April
18th 2013
Women on the Warpath!

Posted under: American history, Gender, jobs, women's history

The Willow Run B-24 bomber manufactory in 1943:

What’s fascinating about this film is the almost-unprecedented use of some women’s patriotic labor to shame other American women:  “Some still window-shopped, not hearing the first call.  Others played golf, idled golden hours away when every moment was precious.  Even domestic duties lost their importance.” 

Image engraved for a 1770 version of Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative

While the stock character of the Amazonian woman–the woman who picks up a weapon to fight “manfully” was used to invoke a contrast between herself and men who would not fight, thereby shaming the men, I’ve never seen or heard of this kind of shaming of other women embedded in this clip.  This trope was a common feature in British and Anglo-American pamphlets and newspapers going back at least to the seventeenth century–perhaps even earlier.

World War I U.S. recruitment poster

What I also love about this portrait of a bomber factory is the way it paints the workplace as a kind of 1940s precursor to Google, with most of the employees’ needs anticipated and provided for.  What I wouldn’t give for lunches that “compare with the best of urban restaurant fare” provided “at-cost,” with a cozy little library for further reading and research on-site!  (Well, I *do* have a library where I work, I suppose . . . )

6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Women on the Warpath!”

  1. Loumac on 18 Apr 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Very interesting. Kind of an early “lean in.” Notice, too, the rather modern notion lurking behind “these women who had never worked outside their own home” – it actually defines unpaid domestic work as work!

  2. Historiann on 18 Apr 2013 at 9:18 am #

    True, that–but I’m partial to the portrayal of the white window-shopper, golfer, and the woman in a swimsuit before a rather cold and torrential looking river as loafers.

    “Female loaferism” was a concept applied only to African American women, I believe, after slavery when some wanted merely to keep house for themselves and look after their own children, instead of working in the same capacity for a white family.

  3. koshembos on 18 Apr 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Demeaning others lives as long as apes evolved into people. It’s a proud tradition. Obviously, women and Amazonian women are the core of this blog. (OK, I stretch it a little.)

    Demeaning exists everywhere. Recently, a full and very well-funded female professor showed me an email she got from a junior faculty; he demeaned her in no uncertain terms. He did it because he belongs to the “ruling” political faction in the department. (And because he is a moron.)

    By the way, the pampered Google work environment and beyond (e.g. they get huge discounts on cars) is shared by Microsoft, Amazon, etc. Actually, why shouldn’t it be the way we treat all workers? Profs?

  4. Indyanna on 18 Apr 2013 at 11:24 am #

    A prize to the archive rat who unearths the file whereby “Truman Bradley” was authorized to stay off of the front and out of the skies in order to narrate a production like this. It would doubtless couch in clunky 1943 social science language his stentorian tonalities, phrasing, breath control and unique ability to mesh with the glowering music, maybe even quantifying the result in terms of reformed “window shoppers” who hopped in their huge cars and motored over to the Ford plant to sign on for the third shift. (Were those cars that Ford had on hand and had stowed on the back lot when the B-24 plant was converted?). The file might also contain a letter from a voice coach at a leading academy listing the seven other men on the planet who could deliver comparable results, all of whom were booked up for studio work for at least six months. Couldn’t some of these film production slots have been more effectively filled by women?

  5. Susan on 19 Apr 2013 at 8:34 am #

    It’s also got the great 19th c line about delicate fingers doing detail work, moved from children to women.

  6. nicoleandmaggie on 19 Apr 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    This is off topic… but we’ve got an ask-the-grumpies question today that it would be great to have your insight on if you have a chance.

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