Thursday, March 15, 2018

Rosie the Riveter and Lilly Ledbetter

The posters of Rosie the Riveter were created to encourage more women to join the wartime labor force and fill traditionally male jobs in the Defense Department left vacated when men went off to fight the enemy in World War II. Yes, I said POSTERS. Most people identify the iconic image of Rosie with her polka dotted bandana and “We Can Do It” motto, illustrated by J. Howard Miller and produced by Westinghouse in 1943, but it was not the only one. In fact, Norman Rockwell’s illustrated version of Rosie for the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 was far more popular. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the original Rosie was adopted as a feminist symbol of strength as the movement took hold and women everywhere got on the bandwagon for parity.

The identity of the original Rosie was also a subject of contention. Two women claimed to be Rosie. You can read more about that here: Rosie the Riveter Inspiration and Rockwell’s Rosie here: Norman Rockwell - Rosie the Riveter
 
Rosie, and what she represented, changed the American way of life. Women left the kitchen or mundane jobs for work in the higher-paying defense industry, increasing the work force by fifty percent. They were paid only sixty percent of what their male counterparts were making, though it was more than they made in their previous jobs. (We’re still fighting that one.)

Women from all walks of life contributed to building the planes, tanks, and weapons that helped win the war, unleashing a new work force on the American landscape, breaking down racial barriers, and necessitating child care centers. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a stalwart supporter of women’s rights encouraged this phenomenon by being a role model to women everywhere.

When Johnnie came marching home again-―yes, I know the song is from the Civil War – latitude, please―they also marched right back into the jobs they left, and the women who wanted to stay were harassed and forced to leave. According to the State Department, the women were fillers, and now they were discarded to find other jobs. But the "damage" had been done.

Employment for women never fell to pre-war levels, and for the millions of women working today, we’ve never quite matched men in pay or respect. Though the Equal Pay Act, signed into law by John F. Kennedy in 1963, abolished pay disparity based on sex, women still make seventy-nine cents to every dollar earned by a man and ten thousand dollars less on average per year.

Image result for lilly ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter, an employee of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, filed and won a three million dollar suit for wage disparity that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision.

Ledbetter will never receive restitution from Goodyear, but she said, "I'll be happy if the last thing they say about me after I die is that I made a difference." I'm sure she has. Her suit created the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama.

We need lots of Rosie the Riveters and even more Lilly Ledbetters to fight for women. We’ve come a long way, baby, but not long enough.


Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

15 comments :

  1. Rosie the Riveter, an image that represented all women who stepped up to the plate during WWII to fill jobs vacated by soldiers heading to war, and Lilly Ledbetter, a flesh and blood woman who won a lawsuit for equal pay against a major corporation, represent all women who ask only to be granted equality in all areas of life. Will that equality ever really be attained? I don't know, but I do know that fairness dictates the reasonableness of equal pay for equal work and equal opportunity based on education and ability, not on gender. It sounds so simple, yet it rarely seems to happen. This is a really thoughtful post, Polly, and the battle continues.

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    1. Yes, Linda, the fight still goes on. Glad I'm not in the workforce anymore.

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  2. My biggest pet peeve is the idea that women didn't work before then. Women have always worked. There may have been a few rich women whose husbands and fathers would not allow them to participate in what was considered "a man's world." But the queens, spies, court attendants, maids, nannies, cooks, midwives, healers, herbalists, weavers, seamstresses, milliners, lacemakers, bakers, cheese makers, farmers, homemakers, craftswomen, factory workers, laundresses, tavern wenches, madams, and prostitutes, all worked. Event the so-called rarefied "women of leisure" had to keep account books, plan parties, make decisions about supplies and inventory in the home, mend and embroider, sing, dance, perform, and navigate social politics with expertise all white providing the heir and spare. I have no doubt that many were co-architects if not the actual "brains" behind their husband's successes in managing large estates and other business endeavors. So lets banish the myth of nonworking women and accept that some men didn't want to share power, wealth, or credit so they promoted this unrealistic image of women and wrote laws to make it stay that way.

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    1. Good points, Diana, but this was really the first time women were allowed to do "man's work." We all know women are the backbone of every society except in the Middle East where they're not allowed to be.

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  3. Excellent post, Polly! I'm not sure enough of today's young women know the stories of women who worked so hard in the past to get us to the present. Yes, there's more to be done, but we have come a long way!

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    1. Another problem, Patricia, because history is a weakened subject in schools. We need to resurrect history courses so these things don't repeat. It took decades for women to be heard.

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  4. Where I'm from, the women DID stay in the factory jobs, at John Deere and International Harvester. They were still there, as older women, when I got a summer job in the IH factory as a janitor. Because they were union jobs, the women got equal pay and it was very good! Best money I made for many years. I realize these are exceptions, but there were places where the women kept their WWII jobs and were glad to have them.

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    1. That's good to know, Kaye. I think the Rosie jobs were mostly Defense Department jobs, making weapons and bombs, but the period opened the doors for more women to work at what were considered to be men's jobs. If women got jobs in the companies you mentioned and kept them, all the better. My mother worked in the shoe factories, but those were mostly women's jobs to begin with. Lucky we lived in the Shoe Capital of the World back then.

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  5. I should add that I don't think the tractor factories hired many women after that, but a few. Two other teenagers and I got summer jobs filling in for the older woman when they went on vacation.

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    1. I worked in the shoe factory the summer before college. It was enough to know that's not a job in my future.

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  6. Exactly! Me too in the tractor factory. The people who worked there all told me to go to college so I could get a better job. However, that job sure paid well!

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  7. Very interesting to know more about these two women. What Rosie did, and the women who worked in the factories at that time, was their way of contributing to the war effort. But as the men came home, the ones who wanted to stay in the factories had to fight to keep their jobs. She was, and still is, such an inspiration.

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    1. And as Lilly Ledbetter's lawsuit pointed out, women are still struggling to find pay parity. I hope our sons make the future changes.

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  8. Each generation of women fight this battle, making small increments of progress. It's hard to do when men are in charge of so many things, but I have faith in our daughters to continue the battle.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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