Last week on Instagram, as I was absorbed in illustrating feminist icons for this contest, I came across an ad for a period-tracking app. Touting the “power” of tracking one’s cycle, its glammed–up, bicep-curling spokeswoman looked very familiar: Rosie the Riveter.
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Since her inception, Rosie has been employed as a salesperson, if you will, for the military industrial complex and any industry hoping to appeal to “modern” women. But that doesn’t mean her value as an agent of empowerment should be abandoned—just exercised appropriately, especially now. That’s why YES! decided it was time to freshen up the feminist icon.
We asked readers to share their visions of a contemporary Rosie the Riveter. Is she a Muslim researcher or a stay-at-home dad? What would a gender-nonconforming Rosie of the 21st century look like? We posed these questions just as women are facing new regressive policies, including the since-failed repeal of the Affordable Care Act that would have disproportionately disadvantaged women across class and ability. We wanted to amplify the presence and achievements of women of color, working-class women, and queer and trans people. Readers responded with examples of women and LGBTQ people making progressive change across many walks of life. Below are our three favorites:
Submitted by Yessenia Funes
“I think she’d be brown with warm, worn eyes. She wouldn’t wear make up because her job would be spent in the kitchen of a restaurant or fast-food joint, and the heat of the fryers would simply make the make up run down her face. She’d have a couple burn marks on her arms from grabbing the fries. She’d wear a pin: “World’s Best Grandma.” She’d be holding her coffee mug up to her lips (because, c’mon, what mom doesn’t have a coffee addiction?), and it’d read “#1 MOM.” Because even if her first and main language is Spanish, she still appreciates the gifts given to her by her second-generation English-speaking kids. Her uniform wouldn’t be anything fancy, but it’d have a collar and a bowtie because even at McDonald’s, appearance is everything. Her hair would be up in a bun because nobody wants hair in their food. That’s my version of Rosie. That’s my mom.” —Yessenia Funes
While this concept was undoubtedly our team’s favorite, I’ll admit I saw some of my own experience in Funes’ submission. Watching my first-generation American mother leave for work at the crack of dawn because we couldn’t afford a car, I never thought of the steely stare of the original Rosie. But I did know that my mom’s endurance was its own form of feminine strength, just as valid as that bicep curl. The Rosie who Funes describes is symbolic of single, immigrant, working-class parents across the country who rarely get the resources they need or security they deserve. This image is for the women who carry the load anyway and build the foundation of their families’ strength.
“The Modern Congresswoman”
Submitted by Jeanne Berry and Sheila Meidell
“The modern Rosie should likely be an African American standing in front of the U.S. Senate.” —Sheila Meidell
“She’s a multi-ethnic feminist congresswoman who whops the other congressmen into shape with the Constitution in her hand!” —Jeanne Berry
The idea of a congresswoman whopping her obstructionist male peers with a rolled-up Constitution made the poster committee chuckle—and yearn for more lawmakers like her. Representation in positions of power matters more for people whose survival depends on equitable public policy. As such, we removed the congressmen from the final art to let her stand alone. While the Capitol represents American politics, this matured Rosie represents the interests of women and LGBTQ people everywhere, and she isn’t going to let Congress get away with anything that doesn’t serve those people. She’s got the Bill of Rights to back her up.
“The Mask of White Femininity”
Submitted by Joe Scott
“They wear a mask with fem features painted black and white (you can’t see their skin). They have wild hair that is dyed rainbow (there is a single shock of white). Slogan: ‘f**k you’” —Joe Scott
We couldn’t wait to dive in, but we weren’t immediately sure how to draw them. Scott describes someone frustrated and concealed by this peculiar mask, not liberated by it, but his submission didn’t quite match the cheery spirit of the original prompt. In our version, Rosie sheds the cracked mask of the limited femininity demanded by society for their own form of expression. The modern Rosie doesn’t need to be svelte, white, able-bodied, cisgender, or conventionally attractive to effect change—and they dare you to tell them otherwise.
YES! is publishing these posters with the hope that they’ll percolate into realms where our Rosies can inspire and empower—say, in the kitchen of a local women’s shelter or an LGBTQ youth center. We want them to channel the next wave of gender rights through an intersectional lens that’s inviting to all. If you have your own version of Rosie, we hope you’ll hoist her high at the next march—or anywhere else.
Jennifer Luxton is an illustrator and page designer at the Seattle Times and the former lead graphic designer at YES!