So, empowered women love themselves some Rosie. I know I do. She got women into the factories, she got them to the jobs that they would later be remiss to give up and learn to fight for to get them back*. She played a prominent role in the history that allowed me the liberties I have today! This cover for the next issue of the re-booted Steven Universe comics made me outright squeal the first time I saw it, posted on the Steven Universe subreddit because I don’t really follow the comics that much, but I will look at one if I see it. Oh, also, take this as your spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the show.
I love this art as a work of art – everyone who creates in regards to Steven Universe is spectacular and I am quite jealous, but I also know they’ve probably been drawing a lot longer and with a lot more dedication than I have so it doesn’t make me give up hope in myself. It gives me something to aspire to. Even when characters are making ugly faces they’re still amazing.
For the concept Garnet is absolutely perfect. The original is eye-catching for the strength she conveys so effortlessly. The original poster looks like she could really mess someone up, not to mention it’s iconic status in the history of feminism. Garnet herself could easily be an icon – she is, in and of herself, the power of love. She’s also very representative of three different types of amazing women, and in all of her forms (including her further fusions with Pearl and Amethyst) she’s definitely a get-the-job-done sort. There could be a whole ten posts written on the wonders of Garnet alone, but that would be a good digression for another day. For right now I want to talk about Rosie and my recent experience on Reddit which came from this cover.
When I first stumbled into the thread on Reddit, there were a few comments, and it had only been up for about 9 (more or less) hours. There was, of course, the simple little ‘love it’ type comments, but there was one which caught my attention. It was from a person who had a different view than me. Regarding this poster. Now, below that comment had been a bit of a rough patch but that was more or less well handled. It did give me pause, however, especially because another person had already casually and chipperly addressed the main problem with the initial comment.
See, the woman credited as the inspiration for this poster, the argument went, wasn’t exactly someone that should necessarily be looked up to, considering she only worked in the factory for three days before quitting to prevent injury to her hands. For me, that in and of itself is reasonable considering her life’s work required her to have functional hands, but I do see the point there. It’s not very empowering and it’s actually kind of annoying to have such an icon actually be backed by someone who didn’t put in the kind of effort that the poster was calling for. For the record, this lady was Geraldine Hoff Doyle, and she did pass away some years ago. Also for the record, again, I completely respect her decision considering how invaluable her hands were to her everyday life. Not that everyone’s hands aren’t important, but the kind of injuries possible might have been easier for other people to get on with.
Except, as was found out fairly recently, the iconic photo that is perpetually associated with the ‘We Can Do It’ poster wasn’t of Ms. Doyle at all (she was actually still in high school when the photo was taken), but of an entirely different lady – Naomi Parker-Fraley. Also, the original article the photo was taken for was, it seems, about proper factory fashion for the women who were just coming to work at the factory for the first time. Yes, the iconic headband was important to that piece. Women gotta keep their hair from the dangerzone somehow. It definitely would not do us good if everyone was being severely maimed after all, especially considering the appropriate work clothes (like steel-toe boots) didn’t come in average female sizes at the time.
Also of important note, there wasn’t just one lady that could be credited as Rosie. There is one iconic photograph that has been up for contention (that being the photograph that the headband is supposed to have come from), but there are many ladies who contributed to the art and the mythos. Rose Will Monroe was believed to be the model for the ‘We Can Do It’ poster, and there was Rose Bonavita (and her work partner) who set a record for most rivets produced who I read was potentially the inspiration for the song, which was in turn the superhero origins for the whole existence of any fictional Rosie the Riveter. And, of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t pay our due thanks to the many other Rosies who helped out in the war effort, both for what they did at the time and for everything that has come since. We do have those factory jobs to thank for the strides we’ve made to workplace equality today after all.
Anyway, as far as Reddit was concerned, that had already been addressed, and politely and kindly and without erupting into name-calling battles. It was honestly impressive, considering the current state of any social sphere on the internet. I can’t look at even the most innocent of pages without something seemingly turning into a verbal bloodbath. It’s almost like the concept of a debate has warped entirely from ‘here’s my opinion and argument to support it, now present yours’ to ‘my opinion is superior and you must suffer since you don’t share it.’ On one hand, that makes me more afraid than ever to engage in conversations online, considering how dangerous that can be. I created this entire blog-twitter-etc set of accounts to keep them separate from everything else I do/have done just in case, and even then I know that savvy trolls are capable of almost anything.
So with that in mind, and with my deep love for debate…I poked the conversation a bit. Now if you’re expecting something grand like a fight or a long and deeply meaningful conversation….there wasn’t one of either. There were three total posts, and two of them were mine and the comment from the other person was ‘that’s interesting, but what about this other point?’
‘This other point’ was about how they didn’t like propaganda because it was false and meant to manipulate people, which is fair, since propaganda exists purely to manipulate people – though my opinion is ‘as bad as that sounds, I’d rather be manipulated into joining a war effort across an ocean and on a continent I will probably never visit than let actual literal Hitler become Fuhrer of all of Europe.’ Of course, I have 20/20 80 years in the future hindsight to help me make that choice, but as far as the outcome of WWII I can say I’m glad that Americans helped it not go in worse directions. But that is a completely separate discussion. No no, why I bring this whole thing up is because, in trying to teach and converse with another person (who I’m not sure was actually interested in the same, since they never replied, and that’s fine), I learned something.
For the people who have gotten this far without angrily going to the comments or just closing this post in annoyance, congratulations – and thank you deeply for reading this. *See, I put a star way back in the first paragraph on purpose, and here is where it comes into play. I found out, while double checking myself so I didn’t sound like a fool, that everything I’d known about this poster was wrong. It’s not 100% my fault, since the culture around us definitely calls her Rosie, and I’m pretty sure my history text book in high school also referred to her as part of the Rosie the Riveter campaign. But see…she’s not actually Rosie the Riveter. She wasn’t even associated with Rosie until the 1980s, which, as you may note, was decades after WWII ended. This poster actually wasn’t even widely used. In fact, it was only used in one factory and for a short period of time at that.
The painting that was widely referred to as Rosie the Riveter (and was actually widely used at the time) was actually on the cover of The Saturday Morning Post, and while she is powerful in her own way (she’s stomping on Mein Kampf with a giant piece of machinery that could definitely do some serious damage), she doesn’t look ready to punch anyone’s lights out. In fact, she’s eating a sandwich:
She also isn’t the primary Rosie, as I already mentioned. The original Rosie, as far as the fictional war propaganda character is concerned, is the one from this fun little wartime ditty:
Now this isn’t to say one is greater than the other. They are all great in their own wonderful ways. It’s just that our favorite and most remembered poster isn’t the actual Rosie which got everyone riveted to Rivet. She was an icon for one factory for about a week or two in February (1943). That factory didn’t even have riveters.
So, this poster has a long history with being muddled at best. I saw many arguments regarding her purpose as the protector of the status quo – women were working in factories as mommy-type defenders of their domestic lives, knowing they were going to give those jobs up. I know I wasn’t around then to vouch for or against anything from back then, or even for anything from the 80s, but there’s something to the social dynamics of the ever changing times. Both what they were and what they became because of the effects of the war. We still have an on-going battle today about being a stay-at-home-mommy-housewife or putting the career first. There are still so many people who believe it has to be one way or the other, that somehow both can’t qualify as valid ways of living.
The iconic power of Rosie getting women into the factories did give weight to the grand scale changes in the work force even if the women at the time received less than half of what men made. The re-surging poster in the 80s served to unite a sisterhood to get ‘it’ done. There are a lot of things that ‘it’ could be, too. It’s the icon of rolling up your sleeves and getting to work that’s most important…even as she’s appropriated by Clorox to sell cleaning supplies to a bygone era. (Even the idea of feminism itself has been appropriated for advertising all kinds of weird things, and sometimes it’s effective, sometimes it’s horrible, and almost always whether or not it’s good or bad is entirely dependent on the viewer. After all, I kind of like a lot of the Dove commercials, aside from their weird recent one about the bottle shapes being more representative of different female body types, but a lot of people find it to be patronizing or exploitative of women’s insecurities.)
Do we need more icons? Yes we do. Do we need modern influences? You betcha. But we can’t discount the simplicity of an easy icon and the power that she wields. It’s an easy way to demonstrate strength, determination, and fearlessness. After all, I’m sure I’ve mentioned already how ready she looks to punch someone’s lights out. Whether or not that was intentional isn’t really that important. What matters now is what we’ve made of her. We have turned her into the icon of the powerful women who, lest we forget, did put in some serious backbreaking work that they probably were not accustomed to in order to do their part to defend their country. She represents those same women who were later forced out of their jobs, who found that domestic life wasn’t truly as rewarding as they’d been told it would be, the ones who pushed into the workforce and have gotten us as far as we’ve come today. She represents those of us who have to pick up the mantle and go the rest of the way (heeyy that’s what Garnet’s doing now that Rose is gone – did anyone else forget this started out as a Steven Universe post?).
Art doesn’t just stop at it’s history, or it’s original intent, or it’s appropriation. Sure it is also all those things but it is also what society molds it to be.
(On a side note, I recommend these comics. They’re interesting, lighthearted, and can be thought provoking, just like the series. They also have nothing to do with this topic aside from the awesome art of Garnet.)
Man, I’d forgotten how much I liked to essay. I’m not going to create a proper sources page at this time (sorry professors everywhere!), though I might come back and edit this. Please also don’t judge me for using Wikipedia instead of the original sources cited in Wikipedia – this isn’t some big professional presentation, Wikipedia already made the concise points that I wanted to make, and besides that, Wikipedia can be really chock full of good, truthful information as long as you’re staying away from hotly contested pages. In some cases of rare pieces of literature, Wikipedia might even be one of very few internet sources out there. My Old English professor swears by Wikipedia for learning more about Old English literature since there’s so little of it…and I’m going to stop now before I ramble about Old English literature. That shall be for another day.