Friday, December 31, 2010

The iconic WW II poster that became a fitting symbol for feminism -- read why

Geraldine Hoff Doyle, believed to be the unwitting model for the iconic “We Can Do It!” poster of a woman flexing her biceps in a factory during World War II, died earlier this week at 86.  Ms. Doyle became the unwitting model when, at the age of 17, she took a job as a metal presser at a factory near Detroit and was photographed by a United Press photographer who was working on a piece about working women.

The New York Times pointed that the poster was obscure until long after World War II.  "It was not widely seen until the early 1980s, when it was embraced by feminists."

It is altogether fitting that the poster became, as the Times said, "a symbol for the American feminist movement," because, if truth be told, the poster doesn't depict reality. It is the artistic musing of a gifted illustrator.

While the image has become the symbol of the empowered woman, ready to take on a man's world and do anything a man can do while flexing a defiant, sturdy right arm, in real-life, Ms. Doyle's daughter Stephanie Gregg revealed that those weren't her arms: "She didn’t have big, muscular arms. She was 5-foot-10 and very slender." 

The most distinctive aspect of the image was doctored. 

And while the poster conjures up the image of women happily breaking free of their domestic enslavement and capably performing manufacturing jobs vacated by conscripted men without missing a beat, according to the New York Times, the real life model "quit the factory job after about two weeks because she learned that another woman had damaged her hands while using the metal presser, and she feared that such an injury would prevent her from playing the cello." 

The real-life "We can do it!" model actually is more representative of American women -- and more "empowered" -- than the tough-as-nails woman presented in the illustration.  Unlike men, who rarely had the luxury of voluntarily quitting a factory job due to fears of injuring themselves, and unlike Ms. Doyle's same-age male peers who were entering the deadliest war in world history (some of her male high school classmates had already been killed in action), Ms. Doyle had the luxury of quitting a job lots of men would have killed for, going to work in a soda fountain, and falling in love with a young man who would become a dentist.

Moreover, it is fitting that this poster has been heralded as a symbol for American feminism because devotees of the latter also paint a picture of their movement that doesn't exactly match reality.

While they claim they are all about gender equality, they happily fight for inequality when, for example, they oppose shared parenting by invoking the nastiest stereotypes about men as abusers.

They talk of equal opportunity but are really after equal outcomes, so they dishonestly insist that the gender pay gap is a product of discrimination. 

They correctly insist women have a right to be as secure in their safety as men (but ignoring that men are victims of violent crime far more than women), then they dishonestly paint a picture of our college campuses as cisterns of male predatory sexual violence. 

And never mind all those other little things where the genders are decidedly unequal but which their movement has precisely zero interest in even discussing: the life expectancy gap; the suicide gap; the workplace injury and death gap; the gap where men lead women in 14 of the 15 leading causes of death; the funding gap for gender-specific diseases; the criminal sentencing gap; the college enrollment gap; and the literacy gap.  And if you mention any of them, you're "whining."

"We can do it"?  You already have. 

On a related, but more serious note, it tells us something about our society that a major news daily like The Philadelphia Inquirer would write something like this: "Three female icons of World War II also passed into peace: Miep Gies, 100, a Dutch woman who helped hide Anne Frank and her family; Geraldine Doyle, 86, the model for Norman Rockwell's famous "Rosie the Riveter" poster; and Edith Shain, 91, who said she was the nurse getting kissed by a sailor in the famous photo of VJ Day celebration." 

This is not intended to detract from Ms. Gies' efforts, but to talk about Ms. Doyle and and Ms. Shain, whose claim to fame was that they had their photos snapped by news photographers, as "icons" of World War II, doesn't just trivialize the unfathomable sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of others in that monumental clash, it smacks of mockery.