riveting imageism tinged by double standards

When I saw a picture of this button in today's Detroit Free Press, I was, well, riveted!


But I immediately realized I was falling behind the times. I'm late to the "Rosie" game, because I see that Sarah Palin's face on the iconic image has already drawn feminist criticism:

Today a colleague of mine showed me an article in the Washington Times from a rally in Lancaster, PA, where people held signs of the iconic Rosie the Riveter with Palin's face photoshopped in. In the background is a sign with PTA, spelling out Palin Takes America - even though Obama's policies are stronger on education than McCain's. In my hunt for the article online , I discovered a lot of people are using the Rosie the Riveter sign to show their support of McCain/Palin. There are t-shirts, posters, buttons, etc. I am astonished at how people who likely know & care zip about women's history or women's rights and could care less when Clinton or Pelosi are treated sexistly by the media or who don't think calling Palin "hot" and "sexy" is sexist, are repositioning a traditionally feminist icon like Rosie for themselves!! And I would be thrilled that they were embracing women's history if they were also embracing policies that benefited women which many famous women's history figures fought for!
A feminist historian I am not. However, the original image is not Rosie the Riveter per se, but is based on an image produced more for wartime propaganda purposes than to promote modern feminism. (Feminists may like it, but that doesn't mean they "own" it.)

Not to pick nits, but "sexistly" a word? (Yes.) If so, how about "racistly"? (Yes.) Christianistly? (No.) Fascistly? (Yes.) Communistly? (Yes.) Capitalistly. (Almost.) Feudalistly? (No.) Economistly? (Well, almost!)

Enough with the istlyisms, OK. (Typistly speaking, my fingers are tired of linking them.)

Concludes the author,

I think it's INSULTING for his supporters to be using Rosie like that.
Well, as insultingisms go, it's not the most insultinglyist thing I've seen.

The "Rosie" image traveled from coast to coast, being picked up by the New York Times, and the LA Times, it even generated a copyright debate, with one irate activist writing to the president of the Rosie the Riveter Trust (I had no idea there was such a thing), and demanding that something be done:

Today, September 10, 2008, a photo on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, revealed that the McCain campaign is using placards with a picture of Rosie the Riveter with the face of Gov Sarah Palin superimposed on the picture and using the same slogan "We Can Do It" as in the original picture.

I assume your organization has copy rights to Rosie the Riveter material, photos etc. Based on the fact that she was nominated for Vice President, one week ago today, it is unlikely the McCain campaign had authorization from your organization to use the picture? As you are aware, the Rosie the Riveter Trust is the official non-profit partner of the National Park Service for Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. You are also affiliated with the City of Richmond, CA. In my opinion, I do not believe that it is appropriate and possibly an enfringement of copy rights for the McCain campaign to use your picture for partisan politics?

What a shame to use the historical contributions of women during WWII for political gain by the McCain campaign. Your prompt and timely response to this complaint is appreciated.

Lorenzo Mota

The president of the Rosie the Riveter Trust wrote back, gently breaking the news that the image is in the public domain:
This graphic has been in the public domain for many years. Thousands of people have used it (or misused it) for every conceivable purpose. Rosie the Riveter Trust has no control whatsoever over its use.
There's a lot of misinformation floating around about the image, which many people think is the original Rosie the Riveter, which technically it is not.
The image most iconically associated with Rosie is J. Howard Miller's famous poster for Westinghouse, entitled We Can Do It!, which was modeled on Michigan factory worker Geraldine Doyle in 1942.[11][12]

However, the picture was not meant to represent a character called Rosie the Riveter at all.[2] Penny Colman writes that "Since the 1970s, this poster has been mistakenly labeled Rosie the Riveter and has been reprinted on posters, magazine covers, and many other items."

As to Geraldine Doyle, she was a 17 year old girl who pressed metal for Westinghouse for a week, and over time her image was claimed as "Rosie":
In 1942, the 17 year-old Geraldine spent a week working in a Michigan factory pressing metal as an early replacement worker for men who had gone off to war. During her brief tenure, a wire photographer took a picture of her she soon forgot. That image - re-imagined by J. Howard Miller while working for the Westinghouse War Production Co-Ordinating Committee - would soon become iconic both for the war effort and for the forever changed society it fostered.

Geraldine Doyle didn't know she was the model for Rosie until 1984, when she came across the 1942 photograph in Modern Maturity Magazine. By 1944, a lot of women were working in factories and plants, instead of homes. Rosie the Riveter appeared on a postage stamp, part of a World War II series produced by the U.S. Postal Service, in 1992.

I cannot find the original photograph anywhere. If it was in fact in Modern Maturity magazine (now AARP), someone ought to be able to find it easily, and considering the history, I'm surprised someone hasn't. (Skepticism over whether it exists might be merited, but I don't have time to do more than raise the issue.)

According to Ellen Goodman, angry women have exploded in rage over the Palin Photoshop:

What finally sent her over the top was the poster. There was Sarah Palin as Rosie the Riveter, flexing her biceps under the motto: "We Can Do It!" The image was the same on the T-shirt my friend had left over from the primaries. But with a crucial difference.

"They've Photoshopped Sarah over Hillary. And women are falling for this!" she bellowed into my voice mail, closing with an epithet that would never have been permitted by her feminist spell check.


While the political junkie in me can comprehend that there would be feminist anger over who has "owns" the image in the moral sense, it's not accurate to say they've Photoshopped Sarah over Hillary. That's because Hillary was photoshopped over the artist's iconic depiction of someone else. There's this T-shirt, and other examples like this magnet, also shown here:


So, the contention by the man concerned with copyright infringement that "it is a shame to use the historical contributions of women during WWII for political gain by the McCain campaign" is a bit disingenuous.

Everybody has glommed onto "Rosie" for one reason or another. There's a sexist version of a woman holding a coffee pot, a "sock monkey" version, and while I'm not sure why, the Ron Paul campaign even got into the act -- although I do think "Ronnie the Riveter" is a bit of a stretch.

Most egregious of all, there's a racist version of the image here. I say "racist" because Barack Obama has been Photoshopped in, and because all criticism of Obama is racist, then all humorous Photoshopping must be too.

Frankly, I think they were going easy on Barack the Riveter.

Because all the women -- including Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi -- were depicted wearing the same headgear as the original worker, while Obama was not!

See? Here's Nancy!


Why no one is calling such a double standard "sexist," I don't know.

I guess I should be glad no one has suggested that ridiculing women's headgear is "tinged" with Islamophobia.

posted by Eric on 10.06.08 at 11:00 AM


Interesting. The contemporary feminists of my acquaintance (I feel a need to distinguish them from the classical, first-wave equity feminists) are sporting posters and buttons of Rosie with the dialog "We Can Do It--No Palin, No How, No Way." On their blogs and T-shirts, the F-word follows the "No." I certainly hope Ellen Goodman and Lorenzo Mota are taking the same offense at these partisan violators of Rosie's copyright.

Just one more on a long list of behaviors/actions leftists are allowed and encouraged (like having a woman on the ticket!) and us unwashed masses should be forbidden.

Heather   ·  October 6, 2008 11:30 AM

"...are repositioning a traditionally feminist icon like Rosie for themselves!!"

Yeah, they can't reposition what we repositioned!! No fair!!

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  October 6, 2008 4:11 PM

The sheer egregious stupidity of these people is breathtaking. I does not occur to them that Palin, having actually worked in a male dominated industry - one of the most physically hazardous professions on Earth - has more "right" to the Rosie icon than every last one of these Po-Mo Lit Crit pampered professional whiners and grievance mongers.

I suppose such idiocy brings its own blessing along with its curse - the blessing being that one is blissfully oblivious to the utter ridiculousness of one's own posiiton. None of these perpetually outraged persons would set foot on the deck of a commercial Alaskan fishing boat, let alone last a day working aboard one. They are a living rebuke to women everywhere, just as Plain's cheerful "get it done" persona is a rebuke to their own cherished ulcerating sense of victimhood.

Steve Skubinna   ·  October 6, 2008 5:07 PM

"None of these perpetually outraged persons would set foot on the deck of a commercial Alaskan fishing boat"...and few of them would be found with a rivet gun or a welding torch in their hands, even under conditions of national emergency.

david foster   ·  October 6, 2008 5:32 PM

"None of these perpetually outraged persons would set foot on the deck of a commercial Alaskan fishing boat"

No, but Nancy Palin has earmarked like hell for Big Tuna (i.e., Starkist).

Didja notice how Palin is the only one of the three who looks like she could actually be the owner of that flexed left arm?

Rhodium Heart   ·  October 7, 2008 12:00 AM

Some in our wonderful country would have us believe the majority want to continue to drink at the teat of Aunt SAMantha.

Aunty Sam, says enough is enough!

She says, "I gave my left and right teat for you. I have not one thing more to give than the breasts that suckled you, and the testicles I pretended to grow FOR YOU. (That was awkward at first, but I learned to hold my fake balls in my hands. They grew BIG!)

Now? Aunt Sammie is taking a well deserved rest.

Feminist, you say? In your next lifetime, honey.

You are NO feminist, and you surely do not speak for Aunty Sam.

Stand up for what YOU believe in. Leave your breasts and your fake penis behind. There IS no "feminist sisterhood".

If there was, the baton would have been passed from Hillary Clinton to Sarah Palin, with a smile and a nod.

"Feminists" PWNED by 'the O man'?

Anonymous   ·  October 7, 2008 12:17 AM

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