Rosie the Riveter Plays Santa Claus

Cultural icon, Rosie the Riveter, represents women who produced war supplies in factories during WWII. With the tagline, “We Can Do It,” Rosie played a key role in a propaganda campaign to convince women (and their husbands) that they had a patriotic duty to work in the factories. Based on a fictional character, the original image of Rosie the Riveter is this 1942 poster for Westinghouse:

Original "Rosie the Riveter"

This image and motto have come to symbolize women’s economic empowerment and feminist empowerment more broadly, so it was interesting to see this appropriation of Rosie the Riveter last night at the California Republican Party fall convention on a banner for Yellow Ribbon American, a “national grassroots effort to unite all Americans to directly help our nation’s military members and their families.”

Rosie the Riveter Banner

The banner sports sponsorship from Coca-Cola, Walmart, and other major corporations, and encourages donations to “Help Our Troops & Their Families Have a Rosie Christmas.” Rosie is portrayed as a buff Santa Claus carrying a bag of gifts.

This use of her image (perhaps unwittingly) hints at the original intent of the Rosie the Riveter campaign by portraying women as capable of doing “men’s work” (Rosie delivering gifts instead of Santa Claus), but it’s unlikely that this image is meant to project her iconic feminist hero status. Rosie the Riveter was a corporate creation, but the evolution in meaning of this now popular feminist symbol compels the question, to whom do such icons “belong.”


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