Literature Review History 298

 

The “Rosie the Riveter” campaign by J. Howard Miller motivate women to join the workforce to assist in U.S mobilization during World War II. The campaign, however, only targeted white, middle-class women who had stayed at home during the Great Depression. Thus, targeting women based on class and racial identity. Working class women and women of color were not represented through the propaganda at the time. The visual representations found in World War II propaganda erased women of color and poor white women from the imagery of homefront mobilization, making it seem that these women were not involved in the war effort. Among scholars, interpretations of “Rosie the Riveter” and World War II propaganda generally has changed over time to include race, class, and gender. The role of mass media and the government is also a huge theme within the field because they influenced the lack of visual representation of women of color and working class women. It is important to note that books within the field have different focuses. Furthermore, some literature focuses on the portrayal of women in wartime propaganda where as others emphasize on women in the workforce during World War II. Historians have addressed the relationship of these themes to provide a clearer understanding of the hardships faced by working class women and women of color during World War II as well as the extensive achievements of women joining the workforce in support of the war.

Scholars commonly address the class differences to show how World War II propaganda targeted only white, middle class women. Emily Yellin’s Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II examines the different jobs taken on by women of different social and economic classes during World War II.[1] Her book focuses on the different types of jobs women took on to show the achievements made by women stepping up during World War II. However, Yellin also discusses how women of color and working class women obtained the same jobs as white, middle-class women, but were constantly scrutinized for their lack of wealth.[2] White, middle-class women were seen as educated and held better morals, thus, more suitable for the workforce. This biased visual representation created by the media, wealthy high-powered white men, and the government is shown by scholars to be highly class based. This is because they only perceived white, middle-class women as the only type of women capable of boosting the American economy by joining the workforce. Yellin’s book provides a powerful focus on both women in the workforce and the biased representation of women in propaganda.

The visual representation of “Rosie the Riveter” and World War II propaganda lacked focus on women of all races. Maureen Honey’s Bitter Fruit is one of many books within the field that discusses the concept of race by explaining how advertisements, recruitment posters, and newsreels portrayed white women as army nurses, concerned mothers and wives, and defense factory works[3]. The prosperity of white women propaganda took away the acknowledgement of contributions made in the war effort by women of color. Historiography focuses on the lack of representation of women of color in order to show the hardships these women faced in being acknowledged for their work in the war effort at that time. African American women endured discrimination in trying to obtain jobs because they were not the idealistic “working American women” proposed by the media. However, scholars such as Honey focus on the portrayal of women by the media to show how these women overcame greater obstacles in order to obtain the same jobs as white, middle class women.

The limitations for women as a sex are created by the focus on white, middle-class women in World War II propaganda. The visual representations from Rosie the Riveter and World War II propaganda shows the standards of women as a gender set by white middle and upper class men. Leisa D. Meyer’s Creating GI Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II discusses the social issues surrounding the Women’s Army Corps in the 1940s.[4] Meyer’s book emphasizes the accomplishments of women in both the war and homefront. Even though her focus is sexism of women serving in the army during World War II, she aims at arguing the barriers set around women as a gender in World War II propaganda. The Women’s Army Corps only focused on recruiting white, middle-class women, which is the same recruitment used by “Rosie the Riveter” and wartime propaganda. Beyond the challenges faced by women at the time, women of color, lower class white women as well as lesbians were not represented as the type of women able to serve their country. The media targeted a more educated and masculine type of women to serve in the army, which complicates class and gender connotations because of women taking on men’s work. Meyer’s work shows how the field acknowledges the theme of sexual stereotyping during World War II in terms of within the female sex due to the visual representation of what type of women were able to serve their country. Also Meyer’s book goes beyond showing the representation of women in the media by discussing the significance of women’s role in World War II.

Historiography examines the advertisement of the need for women in the work force in order to understand why only white, middle-class women were represented through propaganda. The media shaped viewers attitudes on war effort by presenting women working as an attractive value.[5] Honey’s Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II introduces the explicit representation of only white, middle-class women by discussing the instrumental role of the Magazine War Guide.[6] This magazine sought out other magazines to publish a “Women at Work Cover Promotion” in order to entice all audiences of different magazines to participate in the war effort. However, this promotion was entirely biased in order to reach out to a desirable crowd that was set by the government and media. Honey and Tawnya J. Adkins Covert’s Manipulating Images: World War II Mobilization of Women through Magazine Advertising both examine the theme of mass media by reflecting on The Saturday Evening Post, a famous magazine during the 1940’s that helped launch women in the workplace campaign.[7] The focus on The Saturday Evening Post as well as other magazines depicts the glorified campaign by the media to show that only white, middle-class women are needed for military and civilian jobs. However, the difference between Covert and Honey’s books is that Honey reflects on the themes of class and gender, where as Covert reflects only the lack of representation of women in wartime propaganda. Honey provides a more in depth understanding by drawing attention to issues of class and gender compared to the simplistic focus of Covert. However, Covert does provide a different perspective to the field by focusing on the role of the federal government in terms of how they affected the portrayal of women through wartime propaganda. Covert examines the study of archived government documents and advertisements that illustrate the relationship between government, business, and media in order to create labor mobilization for wartime needs.[8] She discusses the push by the government for women taking on both military and regular labor jobs to boost wartime economy.[9] This desire of the government in how they visually represent women in the workforce is a critical theme in the field. The differing opinions between Covert and Honey represent the multiple perspectives within the field that push for a wider understanding why the focus of wartime propaganda is only on white, middle-class women.

Historiography concerning “Rosie the Riveter” and World War II propaganda has changed over time to include more in depth themes regarding the differences in race, class, and gender within World War II propaganda. The role of mass media and the government ran by wealthy white men, is a huge theme within the field due to their influence on the lack of visual representation of women of color and working class women in helping with the war efforts at that time. These themes are significant in the study of the field because they express the lack of visual representation for working class women and women of color. However, it is important to understand that some literature focuses on the portrayal of women in wartime propaganda where as others emphasize on women in the workforce during World War II. Furthermore, historians have addressed the relation of these themes in literature order to provide a clearer understanding of the hardships faced by working class women and women of color during World War II as well as the extensive achievements made by women joining the workforce in support of the war.

Bibliography:

Adkins Covert, Tawnya J. Manipulating Images: World War II Mobilization of Women through Magazine Advertising. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2012.

Honey, Maureen. Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.

Honey, Maureen. Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class Gender, and Propaganda during World War Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.

Meyer, Leisa D. Creating GI Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Yellin, Emily. Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front during World War II. New York: Free Press, 2004.

[1] Emily Yellin, Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II (NewYork: Free Press, 2004).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Maureen Honey, Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999).

[4] Leisa D. Meyer, Creating GI Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).

[5] Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class Gender, and Propaganda during World War II (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Tawnya J. Adkins Covert, Manipulating Images: World War II Mobilization of Women through Magazine Advertising (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2012).

[8] Tawnya J. Adkins Covert, Manipulating Images.

[9] Ibid.