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Mobilizing Women in World War II. Rosie the Riveter vs. the Mutter des Volkes. WW2: Labor shortage, women needed both countries trying to reverse similar depression policies existing public image of women incompatible with war jobs

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mobilizing women in world war ii

Mobilizing Women in World War II

Rosie the Riveter vs. the Mutter des Volkes

mobilizing women different answers
WW2: Labor shortage, women needed

both countries trying to reverse similar depression policies

existing public image of women incompatible with war jobs

possible steps: civilian conscription and/or massive propaganda campaigns to change the public image

different approach during war

Germany: unenforced conscription law


US: large media campaigns


See Graphs I-II.

Mobilizing Women – Different Answers
us institutional framework
1942 War Manpower Commission

Policy forum, no enforcement methods

Organizer of campaigns

1942 Office of War Information (OWI)

US ‘propaganda’ agency

‘information’ & ‘the strategy of truth’

aim of campaigns: sell the war to women by changing the public image of the American Woman, the white middle-class housewife

US – Institutional Framework
owi propaganda use of the media
sponsoring materials published by other agencies

publishing limited circulation pamphlets for the use of the media of advertisers,

coordinating promotional campaigns

monthly guides to magazine writers and editors, and radio commentators, suggesting approaches to allocating time and space so that the various media might emphasize the same themes at the same time

OWI Propaganda – Use of the Media
owi propaganda media campaigns
promotional campaigns designed to convince women to take war jobs

campaigns included both a national and intensive local campaigns

similar media techniques:

radio shows, spot announcements, special features

professionally prepared announcements and recordings made by famous radio personalities.

special womanpower short films

magazines picture women workers on their front covers

calendar for retailers with suggested advertising techniques

advertisers of all kinds of products tie in the war themes with their ads.

posters & billboards urged women to take jobs

WMC: special pamphlet for the use of government officials in areas of labor shortage.

stencils for use by the boy scouts in painting sidewalks.

OWI Propaganda – Media Campaigns
altering the public image of women 1
Three major campaigns

Each campaign featuring a different tactics

First plan (Baltimore 1942) called for an appeal on the basis of good wages, equal to men’s, and suggested that women be told that war work is was pleasant and as easy as using a vacuum cleaner.

Altering The Public Image of Women 1.
altering the public image of women 2
March 1943 (2nd) campaign, under the slogan “The more women at work, the sooner we’ll win”

introduced the idea that women could save lives by taking a job and thus helping to end the war sooner.

positive appeal on patriotism sometimes turned negative: “Every idle machine may mean a dead soldier”

Altering The Public Image of Women 2.
altering the public image of women 3
big campaign in September 1943: standard appeal to patriotism and the lure of money,

still threatened women without jobs with responsibility for prolonging the war, but also accused them of being slackers.

special appeals to husbands, telling them it would be no reflection on their ability to support their families for their wives to take war jobs.

it even argued that it was entirely natural for women to take jobs.

many of these approaches were also used to encourage women to join the armed forces, serving as auxiliary forces.

Altering The Public Image of Women 3.
rosie the riveter
new public image:

“Rosie the Riveter”

“The Lady at Lockheed”

“The Janes Who Make the Planes”

Rosie, the factory worker dominating public image

but still housewife and mother

emphasis on the feminine side

end of war – return to the housewife image, reintegrating male labor power

Rosie the Riveter
the media and nazi propaganda
The Media and Nazi Propaganda
  • Propaganda as a legitimate tool
  • Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda
  • Dual institutional Party/State structure in the control of the media and in propaganda dissemination
  • Aims of nazi propaganda
  • Media used: print media, broadcast media, public meetings, slide lectures, films, newsreels, posters, badges, word of mouth, bulletin boards even in the most remote communities
  • Prominent role of the Bund Deutscher Mädel and Frauenschaft in propaganda addressed to women.
nazi ideology and the role of women 1
A rather wider spectrum of views with two poles:

(1) The ‘misogynic’ view of the Nazi top elite

(2) ‘nazi-feminism’ (CIT)

Common shared elements:

The main role of German woman is to be ‘The Mother of the Nation’ (“Die Mutter des Volkes”)

Women as ‘the guardians of racial purity’

Nazi Ideology and the Role of Women 1.
nazi ideology and the role of women 2
Life of the nation is divided into two spheres according to ‘the polarity of sexes”:

(1) The public sphere

(2) The private/family sphere

Both of those spheres are seen as vital for ‘nation`s life’

Within the private/family sphere women play essential role in:

i) the biological reproduction

ii) the cultural reproduction

Nazi Ideology and the Role of Women 2.
nazi ideology and the role of women 3
The conception of the role of women in nazi ideology is not identical with the Victorian ideal:

emphasis on physical activities

women are often seen as similarly physically and mentally capable of work as men are

the status of single mothers is better

women are seen as suited for certain kinds of work (agriculture, nursing, education, social work)

Nazi Ideology and the Role of Women 3.
ww ii german propaganda 1
Certain institutional measures for conscription of women into the labor force existed, but never implemented

Reasons: (a) belief that the total mobilization was not necessary; (b) opposition from the top leadership

No large scale propaganda launched in this area.

Pre-war propaganda continues altered, the public image of women is subject only to minor changes. This image remains constant in its basic characteristics in the period 1934-1944.

WW II German Propaganda 1.
ww ii german propaganda 2
Changes made necessary by the war-effort are presented as an extension of the role of ‘the mother of the nation’.

The life of nation is seen as divided into two spheres:

(1) Front

(2) Home-front

WW II German Propaganda 2.
ww ii german propaganda 3
‘Earlier I buttered his bread for him, now I paint grenades and think, this is for him’

Focus on the biological and cultural reproduction is slightly altered by the new war-related conditions.

Employment of women is seen as a sacrifice for the nation.

WW II German Propaganda 3.
Nazi ideology offered a wider spectrum of positions on the role of women in German society. Yet, there was a dominant image of ‘the mother of the nation’.

German WW II propaganda did not alter the public image of the role of German women. Little has changed in this respect since 1934.

No large-scale campaign in order to recruit women into the labor force as in the case of USA.

This can be interpreted as a mistake that severely impaired German war economy. In contrast, the US effort was a success in this respect.

Amherst, Maureen Honey. 1984. Creating Rosie the Riveter: class, gender, and propaganda during World War II University of Massachusetts Press

Rupp, Leila J. 1978. Mobilizing women for war: German and American Propaganda, 1939-1945. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

Yuval Davis, Nira. 1997. Theorizing Gender and Nation. In: Gender and Nation. London: Sage