Serious question: Is there any icon cooler than Rosie the Riveter? Perhaps it’s the combining of jaunty, red head covering with serious pipes. It could be the knowing, confident look on her lovely face. Maybe it’s the reassuring can-do message that splashes across the bright yellow behind her. With just a flex of her bicep and a gleam in her eye, she tells all who look upon her “Don’t mess with me. I know how do use industrial equipment.” It’s really not difficult to see why she’s spoken to generations of women, called upon them tap into their inner power. I get it, and I like all this about her too.
But my admiration for Rosie goes deeper than this. Actually, admiration might be the wrong word. Recognition might be more accurate. When I look at the amazing woman on the poster, I don’t just see everything I aspire to be. I see the family of “Rosies” with which I grew up. I won’t embarrass anyone in particular by naming names, but in my lifetime, I’ve seen an octogenarian family member break her arm while tossing around cement blocks. I’ve listened as someone explained how they spontaneously sledgehammered a wall because they wanted a bigger work space. There are tales of hardwood flooring being hammered into place by someone with a baby strapped to her back. The females of my clan squish their own spiders, throw their backs out shoving furniture from one room to another, and are quite happy in plaid flannel. I’m probably the biggest wimp in our corner of the gene pool, and I still swing a frickin’ hammer like Thor. If ever there was a bunch of females who exemplified the “human doing over human being” philosophy, it would be us.
Rosie the Riveter walks the walk. She isn’t interested in sitting around, making abstract plans or playing wait and see. The poster doesn’t say “We can talk about it.” or “We can dream, can’t we?” She’s all about action, decisiveness, and forward momentum. I’m biased because I was spawned by others of her ilk, but I think this sort of drive is declining in 21st century females. We talk about being independent, self-reliant, and capable, but there’s still a pretty substantial pay gap for us. We occupy a sad minority of positions of power. We’re always apologizing for taking charge and speaking our minds. We still steer our little girls away from anything that isn’t pink and frilly (steam escapes from my ears as I write this). There isn’t space in a blog post like this to go through the chicken-and-egg scenarios behind it all.
Decades ago, Rosie told us we could do it, and I don’t think she meant women exclusively either. I think it’s pretty clear that we haven’t done it. In fact, I think we un-did it.
I’m lucky that I had Rosies to look up to as I fumbled my way into womanhood. I could say that Rosiness is genetic, that the trailblazers in my family and the generations that will follow me have been and will be fueled by an inborn desire to accomplish things, that we’re just lucky that way. I’m not, however, willing to pull genetic determinism out as a cover. Whatever little Rosie spark makes the women in my family feel they need to chop wood, haul dirt around, and just generally git-r-done, I’m sure it’s in every human female. Rosie’s overalls are one-size-fits-all, the red in her polka-dotted kerchief a beautiful compliment to any face. The brilliant, vibrant, strong woman on the poster is right. We can do it- all of us can. What I want to know is, when will we?