Rosie in the Empire: Gender in British and Australian Film Propaganda during the Second World War

“There’s Nothing to Be Afraid of in a Factory”: Gendered Depictions of Factory Work

When war erupted between Britain and Germany in September 1939, so did the need for increased production within the entire British Empire. But it was not until 1942 that the British and Australian governments took an active role in mobilizing women for war work. In both countries, thousands of women left their peacetime jobs as shop assistants, housemaids, and waitresses. They traded their aprons for overalls, their hairpins for bandanas. Many became factory workers, stepping into an unfamiliar world of clanging machinery and billowing smoke—though already known to those women who had worked in factories long before the war.

In wartime Britain and Australia, women worked, often alongside men, to meet the urgent need for production. They worked to make munitions, aircrafts, and gas masks—anything to support the Allied war effort. They learned how to operate heavy machinery and work on assembly lines, and, like their iconic American counterpart, how to rivet sheet metal.

Though factory work in the metropole and dominion was similar, British and Australian propaganda films present it much differently. British film allows female factory workers to display masculine characteristics, celebrating their transformations from very feminine, incompetent workers to more masculine, capable ones. In contrast, Australian film shows factory work to be a highly masculine profession that excludes women entirely.

How do these different depictions reflect societal attitudes toward gender and factory work in both countries?

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