‘Rosie the Riveter’ can be a role model

“Rosie the Riveter” is gone. She died earlier this year at age 77 in Clarksville, Ind.
I am both saddened and surprised. Saddened because Rosie stood for so much. And surprised because I didn’t know there was a real Rosie.
To begin with, Rose Will Monroe was just a riveter in an airplane factory in Ypsilanti, Mich. A young woman in her 20s, she no doubt worked for the same reasons most people work. She needed to eat and pay rent. And make a meaningful contribution.
What was different about Rosie from young women of previous generations was that she was working in a man’s job.
The depression had been hard on women’s rights to work. If men couldn’t get work, how could you ever expect jobs to be given to women. And by the late 1930s, most everyone agreed that a woman should never take a man’s job. Especially, a woman with a husband to support her.
In a nutshell–woman’s place was in the home.
But then came World War II and everything was turned upside down. The men who ran the factories were gone, and yet the factories needed to produce.
Overnight, woman’s place was redefined. And a United States Department of Labor official articulated, “It can hardly be said that any occupation is absolutely unsuitable for the employment of women.”
What was needed now was a role model, and the search for “Rosie the Riveter” began. The song already had been written and Rosie, whoever she might be, was about to become a national and international icon.
Well, it just turned out that Rose Will Monroe was in the right place at the right time. With the right name and the right profession. And before she knew it, Rose Will Monroe had become “Rosie the Riveter.”
Fifty years ago, everyone recognized Rosie–with her red bandana and coveralls. And all that upper arm muscle. The role of women in American society would never be the same again. Well, not quite the same.
Actually, when the war was over, women once again were told to go home. To give up their high-paying jobs to the men who rightfully owned them. Some were even fired. All were expected to resign; and if they chose to continue working, they would be reassigned to the lower-paying clerical jobs.
Amazingly, most women acquiesced quietly, and the “baby boom” was born.
But not Rosie the Riveter. She had been one of the first to take up “man’s work.” And she would be the last to drop it. No one could tell Rose Will Monroe when to “retire” from the workforce.
After the war, Rose drove a taxi, operated a beauty shop, and finally started her own construction firm. “Rose Builders” specialized in expensive custom homes.
Rose Will Monroe is a woman I would have liked to have known. A woman who refused to be limited by society’s employment stereotypes.
Today, we can thank Rosie and her kind for the advances that have been made in equal opportunity and equal pay for women. Now, what we need is her “this side of 60” counterpart.
We’ve known for a long time that it’s wrong to deny anyone the right to work on the basis of demographic characteristics such as race, disability, gender, or ethnic origin. What we need to learn now is that it is just as wrong to deny anyone the right to work on the basis of age.
It’s time to stand up with Rosie and be counted. And until society catches up, which could be a long time, you personally can choose Rosie for a role model and help blaze the trail.

Posted in Uncategorized