Feminism and Women’s Rights Movements

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Most, if not all, people have seen or heard of Rosie the Riveter We Can Do it poster. It is one of the many inspirations and motivations that remind and encourage women that they are more than capable to do and accomplish things other than the stereotypical positions of doing house chores and raising the kids at home. The poster shows that women have a say and that their voice and opinion is just as powerful as any of the men’s.

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Growing up as the only girl with five brothers until my first sister was born 10 years later, I am always told that girls don’t do this…girls don’t say that…girls don’t wear that…etc. Women had their life set out for them by what society (men) thought was appropriate for such “fragile” beings. Gender was always a big issue in history and has been, and still is, making progress to achieve full equality and fair treatment for both genders and this poster creates a new ideology that women are stronger and more qualified than they are given credit for.

Gender roles are ideas set by different cultures and societies as to what and how we expect certain genders to act, speak, dress, behave, and conduct ourselves based upon our assigned sex. Throughout most of history, women were seen as unfit to create a stable life on their own and therefore had to greatly rely on the title and status of their husbands or the men in their life. This can be seen in Nella Larson’s novel Passing, when Larson shapes her character Brian to represent safety and solidity as Irene’s husband. Or when Clare, who had a black father but could pass as white, chooses to “pass” as white, joining the white society, and marrying a white man in order to live a financially dependable and ample life. Although the Rosie the Riveter poster was created to convey the American ideology of patriotism, hard work, and everyone’s necessary war effort, regardless of sex, the poster managed to stick around to influence and affect the ruin of a hegemony that women’s roles were at home and that men had the “real” jobs and were superior to women. It communicates that women don’t need to depend on the men to achieve an abundant and successful life, and that as a woman, their gender does not define them as impotent and incapable of being on their own as they were portrayed in society.

There has been a lot of advances and breakthroughs in receiving equality and fair treatment for all gender types and attempts in trying to eliminate gender discrimination. Despite the original purpose of this poster, it has inspired many social and political movements. During the time period of the Rosie the Riveter poster, the war gave women a chance and encouraged them to pursue careers in sectors that previously were not available and open to women. Furthermore, some women refused to go back home and continue the “typical” woman roles. The Rosie the Riveter poster was later rediscovered in the 1970s and was used for the feminist and women’s rights movements at that time and even to this day. Posters like this one and other forms of meaningful portrayals allow women to gain more courage and power to stand up for their rights and begin to finally receive equality piece by piece.

Due to their sex and gender, women were set as inferior to men, were discriminated against, and were refused the equality of holding the same rights held by men through various attempts. Such an example can be seen in the novel Disability and The Justification of Inequality by Douglas Baynton when he states that women have “physical, intellectual, and psychological flaws, deficits, and deviations from the male norm. These flaws-irrationality, excessive emotionality, physical weakness-are in essence mental, emotional, and physical disabilities, although they are rarely discussed or examined as such.” Baynton argues that in order to receive fair and equal rights one had to fit the criteria of being normal, which was a description of just a typical free white man. He further argues that it was okay to treat the disabled unfairly, so discriminatory practices, such as gender discrimination, created and laid out by the law were justified by the concept of disability. However, the Rosie the Riveter poster displays a woman with a strong and flexing arm, which clearly communicates women’s empowerment and how they have control and power, unlike the idea that women were weaker in the mind as well as in the body. It defies and represents women as independent and substantial, regardless of their gender.

The Rosie the Riveter poster can however be controversial and debatable. As previously stated, the woman in this poster is depicted as a strong-looking woman with her rather muscular flexing arm, although not overly muscular, and her sleeves rolled up, portraying her as ready to get to work and get her hands dirty. She also has a stern and serious look on her face which is the opposite of the image of a “proper woman” that society accepted as normal. This all would defy the ideological hegemony that women were meant to be fragile and soft housewives. While communicating empowerment, the woman in the poster is still wearing make-up, has her hair curled and neatly tied back with a red polka-dotted bandana tied into a bow. With this on the other hand, one can say that in this poster women are still given a standard as to how they should look and present themselves because of their gender.

Women’s rights movement and other feminist movements have been a major source of attaining equality for women and they continue today. But there is also an issue as media starts to exhibit these successes and progresses because as argued by Susan J. Douglas in her book Enlightened Sexism: The seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done, media promotes false images of women in power and these images undermine real women’s progress. Through this a question is raised: “Feminism? Who needs feminism anymore? Aren’t we, like, so done here?”, and it brings us to the idea of enlightened sexism. “…enlightened sexism takes the gains of the women’s movement as a given, and then uses them as permission to resurrect retrograde images of girls and women as sex objects, bimbos, and hootchie mamas still defined by their appearance and their biological destiny.” Douglas here argues that society has no more need for feminism because women already achieved their equality, therefore it is okay to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women. The Rosie the Riveter poster also falls prey to this a bit as it circles our media, because it’s a representation that women are strong and have the capacity to be on the same level as the men, and it can create a false idea that women are now equal to men instead of the idea that it’s more of a reminder and encouragement to keep fighting and as the poster says, “We Can Do It!”.

Rosie the Riveter in the We Can Do It poster serves as a feminist icon by means of elevating women in various contexts in which they experience oppression and/or inequality because of their gender. Even though it was created more as a calling for women to help their husbands and men receive victory for America during the war by filling in on jobs that were previously done by the men, it came to serve a greater purpose. It became an inspiration to create a new ideology that women are underestimated and are stronger and more capable than they are given credit for. This poster ties to the concept of gender, as women were refused rights that were simply given to men, through excuses such as attempting to state that women are disabled causing them to be weaker in the mind and body. As well as the belief that women need to rely on men to find stability in their lives, the poster opposes these ideas and beliefs and instead makes out women as powerful and dependable, just as any other man. Rosie the Riveter We Can Do It poster has inspired many different social and political movements. The woman in the poster represents power and strength and is now used as a call for action for a diverse set of causes.

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Feminism and Women’s Rights Movements. (2021, Jun 05). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/feminism-and-womens-rights-movements/