I Like: Rosie the Riveter

Sunday, March 7, 2010 | |

Last weekend I had the pleasure and the joy of photographing Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. Have I mentioned how much I love my job? Probably. Let's move on.

My media pass got me into a pretty spectacular pre-parade area, where I could wander around and meet the various groups preparing to march in the parade. Whilst on the move I saw a couple of girls dressed like one of my favourite cultural icons, Rosie the Riveter.

I ventured further down the road, and found a whole stack of them!

"Look at you, ladies!" I gushed as I took their photo. "You're like a dream come true. Rosie's my hero." Embarrassing? Yes. A bunch of falsities? No. I decided that when I got home to Auckland I would find out more about these girls.

The girls were from a group called The Femme Guild of Sydney, who believe in the solidarity, celebration and visibility of those who identify as femme (essentially defined as a lesbian who exhibits "stereotypically female traits", but from the group's manifesto - and the photo below - they obviously believe in the solidarity, celebration and visibility of more than just "lipstick lesbians").

In the group's manifesto, they state:

"We actively recognise the generations of activism that have challenged traditional gender roles and struggled to explode the die-hard myth of the sex/gender binary. Femme Guild peacefully co-exists with other radical ways to play with gender, or to be a woman. There is no one way to be a woman, to be trans, to be queer, or to be a man."

If you've been following my blog - on in fact, me - for a while, you'll know that this facet of their manifesto speaks to me. I play a sport that was built on these same ideals of challenging traditional gender roles. Ask anyone who plays roller derby why they love it, and they will no doubt tell you how they love the dynamic the sport presents - you can be fast, agile, tactile, skilful, sexy, feminine, "butch"*, physical, brutal - all at the same time. These women will often repeat a popular derby mantra - "roller derby saved my soul". Not because it gave them something to do with their spare time, but because the confidence these women find on the track often translates into their everyday lives. A new derby skater often finds her voice, her own sense of style, her cause; anything. And whether they realise it or not, playing roller derby projects a powerful message of feminism - it may not necessarily be said aloud, but the message is heard loud and clear.

I'll be honest when I say that my feminist bent didn't precede roller derby by much, but looking back, all the signs were there. My long-standing obsession with Rosie the Riveter is no doubt one of them.

I recently found out that the iconic image touted as being Rosie the Riveter was not the now-classic "We Can Do It!" American war effort poster.

According to this article, the real Rosie was shown on a Norman Rockwell cover of a 1943 Saturday Evening Post.

The "Rosie" we've all come to love was actually used in Westinghouse factories when women made some 13 million Mycarta (a precursor to Formica, or "formerly Mycarta") helmet liners.

I don't think it matters overly that Rosie as a cultural icon has been replaced with a Westinghouse image - the want to portray female strength remains the same. That's why I've always like "the Rosies" of the American factories during World War II.

Credit: Office of War Information photos by Alfred T. Palmer, 1942.
Found on the gosh darn amazing Rosie the Riveter Wikipedia article.

They were real women, doing jobs they were more than capable of doing, in a time where mankind needed them most. They found their physical strength and challenged patriarchal values.

And that's why I like Rosie.


Postscript quote

"Rich cultures, patriarchal cultures, value thin women, like ours; poor ones value fat women. But all patriarchal cultures value weak women. So for women to become physically strong is very profound."
- Gloria Steinem [SOURCE]

(With thanks to Kate for this quote)


* Sorry to use quotes, but given the common, derogatory usage of the word butch, I hate using it.