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

Female Leaders: Elizabeth I and Boudicca Versus Victoria

Why were British women allowed to act like Victorian gentlemen, but Australian women couldn’t act like bushmen? One possible answer has nothing to do with the Second World War, but with a much longer history. While British history has a long tradition of celebrating strong female leaders, Australian history does not. Actually, the only prominent female leader in Australian history, Queen Victoria, upheld traditional gender roles, emphasizing her role as a wife and mother rather than a queen.

Though Victoria also ruled Britain, Britain had additional female leaders in its history, like Boudicca and Queen Elizabeth I. Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe, led an uprising against Roman rule in Britain in the first century AD. Though ultimately her rebellion was unsuccessful, she remains a heroine in British popular imagination. Elizabeth I ruled Britain during its “golden age” of art and culture and defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. Unlike Victoria, Boudicca and Elizabeth were wartime leaders, and both downplayed their femininity and acted more masculine—Boudicca by wearing armor and leading an army and Elizabeth by proclaiming to her troops that she had “the heart and stomach of a king.” How could a comparison of Boudicca and Elizabeth I with Victoria help to explain both the presence of strong women in British propaganda films and the absence of them in Australian?

Though Australian women war workers had no comparable figure to inspire them, British women were marching alongside Boudicca and Elizabeth, while their American counterparts were riveting with Rosie.

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