Rosie the Riveter
On May 29th, 1943, the Saturday Evening Post published a cover image that changed history forever. It was an image by Norman Rockwell, portraying “Rosie” with a flag in the background.
Overnight, this image became iconic. It showed up everywhere– at movie theaters, posters, newspapers, etc. Rosie the Riveter was everywhere– and society would never be the same again.
When we think back on women’s history, WWII and Rosie the Riveter offer a clear dividing line. There were women in the workforce before WWII, but they were definitely in the minority and the idea of a woman working after marriage was unheard of.
But America entered the war and workforce rules changed.
Suddenly, it was patriotic for women to work! American women entered the workforce in droves. Between 1940-1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce rose from 27 to nearly 37%. And by 1945, one out of every four married women worked outside the home.
Then the war ended and America entered its identity crisis. The intent behind the Rosie the Riveter campaign was for it to be a temporary fix, “patriotic” women filling the gaps while the men were away. They were supposed to happily return to their homes when the men returned. However, what was not considered was how societal roles had changed forever.
For starters, how could men ever claim superiority again after witnessing these women’s selfless efforts and demonstrations of their strength and capability? Also after tasting freedom and thriving in their new jobs, many women were rightfully unhappy about returning to their former lives at home.
We all know progress is slow. And major societal change especially takes time. But I do want to examine how far women have come since that famous picture debuted.
This postwar era required an entire reshuffling of identity and viewpoints. For those of you who watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the latest episode hits on this point perfectly.
The father, Abe, goes out to dinner with a group of other men. While there he admits to having an identity crisis and questioning everything he’d thought he’d known for his entire life. The men go around the table trying to pinpoint what Abe is feeling. They offer theories about change and how fast the world has changed in their recent years. How it’s natural to feel overwhelmed etc.
Finally, Abe offers up that it’s about his daughter. He admits that everything he thought he knew about women and his expectations of them is wrong. He’d pinned all his hopes and expectations on his son and later his grandson. He brought the son to Columbia to watch him teach, never even thought to do that for his daughter. Same with his grandson, putting all his efforts in tapping into his early potential. And yet now? His daughter owns the apartment he lives in. Her husband abandoned her and she was the one who fought her way up to thrive. She’s in a difficult profession and yet, she’s mastering it. All of this is without any help from him or her mother. And his granddaughter is the grandchild showing the early signs of genius talent. He realizes he majorly undersold their potential and capabilities. He closes by admitting his daughter is truly remarkable.
“Rosie” is eighty years old this year. Eighty- that’s one lifetime. And in that one lifetime we’ve seen expectations for women go from telling our daughters their only role in life was to cook and keep house to saying they can be whatever they want. If they can dream it and work hard, they can make it happen. We now have a woman Vice President, congresswomen, pilots, astronauts, judges, entrepreneurs, scientists– you name it, they’re doing it!
“Rosie” might have been a campaign born out of necessity, but she changed the rules to the game. For that, I’m forever grateful. Let’s see where another eighty years of remarkable women can take us!