Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II

Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II

Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II

Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II

Excerpt

Many researchers have been drawn to the World War II period because demands of the wartime economy necessitated a dramatic reassessment of women's role in American life. Specifically, women were hired to fill positions normally occupied by men, jobs that not only paid higher wages than those in female fields but were thought to require "masculine" abilities and attitudes. The fact that a woman could step into a man's shoes and wear them rather comfortably posed an implicit challenge to traditional notions about femininity and female limitations. The question that has absorbed those of us focusing on the ideological dimension of this period is why the media's legitimation of female entry into male work failed to supplant the traditional image of women as homemakers, unsuited by nature for wielding power outside the domestic province, for competently manipulating the machinery at the heart of our industrial society, and for holding jobs normally allocated to male "breadwinners." Indeed, the great puzzle of the 1940s has been the paradoxical spawning of a reactionary postwar feminine mystique by a crisis that necessitated radical revision of traditional views.

In this study I am seeking to clarify those elements which defeated the potential of war work to legitimize women's entry into nontraditional occupations, to identify the ideological currents that invited women into men's sphere and yet flowed into the restrictive channels of traditional views about womanhood at the war's end. Where was the interface between praising women for their ability to perform public work competently and relegating them to the home because that is where their "natural" limitations and strengths placed them? How did the strong figure of Rosie the Riveter become transformed into the . . .

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