Was Beyonce wrong to hail ‘Rosie the Riveter’ as a feminist icon last month? Let ‘The Guardian‘s Rebecca Winson tell it, and the answer is simply…yes.
Uploading the image above to her personal Instagram page days ago, it would seem the ‘Single Ladies’ singer sought to celebrate the working women of the world with the iconic image.
Unfortunately, in an article published by Winson today, the philanthropic Pop star has been painted as a misinformed maestra, unaware of the story behind what so many believe to be an empowering image.
Winson’s words below…
The journalist explains:
I can well appreciate how cool a symbol Rosie is to copy. But a feminist icon she is not.
Rosie dates back to the second world war, a symbol inspired by the women who took up the factory and munitions jobs left behind by conscripted men, and whose work undoubtedly moved the feminist cause forward by decades. But she represents a cynically whitewashed view of this, and her feminist credentials wear thin when you look into the history of her creation, and the background of those she was supposed to portray.
The bicep-curling version popular today was designed by a man, J Howard Miller, who took inspiration from tired, oil-covered workers but washed them down and dolled them up to produce his Rosie. Miller never intended his creation to be a symbol of female empowerment – she was used to encourage women to take up jobs in factories as part of their patriotic duty to the war effort.
His propaganda conveniently ignored the fact that women would have been expected to carry on with the housework once they got in, and then, after a war spent being paid nearly 50% less than their male colleagues, would be sacked. When we dress up as her, we’re dressing up as an airbrushed fib. Of course, some argue that this re-appropriation is dissent, but even if you believe that there’s still something problematic with the riveter symbol.
That problem is her lack of friends. More than 60 years after Miller put his head-scarved wet dream on to paper, she’s still feminism’s most visible icon of a working woman. Despite the fact that women make up the majority of the world’s poverty-stricken people, the poor and working-class still struggle to be heard amid a glut of middle- and upper-class icons – the Pankhursts, Germaine Greer, Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft. Isn’t it time we found a new Rosie, a realistic representation of what it’s like to be a woman and work today?
There are the Dagenham machinists, whose strike action led to the Equal Pay Act 1970. Or Mrs Desai, who led a two-year picket in protest at poor working conditions in the late 70s. It’s less glamorous, but the costume of most of the women workers in the world was worn out, underpaid and malnourished.
Anyone for dressing up as a knackered retail worker on minimum wage, or a rubble-covered sweatshop worker who had to saw her own arm off to escape the rubble of her workplace?
Perhaps not. That kind of poor isn’t as cool as Rosie’s, nor would it make as good a costume. Feminism’s attitude to the poor should be more than working-class drag.