Rosie the Riveter
During World War II, thousands of American men left for the war front leaving numerous factory, civil service, and war production jobs behind. In an attempt to temporarily fill the industrial labor shortage, “Rosie the Riveter” was born. Meant to represent the ideal female worker, “Rosie the Riveter”, even today, is considered the most successful advertising campaign in US History.
The movie The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter depicts the differences between men and women in the workforce. Although “Rosie the Riveter” was intended to empower women and increase their opportunities, in reality there was no change in the public attitudes about women and their roles in society.
By 1943, thousands of women flooded the workforce, however, many were still subject to bigotry. Lola Weixel recalled a day when she was chosen to do a job that was commonly done by a man. When Weixel informed her supervisor that she was in fact female, she was promptly met with blatant sexism; her supervisor stating “Well If I had known you were a woman, I wouldn’t have hired you. I thought you were a country boy.”
Despite the impressive propaganda and claims that fueled “Rosie the Riveter”, women everywhere were deemed incapable of doing the same jobs as men. Salary was another recurring issue during this time period. Often women were given substandard pay in spite of completing the same jobs with equal rigor and finesse.
Gladys Belcher stated, “Women were earning far less than men even though they were doing the same jobs”. One would expect women, enduring dangerous work conditions and managing personal responsibilities, to be compensated generously or at least as much as that of a man.
Contrary to what propaganda advocated, women were still asked, “to do a man’s job without a man’s pay”. Perhaps the biggest example of the superficiality of “women empowerment” during WWII is the propaganda and attitudes the followed the war.
As men came back to their homes and families, women were asked to leave their jobs and return to their old lives. Suddenly, women were surrounded by a culture that promoted the traditional submissive woman; very different from the ideas proposed by “Rosie the Riveter”.
Some people, such as Ms. Marynia Farnham [in Modern Women: The Lost Sex], justified this sudden change in attitudes by saying, “asking women to continue to do the jobs of men propelled women to abandon their rightful feminine roles.” In hindsight, most would agree that it was inefficient to neglect the skills and manpower that women had to offer, especially since women made up 1/3 of the workforce during WWII.
The admirable ideals of “Rosie the Riveter” were exactly that; ideals. The stories of the women in The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter tell us that the reality often fell short of the expectations. Sadly, women were only seen as temporary “placeholders” for men and what seemed like an expansion of freedom and equality was actually an ephemeral adjustment to meet the needs of America.