented a shift in economic and laborconditions and policy (find reference about rosie andthe economy here). The positions nowvacant were often not considered as being appropriate for women at the time.
Forcontext, this was a period where many saw it as socially unacceptable for womento wear pants or smoke on the street (need referencefor that). These were predominately jobs in man-dominated industries, suchas weaponry, automotive and aviation manufacturing, whereas women in thisperiod were usually seen working in industries such as retail, administrative,cleaning and childcare (need references). Despitethe poster of Rosie working as the government intended, only 6 million womenout of the 18 million strong female workforce in 1942-45 were new (need reference). This illustrates that the women werealready working before the war, or alternatively, they returned to the workforce after losing their job as a result of the Great Depression. Rosie was not however,the only propaganda ‘product’ of her time. The American public were being overwhelmedwith cultural outputs like the war songs of George M.
Cohan; a song made in1917 (first world war), but started to be played and getting popular againduring second world war, with the aim of getting men to sign up for military (need reference). Likewise, a Rosie the Riveter song wascreated, in which the lyrics tell a story about a woman called Rosie who isdoing her patriotic duty to help the nation, ‘making history and working forvictory’ (need reference). The government atthe time aimed to create an image of a feminine woman who was going to get ajob at a factory for the sake of freedom (English, 2015). Not because shewanted to but rather, because it what the nation required of her (English, 2015). When the war ended,it was expected that the women would return to their previous positions,however this was not always the case (Wallace, 2011). The governmentexpected the women to go home to their husbands who had returned from war, and continuebe the then stereotypical woman; feminine, charming, achieves all duties suchas cooking and childcare with the utmost elegance (Honey, 1985). While some womenreturned to life as a housewife and other more ‘female appropriate’ jobs,others stayed at the factories; an unanticipated development for the FDRadministration (Pitogo, 2014).
Incase a woman didnot voluntarily quit her job when the men returned after war, often she wouldget fired or repeatedly humiliated until she would quit (English, 2015).’The FeminineMystique’, a book written by Betty Friedan in 1963, considered to be the periodof second-wave feminism that starting earlier that decade, wrote about feminismin America (reference book properly here). Initially,Friedan did not intend to write a whole book, but due to magazines refusing topublish her articles, she was left with no other options. Friedan mentions inher book how magazines wrote short stories about how the women should belooking forward to being ‘just a housewife again’ and they give them women advise on how to handle the ‘men’swork’ (English, 2015). This is an example of the agendaof the propaganda campaign with the Rosie poster. Effectively, theyneeded the women until the men came back. This concurrently elucidates the levelsof equality in U.S.
society at the time. The following quote from Friedan’sbook provides an articulate on how women were seen at the time; ‘Fulfillment as a woman had only one definition forAmerican women after 1949—the housewife-mother.” (English, 2015)Friedan’s book becameone of the bestselling nonfiction books of that year, and challenged thepicture of women and feminism (English, 2015).
Important toreflect on here, is the idea that, social movements and the symbolic importanceof certain cultural icons (in this instance Rosie) are often difficult to graspin their entirety at their time of happening. Rather, what is often required,are decades of reflection to enable more contemporary and contextualizedunderstandings of historical events. It is at this point, that analysis of morecurrent reflections of Rosie’s importance will take place. Today the generalview of Rosie the Riveter is that she is a cultural icon that symbolizes thechanging face of feminism. (Pitogo, 2014) It is claimedthat Rosie the Riveter inspired a feminist movement in the 1970s; the newfemale workers organized alliances in order to fight for improvementsconcerning payment and the working conditions.
(Pitogo, 2014) Accidents at the workplaces werevery common as a result of the women not being given any appropriate safetyequipment. (Pitogo, 2014) The pay ratediffered a lot, depending on race and gender. White males would be paid themost while if you were a black woman, you would be paid the least. (Wallace, 2011) – be clear here what period you are referring to – always tryto draw parrellels between the periods to show relevance Centuries havepassed since Rosie The Riveter was created but somehow, she kept symbolizing feminismand still used in feminism iconicism (Pitogo, 2014).
Despite the warbeing long over, the 1970-80s feminist movements used Rosie the Riveter (Wallace, 2011) and implemented thecatchphrase “We Can Do It!”, and later on in the 1990s (third-wave feminism),began the merchandising of Rosie The Riveter. (Pitogo, 2014). Again, hercontinued employment further highlights her ongoing relevance, despite hercontested appropriateness and actual meaning. Even in the 21stCentury, Rosie the Riveter still appears. One of the newer appearances was whenBeyoncé, a well-known African-American pop-artist posted a picture of herselfdress up as Rosie the Riveter on Instagram in 2014 (Winson, 2014)Includeimage her of Beyonce Beyoncé has a reputation for being a feminist;speaking and fighting for the female character through her songs (Winson, 2014). Some havequestioned however, just how feminist this act is.
There was a lot of debateafter the posting of the picture, positive and negative (needs references). While some people worshiped her forbeing the 21st centuries’ new feminist icon, others criticized herfor not understanding the real meaning behind Rosie (Winson, 2014), with some saying “insert direct quote here that shows why someone thinks she’sstupid” (reference that quote). Overall, the criticism rested on Beyoncé’sre-purposing of the image of Rosie as a front figure of women’s rights,overlooking the original intent of her creation (English, 2015). One of the reasonsgiven was how the poster of Rosie hung on walls of the factories where the newfemale workers had taken over the men’s position (needsreference).
This was done in order to keep the status quo. Keeping the status quo is not afeminist move, which ruins the image of Rosie being a symbol of feminism.It therefore ignores the bad impact the war and its propaganda had on women’srights (Winson, 2014).
An example comesfrom Rebecca Winson, a columnist for The Guardian who expressed herdisagreement with people’s worshipping of Beyoncé. Winson argued that while itmight be a ‘cool picture’ that was taken of Beyoncé it nonetheless does notimmediately entitled her to be consider the leading feminist icon of our times(Winson, 2014). The fact thatduring the WW1, women were paid less than the males, and that they wereexpected to return to their lives as a housewife after the war is in realitynot very feminist.1 abitter edge to it, when viewed in retrospect. Used, betrayed, and lied to. almostseven decades later, all is not sunshine and roses. Just this past week, forexample, we had a Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia arguing that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment doesnot apply to women.
Clearly, we still have a distance to go, in terms of protectingand respecting women’s equality and access to economic opportunity. But even with all theadvances made by women in the workforce, the number of women doing the kind ofwork Rosie the Riveter represented remains quite small. Womenmake up significant percentages of many white-collar fields that weremale-dominated half a century ago, from advertising and middle-management tomedicine and law