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

Beauty Parlors and Transport Trucks: Societal Stereotypes of Women’s War Work

As more women in Britain and Australia took up wartime jobs, both societies downgraded the value of their work, though Australia to a much greater extent. Sexist stereotypes, such as the belief that women were only concerned with their looks, persisted in both countries. While British propagandists were eager to fight these stereotypes, Australian propagandists upheld them.

The 1943 British film The Gentle Sex intended to mobilize more women for work in the services and focuses on women in the Auxiliary Territorial Services (ATS), one branch of the women’s services. In the first clip, a male worker believes that the ATS transport drivers are late because they have stopped at the beauty parlor, not knowing they had driven through an entire night to deliver a shipment on time. So, the clip confronts the doubts of people like this man, showing how competent and hard-working women can be. However, it achieves this by making women workers “less feminine,” by showing how they are not concerned with stereotypically feminine activities, like getting their hair styled. In the second clip, one of the ATS women works as a mechanic, dirtying her face and clothing in the process. This further masculinizes the ATS women and shows how they do not care if they lose their femininity.

Though at first glance, the 1943 Australian film “South-West Pacific” may seem similar to The Gentle Sex, the way it depicts the character Gwennie is completely different from the depiction of the ATS workers in The Gentle Sex. Gwennie, unlike the ATS women, retains her femininity—wearing feminine clothing and makeup—even after she makes the switch from working in a beauty parlor to working in a factory, from a frivolous and stereotypically feminine job to one that is useful and stereotypically masculine. The film shows the viewer that stereotypical women’s work that does not further the war effort is now irrelevant, while stereotypical men’s work is considered vital. It encourages women to do as Gwennie did, to leave their women’s jobs and find more meaningful, masculine jobs.

How does the way these two films present femininity compare to Millions Like Us and “Australia Marches with Britain?”  

This page has paths:

This page references: