By David Michael Newstead.
With women’s rights at the forefront of politics, I’ve been trying to reach out to different people I know: to ask questions, learn more, and to get their perspectives on gender issues in America. Recently, I had the chance to speak with my friend, Charity Sperringer, about the role feminism has played in her life. Charity is a committed feminist living in Washington, D.C. where she’s started a feminist book club to delve into many of these issues. Our conversation is below.
David Newstead: When and how did you first become a feminist?
Charity Sperringer: First of all, I am in no way an expert to all things pertaining to feminism. If you asked me prior to the book club’s humble beginnings in December 2014, I may have not considered myself a feminist. Now that I know what being a feminist entails (thanks to the diversity of texts and open discussions from the book club members!), I would say I’ve only recently been the feminist I want to be – the one who advocates for feminism beyond my own personal gains.
I have been entering traditionally male dominated spaces since I was young because I didn’t understand the typical female trajectory that society expects from women. Some examples include taking advanced level statistics among a class of males because I knew that having a woman question statistics was rare in panel discussions and of course playing video games and watching animes with my brothers while growing up. This is partial to having been raised with expectations similar to my older brother and partial to being told by society to be someone that I wanted/would like to challenge. That’s one way of looking at feminism, in a personal way.
In college I dated a man who was vocal that he was a feminist. I didn’t know what that meant for a man to do that. He wanted to fight for equality for all races, genders, and sexualities. He also worked for the ACLU and dated women before me who were passionate about acting for others. That’s another way to look at feminism and the way I aspire to be.
I can’t forget about entering the private sector and leaving the non-profit sector. That’s when I started the book club. That was a whammy for realizing work place inequality. The book club was a safe space to discuss whatever we wanted. I was immersed with mostly women previously at non-profits, then I jumped into an area dominated by men in leadership and unfortunately with ulterior motives. I still work in a mostly male dominated environment and am constantly presented with scenarios that are laughably about me being a female rather than my abilities or qualities.
David: Do you feel like that becoming a feminist has changed you as a person? If so, how? Are there any examples from your personal or professional life that you’d feel comfortable sharing?
Charity: Yes, owning the label “feminist” has changed me. I have more open discussions about gender, race, equality, access, and history with coworkers, family members, my boyfriend (also a feminist) and friends. I’m referred to as the liberal or the feminist at work now and am completely comfortable with it – whereas before I was hesitant to accept it because I associated it with women who knew more about being a female than I did. Now that I’ve built this identity, I have former colleagues from school ask me questions about impacts on women of policies and I have coworkers who send me events and news articles they think would be of interest to me. It just so happens that it’s a great time to be a feminist! Making it ok to be labeled as a feminist is a bizarre step towards the goal that I’ll take. Letting people know that feminism entails equality in addition to WHY with examples of inequality to illustrate, and what the next steps are – this is more meaningful. As I said, I’m no expert in feminism and I hope other people don’t feel that they have to be to consider themselves as a feminist. If I have to be that person in the office to encourage dialogue, I’ll be that person. Every office should have that person.
David: What do you think are the best ways of addressing negative and toxic forms of masculinity?
Charity: Some great ways to address negative and toxic forms of masculinity are to address them head-on. This is something I admit need to do more so at the workplace when I’m confronted with scenarios of male colleague using language to belittle me because I’m a female (calling me “sexy”, referring to me as “little girl”, laughing at my female colleague for getting harassed on the street as a “china doll”, and more). I’m also trying to be more patient to the males in my office who defer to violence as the answer to understand why they approach difficult scenarios this way. I’ll let you know how this method works. Talking to your male partner, father, brother about negative and toxic forms of masculinity is also important so that they can carry these conversations back to their male buds and relatives. Lastly, accepting males when they aren’t traditionally masculine and letting them know you appreciate their qualities is important. Everyone just wants validation.
David: In closing, what’s the main challenge or challenges confronting feminism right now and how should they be addressed?
Charity: Can I have a less weighty question? Haha. I think it’s pretty basic and not even substantial to the critical principles of it – getting people on board that it means equality and not special privileges for women. And that you can be a Republican and also a feminist. Kind of like you can be a Democrat or a Republican and think that trafficking humans is wrong. Unfortunately “feminism” denotes “female” and starts fun, circular and ceaseless conversations about why feminism doesn’t mean equality among everyone. How to address this? Discussing inequality can be enough to get people on board with tackling it. And then you can say GOTCHA! You’re a feminist! But also, getting males into the conversation of feminism.
- Beasts of No Nation
- From Al Jazeera: #MasculinitySoFragile
- The Origins of #MasculinitySoFragile
- #MasculinitySoFragile Goes Viral
- Angry White Men: A Book Review
- Angry White Men: Author Interview
- A Look at Mass Shootings in America
- A Conversation with Paul Elam
- Review: The Mask You Live In
- The Angry White Man Election
- Masculinity Isn’t Misogyny
- Re-watching American Psycho
- Countering Street Harassment
- #MasculinitySoFragile: Post-Election Edition
- Men Without Work: A Book Review
- American History X Revisited
By David Michael Newstead.
It’s not especially complicated, I guess. Toxic Masculinity involves men harming others and often harming themselves. The most obvious examples are serious and widespread: sexual assault, harassment, suicide, and acts of violence. But more subtle examples are also pervasive in our society. These are habits we associate with being “manly” that are, in fact, detrimental to an individual. For men, that could mean what we eat, how much we drink, substance abuse, or other lifestyle choices that overtime can cause serious damage. For instance, I’ve had more than one friend admit without being asked that they didn’t believe they would live passed the age of 50, because of their unhealthy lifestyles. So if we associate manhood with stoicism and repressed emotions, to conform to this many men will basically drink themselves to death as a way to deal with their feelings. And that is an example of Toxic Masculinity.
By David Michael Newstead.
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present chronicles fifty years of social progress for women in the United States, measured across economics, politics, and American culture and is reinforced with personal stories from our recent past. In fact, it’s the personal stories that help connect us to those events, which may seem like ancient history for some people but are within the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents. A few excerpts stood out to me in particular and I share those below to illustrate the stark differences between the world of 1960 and the world of today.
- In 1960 women accounted for 6 percent of American doctors, 3 percent of lawyers, and less than 1 percent of engineers. Although more than half a million women worked for the federal government, they made up 1.4 percent of the civil-service workers in the top four pay grades. Those who did break into the male-dominated professions were channeled into low-profile specialties related to their sex. Journalists were shuttled off to the women’s page, doctors to pediatric medicine, and lawyers to behind-the-scenes work such as real estate and insurance law.
- Jo Freeman, who went to Berkeley in the early ‘60s, realized only later that while she had spent four years “in one of the largest institutions of higher education in the world – and one with a progressive reputation,” she had never once had a female professor. “I never even saw one. Worse yet, I didn’t notice.”
- If all the working women were invisible, it was in part because of the jobs most of them were doing. They were office workers – receptionists or bookkeepers, often part-time. They stood behind cash registers in stores, cleaned offices or homes. If they were professionals, they held – with relatively few exceptions – low-paying positions that had long been defined as particularly suited to women, such as teacher, nurse, or librarian. The nation’s ability to direct most of its college-trained women into the single career of teaching was the foundation upon which the national public school system was built and a major reason American tax rates were kept low.
- If a stewardess was still on the job after three years, one United executive said in 1963, “I’d know we were getting the wrong kind of girl. She’s not getting married.” Supervisors combed through wedding announcements looking for evidence of rule breaking. They discovered one stewardess was secretly married while the young woman was working with Georgia Panter on a cross-country flight. When the plane was making its stop in Denver, a supervisor met the flight. “He pulled that poor woman off,” Panter said, “and we never saw her again.”
- Not long ago Linda McDaniel, a Kansas housewife, came across the deed to the house she and her husband had purchased when they were married in the 1960s. “It was made out to ‘John McDaniel and spouse.’ My name wasn’t even on it,” she said.
- Men, in their capacity as breadwinners, were presumed to be the money managers on the home front as well as in business, and women were cut out of almost everything having to do with finances. Credit cards were issued in the husband’s name. Loans were granted based on the husband’s wage-earning ability, even if the wife had a job, under the theory that no matter what the woman said she planned to do, she would soon become pregnant and quit working. A rule of thumb that banks used when analyzing a couple’s ability to handle a mortgage or car loan was that the salary of the wife was irrelevant if she was 28 or under. Half of her income was taken into consideration if she was in her 30s. Her entire salary entered the calculations only if she had reached 40 or could prove she had been sterilized. Marjorie Wintjen, a 25-year-old Delaware woman, was told her husband’s vasectomy had no effect on the matter “because you can still get pregnant.” Even when a woman was living on her own and supporting herself, she had trouble convincing the financial establishment that she could be relied upon to pay her bills. The New York Times was still reporting horror stories in 1972, such as that of a suburban mother who was unable to rent an apartment until she got the lease cosigned by her husband – a patient in a mental hospital. A divorced woman, well-to-do and over forty, had to get her father to cosign her application for a new co-op. Divorced women had a particular problem getting credit, in part because of a widely held belief that a woman who could not keep her marriage together might not keep her money under control, either.
- Many upscale bars refused to serve women, particularly if they were alone, under the theory that they must be prostitutes.
Other interesting topics covered in the book include the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the Women’s Liberation movement, and the life of Jeannette Rankin. Likewise, the reader can observe changes overtime through the effects of Roe v. Wade, how divorce proceedings were conducted, and the growing education attainment as well as workforce participation by American women. Skip ahead to the present and women are 47 percent of the workforce, 55 percent of college students, and 15 percent of active-duty military personnel: all watershed developments from a historical standpoint. And while many of the excerpts above probably wouldn’t take place in 2017, it’s important not to downplay the challenges on the horizon. Today’s progress took decades. Confronting misogyny will take even longer. And the next fifty years of women’s history has yet to be written.
By David Michael Newstead.
During the Second World War, the War Advertising Council wanted to mobilize American women and get them into the workplace. And while this ultimately contributed to social progress in the United States, the ad campaign was really motivated by necessity more than feelings of equality. At the time, millions of men were leaving to join the military and the jobs they once occupied had to be filled for the country to function and for America to meet the industrial demands of a major war. This meant groups that were normally excluded from and discriminated against in the workforce were now of vital importance. In 1941, for example, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination throughout the nation’s defense industries at a time when segregation was the norm in many parts of the U.S. And if racial bias was understood to be secondary to the war effort, it quickly became clear that entrenched sexism was an obstacle to victory as well. Because of that, the War Advertising Council launched the Women in War Jobs campaign in 1942 and the persona of Rosie the Riveter was born.
When I first sat down to do research on this, I discovered that there was no specific woman who was Rosie the Riveter. Instead, there were actually several women who were either the inspiration for or directly associated with the Rosie the Riveter campaign. Many of them have passed away, but below I attempt to provide an overview of their contributions to this unique chapter in history.
The earliest inspiration for Rosie the Riveter was Veronica Foster who was part of a 1941 Canadian campaign for Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl. Veronica worked at the John Inglis Plant where she helped manufacture machine guns and this idea would serve as a precursor to the more famous Rosie.
The American campaign was first popularized by a hit song in 1942 about a New York resident named Rosalind Walter, a riveter at the Corsair Plant where they built the classic Vought F4U Corsair fighter aircraft. Rosalind worked the night shift and went on to inspire Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb to write the song Rosie the Riveter that year. Later, this song would be performed by various popular musicians of the time such as James Kern Kay Kyser as well as the Vagabond Boys. I include the lyrics below and personally I thought the version of it on YouTube was pretty catchy. Just to clarify, the Brrr throughout the song is a sound effect, mimicking what riveting sounds like.
All the day long whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line
She’s making history working for victory,
Rosie Brrr the riveter.
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do
More than a male can do,
Rosie Brrr the riveter
Rosie’s got a boyfriend Charlie,
Charlie, he’s a marine
Rosie, is protecting Charlie
Working overtime on the riveting machine.
When they gave her a production “E”
She was a proud as a girl could be,
There’s something true about
Red, white and blue about
Rosie, Brrr the riveter.
Then in 1942 and 1943, two American artists would produce the images that are the most familiar depictions of Rosie the Riveter to modern audiences. The key difference being that one of these pieces was immediately famous, while the other was not widely circulated at the time and only became well-known decades later.
The first was a drawing of Mary Doyle Keefe who lived in Vermont and was the original model for Norman Rockwell’s 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover of Rosie, itself based on Michelangelo’s Isaiah on the Sistine Chapel. Rockwell, who also lived in Vermont, was known for using random people as models for his iconic illustrations and like many other drawings, this is how his Rosie the Riveter came about. Mary posed for Rockwell on two occasions and was paid $10.
The second drawing was of Geraldine Hoff Doyle. This is the now famous We Can Do It poster created by J. Howard Miller, an artist contracted by the Westinghouse Electric Company in Michigan. Geraldine worked as a metal presser there and a photograph of her was used by the company to create an in-house poster to show its employees. At the time, very few copies of this were printed and it was only displayed for about two weeks. Almost no one saw this poster during the Second World War and it was forgotten about for years. But when it was rediscovered in the 1980s, We Can Do It became widely displayed in popular culture and in feminist marches originally due to copyright reasons. Those being, Norman Rockwell’s version is copyrighted and the We Can Do It version is not. Incidentally, this is the same reason that the ubiquitous Che Guevara image is mass produced on t-shirts and posters (It isn’t copyrighted). Because of that, the We Can Do It poster entered into our cultural consciousness almost on accident. Even Geraldine Hoff Doyle herself was completely unaware of her role in the poster’s creation until the early 1980s.
Other incarnations for Rosie the Riveter include Rosie Bonavitas of New York who was recognized in a commendation letter from President Roosevelt in 1943. She had set a productivity record as a riveter for a single six-hour shift, while helping to manufacture a Grumman TBF Avenger Torpedo Bomber. Then in 1944, Rose Will Monroe was working at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Michigan when she was recruited to play the part of Rosie the Riveter in several short films that encouraged people to buy war bonds.
These were the women who can most readily be called Rosie the Riveter. But in a sense, Rosie isn’t and never was just one person. In addition to those I’ve mentioned, there were twenty million other women, toiling away in factories and planting the seeds for social change. My grandmother was one of them. Your grandmother might have been one too. Their names and stories may have varied. And they might not have always fit into the narrative of a national advertising campaign, but their place in history is assured.