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Rugged Arms and Rosy Cheeks: The Working Women of World War II

By Debra Bellamy

From the Faculty Nominator, Steven DeCaroli:

Debra wrote this essay for my seminar on the work of Michel Foucault. The final assignment for this course was to employ Foucault's own philosophical methodology in a paper that combines both historical research and theoretical analysis. For her essay, Debra chose to focus on the construction of female identity in America during World War II. More specifically, she examines the strategic effect of the "Rosie the Riveter" propaganda campaign which, she argues, was instrumental in legitimating the entrance of women into jobs traditionally reserved for men. But far from simply opening the door to new opportunities for women, Debra brilliantly demonstrates how the "Rosie" campaign actually constructed a discourse about working women that allowed them to enter the workforce without, however, disrupting traditional, and ultimately oppressive, gender roles.

From the author, Debra Bellamy:

The philosophical work of Michel Foucault is often described as a methodological toolbox for analyzing the way in which power structures function within society through mechanisms and techniques that go beyond the top-down model of the state apparatus.  As the final paper for PHL 332, the Foucault Seminar, the assignment was to apply Foucault's toolbox to a particular historical event.  In this paper, Foucault's concepts are employed in order to examine the way in which power mechanisms operated during World War II in the production of propaganda about working women.  This work addresses how the relations of power between government officials, industry leaders, and the media were modified during this time period in order to meet the growing need for a wartime labor force.  To meet this need, this network of force relations used propaganda as a local technique of power that produced discourses around working women that would facilitate their entrance into the factory labor force during the war.  This paper examines how power mechanisms were modified during this time period to produce this discourse as well as examining how this discourse operated as a local technique of power through the creation of a narrative of female empowerment and liberation.  Furthermore, this work addresses the discontinuities between this narrative of female equality and the actual circumstances and situations of the economic and labor transitions women experienced during this time period.

 

Read: Rugged Arms and Rosy Cheeks: The Working Women of World War II

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