[saturdayeveningpost.com]. All the conventional markers of maleness are here – the shoes, the clothes, the physical gesture, the way in which Rosie’s body occupies space, and even the sandwich. Despite these, Rockwell’s Rosie is recognisably a woman, without having to display any of the obvious markers of femaleness that were employed by other Rosies of that time. This is a woman who has not swapped gender roles with someone; she is both mother and the man of the house.
Kali by Ravi Varma
This visual of Kali was by the Indian artist Ravi Varma who, interestingly, was a pioneer in using the European realistic painting style to depict scenes from daily life and Hindu mythology. He was also the first to create lithographs of his work, proliferating his visuals of gods, goddesses and mythological scenes to an extent that they very quickly and enduringly shaped and became a part of public memory).
Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle
Each new drawing we do contains the memory of our past drawings (Heller and Arisman). And often that unconscious personal memory plays on a larger unconscious collective memory. This sort of intertextuality allows us to connect and relate images and texts to each other through time. More distant parallels can be drawn with Indian art. In Hindu mythology, the goddess Kali was
created to vanquish demons that the gods could not fight because they were the granters of boons that protected the demons. Kali, the embodiment of power, was stronger than all the male gods. Kali is traditionally shown in blue, clothed only in the spoils of her victories, holding her weapons in her many hands, with her foot pressing down on a demon or a vanquished force. Her violence is her masculinity. But as powerful as Kali is, she can also be a maternal figure. The depictions of Kali and Rosie overlap with Wonder Woman, whose display of masculinity was threatening only to the villains in her stories. (Knaff, 123).
The key, to Judith Butler’s idea of gender performativity, is repetition. As in other ritual social dramas, the action of gender requires a performance that is repeated. This repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially established. (Cleto, 366). In the case of Rosie, Kali, Wonder Woman and all of the other portrayals of women in the war-poster canon, their performance of gender is reenacted and reexperienced through a literal and mass repetition – print reproduction and proliferation in the form of posters, magazines, lithographs, comics.
Recruitment Posters for U.S. Navy, Howard Chandler Christy, 1917
Under similar, yet different, circumstances during World War I, Howard Chandler Christy’s recruitment posters for the US Navy in 1917 shows us the ideal woman of that wartime. Delicate, pretty, seductive. They are hyper- feminised, akin to ordinary women wearing an exaggerated womanhood. Gender roles are clearly defined here – these girls are present solely to sell the poster. They are not men, and therefore cannot do much else. Here, again, it is clear that gender differences can be created, erased, or reversed, depending on the context. (Hyde 2005, 589 / qtd in, Connell 65) At the end of the war, soldiers returned and the Rosies who had been so carefully persuaded out of their homes, found themselves being pushed back in there. In parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is a cultural tradition known as Bacha.
Here’s One Job You Men Won’t Be Asking Back After The War
Posh, where in the absence of a male family member, a family and community is allowed to nominate and treat a girl child as a boy – the Bacha Posh. The child is dressed, addressed and given the duties and privileges of a young male, even though she is known to be a girl, but only until she reaches puberty. After that the bacha posh must discard her temporary masculinity and return to womanhood. At the time of its creation, Rockwell’s Rosie overshadowed all her other instances, including J Howard Miller’s We Can Do It poster. Interestingly though, the explosive popularity of Miller’s Rosie in today’s world belies the original brevity of its first appearance. Perhaps its non-specific content, as compared to Rockwell’s obvious patriotic references, lends naturally towards the phenomenon of Rosie re-appropriation. From her origins as an unnamed woman, the present- day Rosie is an idea that transcends her history in the canon of war-time imagery, into a new canon of female empowerment.
The Case for National Service, Time Magazine, 2007
Malal Yousafzai by Anat Ronen, 2014
Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Rosie is a call to action, a representation of achievement in the face of odds, a new aspiration. The newer and repeatedly re-appropriated storytelling that revolves around Rosie has become so entrenched in our shared memories, that the original character or the actor herself is no longer required to communicate her presence. Even the gesture that she is so well known by can be done without. Simply her costume or her drag–the red headscarf and a blue outfit–will suffice.
Palmore, Haley. https://www.nrm.org/2014/02/beyond-objectification-norman-rockwells-depictions-of- women-for-the-saturday-evening-post/
Rockwell, Norman. My Adventures as an Illustrator
Heller, Steven and Arisman, Marshall. The Education of an Illustrator
Connell, Raewyn Gender
Cleto, Fabio Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject – A Reader
Knaff, Donna. Beyond Rosie the Riveter: Women of World War II in American Popular
Graphic Art, 2012
Gluck, Sherna. Rosie the Riveter Revisited: Women, the War and Social Change, 1987
About Shreyas R. Krishnan
Shreyas Krishnan is an illustrator-designer with an eye for the everyday and an affinity for the drawn image. She is currently engaged in the MFA Illustration Practice program at Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. She loves print, mythology, multiple narratives and obsessively documents life around her in her many visual journals. Shreyas is passionate about women’s studies and issues and is greatly interested in people, their stories and cultures, and the idea of nationality.