Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Representation of Women and Work

The first image I found was a propaganda poster created by J. Howard Miller in 1943. The “We Can Do It” encouraged women to enter the workforce, and World War Two changed the role of women. While the military’s need for men increased, the industries had a real need for women to slot in, and from 1940-1944 over 6 million women joined the workforce, filling jobs which were, before the war, exclusively male dominated. The name for the woman in the poster – ‘Rosie the Riveter’ came from a song by The Four Vagabonds (video below), and became a nickname for women in the workforce. Interestingly enough, a male band sings it, and the lyrics that particularly stood out were, “she’s making history, working for victory” and “That little frail can do, more than a man can do”. They refer to women as “frail” but then they can still do more than a man in the workplace. ‘Rosie the Riveter’ became an icon for American women; with the earning of money, confidence and abilities to do a man’s job meaning they changed the American workforce from then on. 

Looking at the image, ‘Rosie’ has a very glamorous face, wearing make up and a headscarf which all looks very feminine, however she either has short hair or hair tied up, which would have been practical, but also quite masculine. She is also wearing what looks like a man’s uniform and has a very stereotypical masculine stance. It looks like she’s showing off her muscles, giving the message that she is just as strong and can do the job just as well. There is also the idea that for women to succeed in the workplace they must adopt male characteristics, something especially fitting here, as women slotted in to literally replace the males in the workforce. Had the women not stepped in, the economy would not have kept going over the years of World War Two, so this represents women at work as heroines, saving the economy from collapse instead of the men, so I see this image as very empowering to women and feminists.

The second image I have chosen is from Rihanna’s video for her current single S&M. The video itself displays the obvious, with numerous scenes of Rihanna tied up, and is generally a very sexual video. However, in response to recent accusations of it being too explicit, it is apparently expressing the idea of obsession in the media world, and a hit back at journalists. The director of the video said scenes were meant to be fun and fictional, but maybe this is all a bit much. However this is her chosen career, and should she be allowed to express herself in any way she wants, as a free woman? The video also features a press conference, in which all the journalists are gagged, so is it her hitting out at the Press, or too explicit for her fans who cannot see a deeper meaning?

Looking back at older pictures of her, you can’t help but think that now she is represented in her career as a sex symbol, because it is popular. Since her previous album, Rated R, she has been portrayed in a more fierce, sexual way. This may have something to do with her being assaulted by former boyfriend Chris Brown three years ago. It may be a slight feminist point of view that she feels destroyed by this male character, so feels somewhat empowered and liberated by her sexuality and feels the need to show her strength through her music and her videos.

However, as a career, is she just putting on a front as a performer? And is it not a human, and indeed a woman’s right to show off their bodies in a sexual way if they feel that way inclined?

These are two totally different representations of women at work, both empowered in a way. Rihanna would not be able to put out songs and videos like S&M had it not been for feminism activists and 'Rosie the Riveter' workers helped pave the way for women to do the same jobs as men, and for females to work full stop.

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