Rosie the Riveter on the We Can Do It poster has inspired feminists for generations since the 1980’s when the old wartime propaganda poster was “found” and rebranded as a positive role model for empowering women. But if we look at what really happened to the “empowered women” circa 1943 when this poster was first created and briefly displayed in a Westinghouse factory the story of how we value women is down right depressing. During WWII millions of women filled “men’s jobs” while our soldiers were fighting over seas. Newspapers were full of happy women in factories, offices and farms. And not only were we told we had to take on these highly technical jobs, we had to still “look pretty” so for example “Women welders suffered chest burns because they wore regular attires without protective aprons or gear.”
Indeed that poster was intended to make women work harder, not to inspire them to feel empowered. Look at the second J. Howard Miller poster also produced at that time. It came as no surprise that at the end of the War, the factory women were fired and told to return to their homes (or lower paying jobs). And it is certainly no coincidence that Valium suddenly sky rockets on the scene. Because keeping women in their place needed a lot of medication. ‘Mother’s Little Helper’.
Women being duped by men to fill in, sell out, support the machismo by any means is not new. Our efforts as women to support one another has proven the only way that we make any headway towards equality. That we continue to have to fight for equal pay, health care, violence against women and harassment, is a disgrace.
What hurts even more, is when I see women encouraged to exploit other women. I was raised during a time when I was taught to respect the silent sisterhood between women. You didn’t steal another girls boyfriend in highschool, you trusted a woman who said she was raped, you believed her story of harassment at work, you drove her to the clinic no questions asked. There is a deep understanding that as women our voice is already discounted by the patriarch, we will already be made to feel less than by society, we will be told to stay in our lane and punished when we challenge our place. When women do not support other women, we make our fight that much harder.
White women who think they have arrived because they have the picket fence and support of a good Trump man, the Alt-Right hate baiting blonde who figured out how much attention ($$) comes with a few chosen loud words, the privileged slew who believe “I got mine, go get yours”, all work to undermine the majority of women in the fray everyday working to protect the freedoms you think you have.
You think you have arrived at a safe place in the machine, but remember what happened to Rosie when she was no longer needed. Any questions? Just ask your supervisor.