Test your knowledge with a quiz
Rockwell, Rosie the Riveter
- America’s entry into WWII created a demand for women’s labor as the defense industry grew and men enlisted in the military. Women were encouraged to join the workforce as a patriotic service to their country. They also spearheaded support organizations and fundraising groups that supported the war effort.
- Rosie the Riveter was an idealized mascot for women workers. First coined in a 1942 song, her identity came to represent the newly empowered woman. In Norman Rockwell’s depiction, she combines femininity with a commanding muscularity. Rosie wears men’s work clothes and holds a riveter in her lap as she pauses from her work to eat lunch.
- Norman Rockwell’s painting of Rosie the Riveter includes biblical and symbolic references that elevate the subject. The body and pose are copied from Michelangelo’s painting of the prophet Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel. This is amplified by the snake-like form of the riveter, which suggests a reference to a righteous serpent that slayed an evil monster from the book of Isaiah (especially as Rosie crushes a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf under her foot). She also evokes traditional depictions of the Madonna and Child.
- Tensions arose as men returned home from war and re-entered the workforce. Women were not universally willing to relinquish their newfound freedom and independence. This started new debates on the role of women, especially in the workplace, in the modern era.
More to think about
Which details of this painting challenge female stereotypes, and which seem to reinforce traditional expectations of gender? Discuss contemporary attitudes about women in the workforce. Does Rockwell’s painting still seems relevant in the message it presents about gender?