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Do the Job He Left Behind

Carolyn Soto

6 March 2009

“Do the Job He Left Behind”

The image of Rosie the Riveter brought about a 57% increase of workers from 1940-1944. This brought the number of women factory workers up to about 20 million (“Rosie”). While working conditions were sometimes harsh, unfair, and pay was not always equal to that of men’s, on average women made about $23 less than men, these factory jobs forever opened up the workforce for women (“Rosie”). I greatly want to believe these claims; I want to believe that after World War II women had firmly inserted themselves in a male dominated field, a heavily technologic field at that. This was not the case; women had and still have a long way to go when it comes to asserting their competence with technology. Keith Grint and Rosalind Gill’s article, “The Gender-Technology Relation: An Introduction,” speaks to this argument, stating that there is a very clear and definite historical culture of technology as a masculine enterprise (8). While I’d like to be able to disprove this statement, it is clearer, however, that women factory workers during World War II only worked towards proving Grint and Gill’s argument.

Before the United States entered World War II, many companies had government contracts to produce equipment for the Allies. Once the United States entered the war the production of war equipment had to increased quickly and dramatically, car factories were transformed to manufacture airplanes, shipyards were expanded, and new factories were built. These places needed workers, but with a majority of men off fighting the war women were needed, especially when they were signing larger contracts with the government to produce war equipment (“Image and Reality”). It was seemingly agreed upon that these female employees would only be temporary and the government got to work on a propaganda campaign to draw in workers.

“Rosie the Riveter” was created as the perfect woman worker, “loyal, efficient, patriotic, and pretty” (“Image and Reality”). Rosie convinced women that it was their patriotic duty to enter the workforce. Women began flocking to factory jobs, not only to fulfill their patriotic duty but because these jobs were higher paying than the ‘pink collar’ jobs they had been working before. Women discovered the nonmaterial benefits of factory work, learning a new skill set, contributing to the public and war effort, and proving themselves capable of performing a job thought of as a ‘man’s job.’ While women were able to prove themselves capable, the mainstream public still viewed the woman’s most important job as wife and mother (“Image and Reality”). Temporary changes brought on by the war were acceptable but society often reminded women that, “their greatest asset was their ability to take care of their homes and that career women would not find a husband.” (“Image and Reality”). After the war, the cultural division of labor reasserted itself. Women were forced out of their higher paying factory jobs and back into their lower paying “female jobs” while the men quickly returned to their higher paying, masculine jobs. During the prosperous years following the war, mainly the 1950s, women returned to begin wives, mothers, and homemakers. The small foothold they had during World War II was completely forgotten by that point.

In the prewar years women held jobs, factory jobs weren’t not the first instance of women in the workforce. Mostly minority and lower-class women held jobs because middle-class white women were ideally placed in the home raising children and taking care of husbands. When the United States entered the war 12 million women were already employed but by the end of the war 18 million women were employed. It is revealed however, that only about 3 million of those women worked in war factories (“Image and Reality”). The majority of women who worked during World War II worked in traditionally female jobs, the number of women holding skilled positions was actually very few (“Image and Reality”). Women were still forced into lower paying jobs in order to let men have the better jobs or to go into service. In fact, traditionally female clerical work was able to maintain its number of employees while recruiting new workers. Prized for its shorter hours, competitive wages, and lack of physical labor required the supply of clerical workers exceeded the demand (“Image and Reality”). Keith Grint and Rosalind Gill’s classification of technology as masculine culture gives some sort of explanation towards this cultural division of labor. Masculinity and technology are so culturally intertwined that to be technologically competent is a large part of the masculine identity (Grint and Gill 8). It is also stated that capitalism has aided in women’s separation from technological culture because technologies created during the industrial revolution are considered “capitalist technologies” that are presented as “more masculine than previous technologies” (Grint and Gill 9).

It is often seen that technologies gendered as masculine have more value, more worth, are considered more difficult to approach and master while technologies gendered as feminine are less valuable, and easier to use. Things like kitchen appliances, the telephone, and type writers have been gendered as feminine and therefore used largely by women. On the other hand, things like cars, weapons, and heavy machinery have been gendered as masculine and used rather exclusively by men. Women working in factories, using heavy machinery and power tools, challenge the masculine identity associated with these objects as well as the masculine identity of the men who regularly use them. This is why it was easier for society to explain women factory workers a temporary solution or a patriotic duty.

The mere description of “Rosie the Riveter” raises eyebrows. Loyal, efficient, patriotic, and pretty; in my mind I’m not sure that attractiveness should be important in the workforce, especially such a masculine one. Even though women were in such a masculine, technologically advanced field they had to be reminded that they were still being judged based on feminine qualities.

Works Cited

Grint, Keith and Rosalind Gill. “The Gender-Technology Relation: An Introduction.”

The Gender-Technology Relation: Contemporary Theory and Research. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis, 1995. 1-28.

“The Image and Reality of Women who Worked During World War II.” Rosie the Riveter:

Women Working During World War II. 24 Feb. 2009.


“Rosie the Riveter.” 2 March 2009. Wikipedia. 3 March 2009.


One Response
  1. March 27, 2009

    One of the things that interests me, that you don’t quite directly say, is that many feminists have used to Rosie the Riveter moment as a beacon to show that women can do these kinds of jobs. Though they also point out, as you do, that most of those women returned to the home. What I’m left wondering is whether they were happy about that. You seem to suggest that many were. If many chose “pink collar” jobs over factory jobs, perhaps there were many who were happy to return home after the war. I think you could say more about the attractiveness issue. You definitely seem to be saying that one part of the masculine/feminine technology split has to do not just with what gets coded masculine but also what gets coded feminine and it seems that one reason for the focus on Rosie’s attractiveness is to assure women that they can still be feminine even while they work with technology.

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