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Article

Abstract

This article discusses the ways in which government propaganda and corporate advertising during the 1940s and 1950s made a concerted effort to mitigate the increased sexual, economic, and social freedoms of women engendered by the circumstances of the war years. While Rosie the Riveter and others like her became the picture Americans often associate with women in World War II, advertising firms and the government deliberately created Rosie and her fellows to reinforce female participation in the war effort only through their pre-ascribed dichotomous roles as either socially tamed sexual objects or mothers. Then, as the war drew to a close, advertising campaigns and government propaganda used the same images of hyper-feminized women to support a cult of ultra-domesticity and to enforce heteronormative gender roles in order to bolster capitalism, consumerism, and traditionalism among the American public in the face of the Cold War. These images belied the real experiences of women during the war and postwar years, and they reinforced dichotomies between capitalism and communism, permissible marital sexuality and aberrant behavior, victory through traditionalism and anarchy through divergent lifestyles. In both decades, government agencies and advertising firms set about both sanctioning female patriotism and influencing societal norms, and their concerted efforts presented the American public with ubiquitous images of certain kinds of femininity. After the war, Rosie the Riveter quickly gave way to June Cleaver. But one was no less socially and culturally constructed than the other.

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