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Rosie the Riveter Archive

Elisabeth Pfeiffer, Author
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We Can Do It! Images of Rosie Meant to Inspire Social and Political Movements

The poster is a drawing of Geraldine Doyle at age 17. She is flexing her arm while wearing a blue work shirt. She wears her hair up in a red bandana. The top of the poster states: “We Can Do It!” and the bottom right corner of the poster states “War Production Co-ordinating Committee”. The image is multi-faceted, as it has been used to empower women, or inspire social and political movements, as well as to promote women as homemakers and alternative views on the women's movement

Promotion of Women as Homemakers/Alternative Views on the Women's Movement
The poster was originally used for propaganda, and one of the concerns in the design of Rosie was about femininity, because according to a memo from the Office of Emergency Management concerning WAVES and SPAR recruitment: “There is an unwholesomely large number of girls who refrain from even contemplating enlistment because of male opinion (Honey 113). According to Honey, advertisers responded to this concern by "showing women in uniform as glamorous sirens who could turn on their sex appeal after working hours or excite male lust despite their formidable demeanor" (Honey 114). Note the subtle makeup that Rosie the Riveter is wearing. 

Besides needing to balance the image of a strong, but also feminine woman, it was believed that employment for women during the war was merely temporary; "advertisers assumed war workers would either go home or seek jobs in female areas" (Honey 120).  According to Honey, during WWII, conflicting images of women help explain why women who took over male roles during the war did not lead to adjustments in social attitudes towards women's roles. There was the "strong, dependable patriot who could run a machine" and also the "innocent, vulnerable mother, outside the realm of technology, who was depending on soldiers to protect her way of life" (Honey 131). Moreover, because family played a central role in wartime propaganda and ideology, women in the workforce became symbolic as women helping soldiers fighting to protect a "home-centered life style" (Honey 136). 

Despite its original purpose, the Rosie the Riveter poster has inspired social and political movements. The war gave women a chance to pursue careers in sectors that previously were not available to women. Furthermore, some women refused to go back to the home.  Rosie the Riveter was rediscovered in the 1970s and was used for the feminist and women's rights movements at the time. 

Moreover, I have found over the process of collecting my archive that Rosie the Riveter has recently, especially within the last five years, inspired various social and political movements on all sides of the political spectrum, as well as across the board in social movements. She represents power, and is now used as a call to action for a diverse set of causes. 

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