From Empowerment to Domesticity: The Case of Rosie the Riveter and the WWII Campaign

María Cristina Santana
2016 Frontiers in Sociology  
During WWII, American women were asked to join in producing the "vital machinery of war" by working in factories building planes, by being nurses, and by being pilots among other jobs. Getting women to work in industries was a tremendous sales proposition as stated by Paul McNutt, the director of the War Manpower Commission in 1943. The war posters and magazine ads of the time reinforced the duty women had toward the war effort. Although women at the time were mostly occupying the private
more » ... g the private space, the war campaign of Rosie the Riveter inspired many of them to take their work to the public. This descriptive paper tried to answer the following two questions of inquiry: How did women's employment during WWII become a temporary empowerment and what short and long-term changes in women's lives were brought about by the war campaign of Rosie the Riveter. While the short-term changes brought women back to the private space and domesticity, some of the conclusions of the long-term changes in women's lives dealt with variations in the workspace, salary, and military benefits. The influence of how empowered women felt following Rosie the Riveter is an inconclusive collection of the voices of those women during and after WWII. Keywords: rosie the riveter, WWii, domesticity, women's empowerment, war campaign iNtrODUctiON The war campaign marketed to women during WWII made a significant contribution to gender roles in the United States. The campaign depicted women as loyal supporters of the "Boys" in the military by conserving resources, by keeping quiet, and by taking jobs with new skills. At the time of WWII most women, particularly married women, stayed at home taking care of their home and children. The gender roles of the time were divided between private and public space. Most women controlled and managed the private (home) space, while men easily navigated the public space. Nevertheless, not all women followed this pattern of domesticity since many poor and unmarried women had to work in the public space from an early age. Any improvement in working conditions and salary were a welcoming sight. Up to 6 million women joined the workforce between 1942 and 1945. This amazing number was a direct effect of the massive war campaign. Duty and love for country were two very moving reasons for women to answer the call to work defending the United States. Betty Jeanne Boggs worked in a plant making planes at age 17. She describes her experience performing her patriotic duty as "I worked on a war plant and it was one of the things you did when your country was at war, and it had been an enjoyable experience. Even today, Santana From Empowerment to Domesticity Frontiers in Sociology | www.frontiersin.org
doi:10.3389/fsoc.2016.00016 fatcat:f3faqhz57vhuvme6mcmocxcoc4