The many, many, different interpretations of Rosie the Riveter, including the original Norman Rockwell depiction, and an actual Rosie herself.
Following on from Halloween, where it’s a popular costume choice among those feminist-y inclined, I’ve been thinking a lot about Rosie the Riveter and the place of this iconography within feminist discourse. On the surface of it, it seems like a logical and empowering choice: the original Rosies, those women who went to work in the factory in World War II were trailblazers in every sense of the word, representing one of the first times that women en masse went into the workforce, an icon of strength and glass-ceiling busting if there ever was one. But (and this is a big but), Rosie the symbol, was a symbol of war: a symbol of mass indiscriminate killing. What does it mean that a symbol of war has become the most mainstream symbol of female empowerment? Is that girl power?
There has also been a bit of a push in recent years to make the Rosie symbol more inclusive than the original – so now we have Rosies of different races, abilities, genders. But does this reinterpretation of the icon change the meaning behind it? That military strength that Rosie symbolized has been used against so many people, many of them innocent, in the military-industrial complex. Can the military ever really be disentangled from this symbol? Or does the meaning even matter at all?