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A Moment In Labor History or STOP CALLING THAT POSTER ROSIE THE RIVETER!

September 3, 2013

I have a pet peeve.

This is a picture of a semi-fictional character called Rosie the Riveter.

rosie-the-riveter-1943

 

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.

NOT Rosie

 

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.

Real Rosie

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.

 

 

 

80 Comments leave one →
  1. Larissa Walrond permalink
    September 3, 2013 12:51 AM

    I like the red head better!

  2. M E Grey permalink
    September 3, 2013 4:42 PM

    I never knew that! Thank you!

  3. Bruce McIntyre permalink
    September 3, 2013 5:39 PM

    Especially with her foot on Mein Kampf.

  4. Bruce McIntyre permalink
    September 3, 2013 5:41 PM

    Besides, you missed that the tool is not a pneumatic drill, it is a pneumatic riveter, used on heavy duty construction like ships and buildings. Get your tools right if you want to denigrate the holder.

    • September 3, 2013 8:00 PM

      Pause, rewind. No one is denigrating Rosie. In fact the opposite is happening.

    • Souris Optique permalink
      July 29, 2014 2:27 PM

      Who is being denigrated here?
      Do you even understand what that word means?

  5. September 3, 2013 6:36 PM

    Thats not a Pneumatic drill in that the Redhaired lady has. Its a Pneumatic hammer. Used for peening rivets. Also, trust me from personal experience the Goggles and Grind Shield combination is not redundant protection. Too bad not many of those jobs left here in America or more people would understand Rosie.

  6. Chris permalink
    September 3, 2013 11:18 PM

    She was a real person named Geraldine Hoff Doyle. She died in 2010. And she did work in a factory: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2010/12/30/132484640/michigan-woman-who-inspired-wwii-rosie-poster-has-died

    • September 4, 2013 12:35 AM

      And yet, she wasn’t a Rosie, by her own definition. And the fact that the image was entirely anti-union remains true.

      • July 25, 2014 4:25 AM

        But the woman in Rockwell’s picture, a telephone worker who never once worked in a factory is a Rosie? You seem to think that Doyle is worth less because she is attractive. There is way to much victimization of atractive people these days. Saying someone isn’t a “real” person or doesn’t represent “strength” or “feminism” just because they are good looking is a bit offensive.

        • July 25, 2014 8:48 AM

          Victimization of attractive people? BAH HAHAHAHAHAHAH *gasp gasp* HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

          • July 25, 2014 11:37 PM

            victimization of attractive women or more specifically belittling because of their looks is a real thing.. really really. as you talk about feminism here i would think that would be something you would be familiar with. it is mildly amusing that you are guilty of it here in this article which is at least in part on on feminism. I understand though it is easy to assume that the woman there was a model or was selected because she was attractive and not because she was actually a factory worker or even that she is merely a cartoon and there was no model.

            • July 26, 2014 1:47 AM

              I’m going to assume that you’ve read The Rules of Engagement and if you haven’t bad on you.

              Ahem:

              This, internet people is an example of Derailing Using Entitlement. Why? Because the victimization of the attractive is fictional. Just like the victimization of men whined about by “Men’s Rights” activits all over Internetlandia, just like the victimization of Caucasians whined about in the same place, just like cis victimization or straight victimization which aren’t actual things I’ve heard of but hey, it’s the internet. It’ll happen eventually.

              Women in genreal being trained that their level of beauty is the thing about them that has the most value?

              Reality.

              Women, specifically, being critiqued on their appearance no matter what the context?

              Reality.

              The victimization of the attractive?

              A complete and total fabrication invented for the sole purpose of trying to drag the conversation away from facts into fantasy land. it’s also a logical fallacy called a Red Herring and like a herring it smells.

              Not falling for it.

              Pretty, like Caucasian, or cis, or straight, or able bodied, is an aspect of privilege. Attractive people gain advantages by nature of their physical appearance that less attractive people don’t have. there have been innumerable studies done on this. Go look them up. Read them assimilate the information they contain and then never ever assert the pretense of “pretty victimization ever again.

  7. September 4, 2013 9:38 AM

    Sources???

  8. September 4, 2013 4:30 PM

    Before she was a poster, she was a song.

  9. Jenelle permalink
    September 4, 2013 6:31 PM

    That is not a welding mask, it’s a face shield. The goggles protect the eyes, especially anything that bounces around the side of the eye and the face shield protects the face. They are both necessary in certain kinds of work, I know, because I’m a woman and wore both of these while doing metal chasing at a bronze foundry.

  10. September 5, 2013 1:55 PM

    Thank you for this!

  11. July 24, 2014 7:25 AM

    So, what’s the flaw here? The red hair, or the fact that she’s eating?

    • July 25, 2014 8:50 AM

      I don’t know but it says a lot about us that we have overlooked Rosie in favor of We Can Do It

  12. July 24, 2014 12:03 PM

    But don’t you find it ironic that what was supposed to be an anti-union propaganda piece instead became nourishing food for the valorization of women who finally had the chance to participate in non-traditional jobs? Sometimes that’s how it works — it’s called a ‘backfire.’

    • July 25, 2014 8:11 AM

      No, I don’t. I find it sad that the image that was chosen by women to represent their “tough” selves is still what society tells us we should be, pretty and posing rather than tough and active.

    • July 31, 2014 12:14 PM

      Chris, that didn’t happen during the war. We Can Do It was obscure until the 1980s–it was an internal Westinghouse propaganda piece, it wasn’t really distributed anywhere. It had nothing to do with manufacturing and was designed to encourage female workers to work harder (and not for recruitment). I mean, feminism yay, but it’s upsetting that the truly inspirational character (Rosie!) has been eclipsed by something so conventional and creepy.

  13. July 24, 2014 3:54 PM

    Thank you for posting this, I had no idea about any of it! Rockwell’s Rosie is a hundred times better, and I love that you pointed out the intrinsic role of WoC strength in that era. I have been thoroughly educated and improved.

  14. July 25, 2014 4:20 AM

    There are so many problems with this article. First, the author seems to suggest that pretty women cannot be symbols of feminism, that somehow that title is only reserved for average looking women. Second, that picture IS Rosie the Riveter, as Rosie the Riveter was not any one person, or something made up by Norman Rockwell. Female riveters of the time were known as “Rosies”. She was first mentioned in a song, and the truth is that the Westinghouse poster was released BEFORE Rockwell’s painting. The poster is not an anti-union poster, but a war effort propaganda poster. It was hung in factories to increase employee morale and had nothing to do with unions. Also, the picture is based on a REAL WOMAN factory woman named Geraldine Doyle, so you are basically insulting her by saying she is not the face of a “true” feminist because she is too pretty. Rockwell based his piece in part on the Westinghouse poster and in part on the Sistine Chapel. Even more, the woman that Rockwell used for his piece was not a factory worker, but a telephone operator. So, according to this article, the original poster based on a real female factory worker is not authentic, but the copy by Rockwell based on a telephone operator is? Or did the author just not do any research into the subject?

    • July 25, 2014 8:46 AM

      There are so many problems with this article. First, the author seems to suggest that pretty women cannot be symbols of feminism, that somehow that title is only reserved for average looking women.

      No the author does not suggest that at all. The author does however, explicitly state that the idea of physical perfection being lauded over actual action is the opposite of an example of strength.

      Second, that picture IS Rosie the Riveter, as Rosie the Riveter was not any one person, or something made up by Norman Rockwell. Female riveters of the time were known as “Rosies”.

      No it isn’t. It’s a poster of a woman saying “We Can Do It!” She wasn’t connected the the concept of Rosie until decades later and out of all the images that people could have chosen they went for the skinny, pretty, Caucasian wearing a full face of make-up and not doing any work.

      That doesn’t make any statement about Geraldine. It does say bad things about us as a society and Second Wave Feminists.

      Also, the picture is based on a REAL WOMAN factory woman named Geraldine Doyle, so you are basically insulting her by saying she is not the face of a “true” feminist because she is too pretty.

      She worked int he factory for a week and then quit because she was afraid she would damage her hands. As a professional musician, this was a valid fear so I don’t fault her for that. The people with whom I can find fault are the once who cling to her image as one of strength and power without thinking about the fact the she, unlike so many other pictures, isn’t doing anything. She’s just a pretty white girl pretending to be strong. There are hundreds of other examples of the character that involve someone actually driving a rivet or, as in the Rockwell picture, taking a break from doing so. But that’s not the one everyone claims as their feminist icon. And that’s a problem.

    • July 31, 2014 12:23 PM

      Even the model for the picture said in interviews that she wasn’t a Rosie. We Can Do It was *only* distributed internally at Westinghouse and was virtually unknown until the 1980s. It wasn’t designed to be a Rosie poster. The woman is not a riveter. (Westinghouse were primarily electrical engineering and tech, not heavy manufacturing–they designed a jet engine, but they weren’t cranking out airplanes “Rosie” style.) There’s no sense in which she’s a “Rosie.” She was plucked from a trash can and lauded as a piece of second-wave-feminist pop art in the ’80s and there was some unproductive confusion about the name. That’s it.

  15. David permalink
    July 27, 2014 11:13 AM

    The face shield stops bits from hitting the face. Goggles protect the eyes from those bits even further, and in the case of welders, they are darkened to protect from the retina-searing brightness of a welding arc.

  16. P Billups permalink
    July 27, 2014 12:26 PM

    Also, Rockwell took the pose and composition from one of the Sybils on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, quoting Michelangelo, which accounts partly for the magnificence of the figure and the gravitas of the composition. It carries dimension and life while the Westinghouse image has all the depth of a lunch box sticker.

  17. July 27, 2014 7:14 PM

    This may have come up already, (I didn’t feel like reading all the comment), but the goggles are protection from the glare of the spark that may fly. To be fair, this is an issue more for welders and such more so than riveters, but still, they are for protection against light. FYI.

  18. Mattye Dewhirst permalink
    July 27, 2014 8:59 PM

    I’m offended that upon meeting me you wouldn’t believe that I’m intelligent, accomplished, strong and free-thinking, solely because I happen to be damn good-looking. It’s offensive that you assume my entire identity would revolve around my looks, as if I’m not capable of differentiating between the things I’ve accomplished and the things that were given to me via some combination of luck and natural selection.

    • July 28, 2014 8:55 AM

      You’re not capable of differentiating between the things you’ve accomplished and the things you’ve been given. No one is. Privilege is so pervasive and so insidious that it’s almost impossible to recognize especially when you benefit from it. It’s easy to convince yourself that you got that job interview or that promotion because you’re just better and not because you are pretty. It’s the same thing that convinces men that they aren’t gaining advantages because of their maleness and Caucasians that their whiteness doesn’t have any impact on their success. And more and more often of late, privileged groups have taken to viewing the identification of their privilege as “victimization.” No one is falling for that.

      • Mattye Dewhirst permalink
        July 28, 2014 12:54 PM

        I do realize that most things came more easily to me because of my appearance. It crosses my mind with every accomplishment. And yes, I’m sure I’ve benefited much more often than I’ve been “victimized”. That doesn’t change the fact that your negative judgement of me (or any woman) based on my looks makes me feel as much like a piece of meat as some construction worker’s cat call.

  19. Murphy permalink
    July 28, 2014 10:14 AM

    Holy cow! So much nit-picking, and so much anger over small detail!
    Seriously, get a sense of perspective, folks…. This isn’t even close to assaulting your privilege.
    Great article, and thank you for making it clear that you are judging the art by a specific standard.
    I have long been in favor of the Rockwell art, and I like to think the Westinghouse crap was to get otherwise complacent people to realize that the actually had something to contribute during a time of national crisis. I’ll leave the union stuff aside.

  20. Jennifer permalink
    July 28, 2014 3:53 PM

    “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.” Highlighting the important bit here for those of you who don’t seem to like reading. NO ONE IS SAYING FEMINISTS CAN’T BE PRETTY.

  21. Killa permalink
    July 28, 2014 4:15 PM

    cool article, I agree. My pet peeve is 50’s styled cup cake pseudo feminism, as far as I know the 1950s were not a good time for women, black people or homos – so why idealize it? I can’t believe how many boring know-it-all types have explained what the goggles are for in the comments, snore!!

  22. Tracy permalink
    July 28, 2014 4:39 PM

    Reblogged this on Dal Segno.

  23. emily permalink
    July 28, 2014 5:37 PM

    It is not redundant to wear a face mask and goggles…without the goggles it would blind you. without the mask you would burn your face…

  24. July 28, 2014 5:58 PM

    Of all the pet peeves to have, this is the most bizarre I have ever heard of. Oh internet, you can complain about anything.

  25. Pierce Nichols permalink
    July 28, 2014 8:12 PM

    This is a great correction to the historical record, and I am glad I ran across it. If I may, I’d like to fill in some of the details that we can glean from Rockwell’s portrait that might not be immediately apparent. I’m not a historian; I’m an engineer with an interest in the history of my profession. Call it an interested layperson’s level of knowledge.

    First, the tool in her lap isn’t a drill — it’s a rivet gun; iow, a powerful pneumatic hammer. Second, it’s a large one, like the ones used to rivet together ships and skyscrapers. She’s got the kind of arms you’d need to drive that beast for a living. Third, her protective gear tells more of the story. She has a face shield (not a welder’s mask — it’s clear rather than heavily tinted) and welding goggles. That tells us she’s likely driving hot rivets. Given the size of her rivet gun, that means a slug of iron or steel an inch or more diameter heated to white heat and driven into the work while still white hot.

    The furnace used to heat them couldn’t climb the scaffolding around the ship or boiler with the workers… so one person threw the rivets up from the furnace to the work team. One member of the team would catch the rivet with tongs and set it into the drilled hole. One member of the team was on the back side with a tool called a bucking bar. The bucking bar formed the back side of the rivet while the rivet gun drove it from the front. The person with the bucking bar and the one with the rivet gun communicated by tapping on the workpiece. Once both were in position, Rosie would have positioned the rivet set over the head of the rivet (get it right or drill it out and do it again… or it might fail in service and kill people), and pull the trigger. The rivet gun would then drive the set into the rivet head half a dozen time with enough force to forge the rivet into hole. It was incredibly hot, loud, dangerous, and physically exhausting work.

    It seems Rockwell was looking to make a point about the importance of women to the war effort by making sure he depicted a woman doing the most dangerous and exhausting kind of riveting. I think it intensifies the feminist message of the piece, personally.

    While writing this, I became interested in what the buttons on her coveralls mean. It seems the red cross indicates she donated blood, the V indicates she bought war bonds, and one of them may designate her as a union member. http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-amstdy&month=9611&week=b&msg=Sq0OiikvMy4JgOwzUZKQtg&user=&pw=

    • July 28, 2014 8:31 PM

      The fact that she’s wearing a union badge makes for an even more interesting contrast with the Westinghouse image.

      • Pierce Nichols permalink
        July 28, 2014 8:35 PM

        The source I linked said it might be a union badge, not that it definitely is. I don’t know much if anything about that sort of minutiae to form an opinion of my own. As a union member myself, I rather hope it is a union badge. 🙂

        Also, I realized I made a technical error in describing the riveting process. I reversed the position of the stationary tool and the hammer.

        • July 28, 2014 9:17 PM

          IF it is a union badge, it would be something that people of the time would probably have recognized right away. It’s a fascinating idea.

    • MissT123 permalink
      August 13, 2014 10:32 PM

      Further context makes the Rockwell image all the more compelling. Thank you, Pierce!

  26. herb.durgin permalink
    July 28, 2014 8:35 PM

    I was aware of Rosie the Riveter being a wartime meme, with several iterations beyond the Norman Rockwell; I stand corrected in associating We Can Do It as a Rosie, and I’m more than a bit abashed to discover its original intent was anti-union.

    This does raise an interesting thought exercise: the poster was not intended to support social change, but was in later years appropriated for this purpose, such that today its origins are not commonly known, and the immediate association is one of feminism, not “right to work harder”. Does this exonerate its past? While I am tempted to say yes, one could apply that same rubric on other appropriated symbology, say the book Horton Hears a Who (a parable of helping post-war Japan subverted into anti-choice propaganda). A bit of a baffle.

  27. July 28, 2014 9:18 PM

    Great piece.
    I’m going to address the issue of the redundancy regarding facial protection.
    The goggles were to protect the eyes more from the flare caused by her work.
    The intensity of the light produced can cause retinal damage.
    The face shield is to protect from projectile damage.

  28. July 29, 2014 12:48 AM

    Oh, the mansplaining is tough to read through in the comments. Need an Advil now…

    • Melissa permalink
      July 29, 2014 4:25 PM

      It’s amazing, right? You can practically hear the wheezing as all the men clambor up the hill to tell the OP she doesn’t know anything about anything. “But—wait—you—aren’t—authoritative.” Grow uppppp.

  29. J Kinney permalink
    July 29, 2014 1:00 AM

    Take a look at Michaelangelo’s Prophet Isaiah on the Sistine Chapel ceiling: http://www.italian-renaissance-art.com/Prophets.html. Rockwell has turned this splendid redhead into a female version of the greatest of the prophets. Glorious.

  30. Vance T permalink
    July 29, 2014 11:59 AM

    There is even more to this story. Rosie is actually modeled on Ronnie The Bren Gun Girl.

  31. Izzy permalink
    July 29, 2014 5:38 PM

    The mask and goggles are not redundant–

    Others have indeed already mentioned this, but I’m going to restate it with more detail– the goggles would have been tinted for vision protection from the brightness of welding. The full-face shield is physical protection from debris and sparks, but is completely clear to provide the visibility that a full-face welding mask would not. The two could be used together or separately. I will speculate that everyone would be issued the clear full-face mask, and then welders would be issued supplemental goggles on an as-needed basis. This would cut down on costs in many ways– eliminates the extra cost since a full-face welding shield would be more expensive than goggles; eliminates the extra cost of wasted man hours (you would be comfortably wearing all of your safety gear at all times as opposed to taking time to switch between wearing a full-face clear mask and a full-face welding shield.) And whatever costs involved with manufacture, storage, distribution, etc for additional safety equipment.

    I will guess (and hope) that the woman in the photo is not wearing face protection just for the sake of being able to see her face for the photo.

    Ten years ago, I went as Rosie for Halloween. I was very specifically the Rockwell Rosie, down to the red socks and lunchbox, but I was not stepping on Mein Kampf, nor did I have the pneumatic rivet driver.

    • Riff Raff(@raff87raff) permalink
      July 30, 2014 6:11 AM

      Yeah, but were you eating a sandwich?

  32. July 30, 2014 8:56 AM

    Article could have just said; This is not Rosie the Riveter. …That would have saved me time from reading the rest so I could get to the good stuff….The comments

  33. Ad Lib permalink
    July 30, 2014 12:49 PM

    I have been “schooled” Thank you! 🙂

  34. July 31, 2014 12:44 PM

    If anything, you’re underselling how damn inconsequential this poster really was to the war effort. It was up for two weeks. It was only displayed to women making helmet liners. It wasn’t seen during the war. Actually, it wasn’t seen after the war either until the early ’80s. I’ve hated this poster for ages…it’s never struck me as very feminist. It’s more “Pretty Girl Rock” by Keri Hilson than “Rosie.”

    The whole thing reminds me of “Keep Calm and Carry On,” which wasn’t ever publicly displayed. The public savaged the Ministry of Information for wasting money on posters while a war was going on, and the failure of the PR campaign led to almost all of the 2.5 million KCCO posters being pulped. Bless the British.

  35. August 1, 2014 1:07 PM

    This is great. I’ve seen the photograph before (a favourite) but not the Rockwell. I’m curious, though, how the poster is anti-union? I don’t know much about the union situation in the USA.

  36. Sean Holland permalink
    August 4, 2014 8:18 PM

    I certainly can appreciate this article and you have pointed out some things that I, as many others may not have known. Especially about the second image. What I do knows that the top image, Rosie has on goggles, (eye protection) and a face shield with a clear lens (Simple face protection) neither which is a welding apparatus. Also in the top image she is using a rivet gun and not a drill. I mean if we are going to be critical we might as well be accurate for, that is the point of sharing I would hope?

  37. August 10, 2014 12:48 AM

    Being from Scotland, my Granny worked in the ammunition’s factory during the War, not many (If any minorities in Scotland back then) in Dundee and was very proud to have been thought of in that way. Biggest deal was working wie all the blokes who resented Women entering the work force at the time

  38. 10000 years of rage. permalink
    August 11, 2014 11:06 AM

    My grandmother was one of these women. She worked in the John Deere factory through the war and Grandpas time in the TB sanitorium.

    She was a tiny Norwegian woman. I don’t think she weighed enough for the drill.riveter, but clearly there was a wide range of work to be done.

  39. Charlie permalink
    August 11, 2014 9:10 PM

    Hey, not to be a d-bag, but this article is only right about some things, and really turns wrong when they get to the part where the author starts wildly accusing the Westinghouse Corporation of using the poster to mock the idea of women labor. This poster was actually to promote female labor, and was one of several posters with the phrase “We Can Do It!” written on it. There was another line of posters called “Keep ‘Em Firing” that shared the same sentiment. It was meant to encourage control of labor forces, and to raise morale of female laborers. You see, the Westinghouse corporation used TONS of female labor, so I really doubt they would release a poster to actively mock female labor, because it would reduce their labor force. It’s completely counter-productive. Also, this poster was actually re-appropriated by feminists in the 80’s to promote feminism. This author is a hack and a liar, and makes feminists everywhere look like uneducated idiots.

    • August 12, 2014 5:53 PM

      and really turns wrong when they get to the part where the author starts wildly accusing the Westinghouse Corporation of using the poster to mock the idea of women labor.

      That would be wrong, if it had happened, but it didn’t, except in the comments ON my post.

  40. August 16, 2014 10:30 AM

    Rockwell is also parodying Roman Catholic iconography of the Virgin Mary – instead of crushing a snake, she’s crushing “Mein Kampf”!

  41. August 16, 2014 11:13 AM

    Thank you so much for this!

    Now, can we please find a better word than “flaws” to refer to “differences from some absurd beauty standard”?

Trackbacks

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