Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II
The government’s war time efforts to recruit women had several themes, the main one being patriotism. The campaigns told women that the war would end sooner if more women worked. Women were also warned that if they did not work then a soldier would die, people would call them slackers, and they were equivalent to men who avoided the draft (Rupp 96). Women who took war jobs were praised.
Another propaganda theme was high pay. The government cautioned, though, that wages should not be overemphasized or women might spend too much and cause inflation (Rupp 96).
As a way to lure young women into the factories, advertisers showed women workers as glamorous and even fashionable. They mentioned that women did not care much about their appearance while at work, but that they were still feminine underneath the dirt (Gregory 32). The campaigns equated factory work with housework as a way to alleviate women’s fears about working. Therefore, women already had the skills needed. But the government cautioned that war work should not look too easy or women might not take it seriously. This method reinforced women’s role as homemaker and that her main duty was to her home.
The government’s propaganda also called on husbands to encourage their wives to take jobs. It emphasized that it would not reflect poorly on the husbands and their ability to support their families if their wives worked (Rupp 96). The campaigns told men that they should feel pride when their wives took a job much the same way that they felt pride when their sons enlisted. This campaign was based on the assumption that women did not work because of their husbands’ objections (Rupp 153).
The government focused its propaganda campaigns on white middle-class families whose women were not already working. It did not target the women who were already in the workforce and switched to higher paying jobs without any encouragement. Although there was a lot of diversity among women workers, women of color were absent in advertisements. The stars of the campaign were middle-class domestic housewives with no work experience who would leave when the war was over.
At first, the propaganda campaigns featured the few women who worked in skilled and high-paying jobs, even though they were a small percentage of women workers. Not until there was a labor shortage in 1943 were the unglamorous, underpaid, low-status jobs a part of the propaganda campaigns (Rupp 142).
The propaganda campaigns used during the war never had any intention of bringing about permanent changes in women’s place in society. Rather, the government used them to fill temporary labor shortages with women workers.