A Moment In Labor History or STOP CALLING THAT POSTER ROSIE THE RIVETER!
I have a pet peeve.
This is a picture of a semi-fictional character called Rosie the Riveter.
See it even says her name on the picture.
Let’s pause here and examine the picture above. It’s an example of exceptional art. The subject is lovely. She’s large, red haired, bold featured, a bit dirty, wearing overalls, and a welding mask as well as goggles, (which seems somewhat redundant to me) holding a massive pneumatic drill, holding a lunchbox and eating actual food. In other words, she epitomizes everything that made Norman Rockwell an outstanding artist; she’s a real person with flaws and the picture is telling a story through her realness and her flaws.
This is not Rosie the Riveter. Nope, sorry. I know that a lot of people think that this is a RR picture. It isn’t. What it is is an anti-union poster from Westinghouse. If you look closely in the bottom right-ish area, you can see the W. That’s the Westinghouse symbol.
Pausing again to examine; this is an example of exceptional advertising but it’s not good art. She’s too pretty, too perfect, too clearly chosen not because she tells a story but because she attracts the eye. She’s not an image of strength. She’s a parody of the concept that women can be strong. She’s making a muscle but she doesn’t have definition. She’s got the smooth, prettiness that is required of women, even when those women are being reminded to work hard to win a war and not to form a union in the process.
This is the reality of women during the war; often they were Women of Color and not the physical ideal of white America. But you know what? They got the job done. To quote the great and powerful Sam Seaborn, “In 1940 our armed forces weren’t among the 12 most formidable in the world, but obviously we were going to fight a big war. And Roosevelt said the U.S. would produce 50,000 planes in the next four years. Everyone thought it was a joke and it was ’cause we produced 100,000 planes. Gave our armed forces an armada which would block out the sun.”
The false image devalues the more realistic ones. The pretty matters far, far less than the strength. That isn’t to say that one cannot have both. I would argue that both the first and the third picture do, in fact, have both but the second picture only has the prettiness. That’s the point of her and that’s why we should correctly identify her and stop holding her up as a feminist icon.
She is anything but.