Rosie the Riveter has become an icon and a role model for female empowerment. However, she may not be the role model we need or idolize.
Historically, women were told their role was to stay in the home to cook, clean, and take care of the kids. It was seen as unnatural and unseemly if a woman was active in society or working. However, whenever there was a war, men left to go fight and women were expected to take over the jobs left behind. When the war ended and the men returned home, women were expected to give the jobs back to the men and return to their domestic sphere. World War 2 was no different.
When men left to join World War 2, there were thousands of jobs left behind in factories critical to the war industry. Many women truly believed their role was in the home and were hesitant to join the workforce. Therefore, Rosie the Riveter was introduced to the public as propaganda encouraging women to join the work force and take over the jobs men left behind. Many women felt empowered by joining the workforce and that their role as a working woman was important. They truly felt that they were contributing the war effort in a significant way. When the war ended and the soldiers returned, women were pressured to quit their jobs and give them back to the men.
These women that gained purpose from their job didn’t want to give up their jobs and go back to the home. It was a taste of freedom that was new to women and they didn’t want to give it up. As a result, Rosie the Riveter has become idolized for the importance of female empowerment and the significance of standing up against society’s prescriptions.
Most people have seen this image of Rosie the Riveter- it is so prevalent that it is a common costume. What most people don’t know is that this was not the original image that recruited women to the work force.
When the original image was released, it was popular and effective. It wasn’t until decades later that the famous Rosie the Riveter poster gained lots of attention. The differences between the two images are striking. The original image portrays a physically strong woman with dirt on her face, while the popular image portrays a more attractive and feminine woman with her hair and makeup done.
Society has constantly developed prescriptions in an attempt to hold women back. First, these prescriptions told women they belonged in the home and the workforce was no place for a woman. After World War 2, when women continued to seek work outside the home, it became impossible to tell women to leave the workforce. Instead, these prescriptions were replaced by something called the Beauty Myth. The book by Naomi Wolf essentially described the Beauty Myth as society’s new prescriptions that gave women these impossibly high standards to live up to. For instance, even when the only career women could aspire to be is a housewife, they were expected to have their hair done and wear makeup and heels while they cooked and cleaned. All of the advertisements and TV shows of the time period depicted women with their hair done and heels on as they cleaned the house. When women entered the workforce, the Beauty Myth extended to them, too. They were expected to maintain their physical appearance, while managing a career on top of taking care of the home.
The popular image of Rosie the Riveter only furthers these prescriptive. It tells women that if you want to work and have a career, you still need to maintain your appearance at all times. Female empowerment is all about an individual’s CHOICE to live life the way you want, to wear makeup, to get married, to have kids, to work, to stay at home, etc. Rosie the Riveter is an icon and should be memorialized, but we should idolize the original Rosie the Riveter.