“McEuen affords us a vivid and discerning tour of the American female body politic in World War II. As she makes abundantly clear, the mobilization of women was accompanied throughout by campaigns designed to insure that Rosie the Riveter was no less attentive to her lipstick than to her rivet gun.”
—Robert B. Westbrook, author of Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II
Drawing on war propaganda, popular advertising, voluminous government records, and hundreds of letters and other accounts written by women in the 1940s, Melissa A. McEuen examines how extensively women’s bodies and minds became “battlegrounds” in the U.S. fight for victory in World War II.
Women were led to believe that the nation’s success depended on their efforts—not just on factory floors, but at their dressing tables, bathroom sinks, and laundry rooms. They were to fill their arsenals with lipstick, nail polish, creams, and cleansers in their battles to meet the standards of ideal womanhood touted in magazines, newspapers, billboards, posters, pamphlets and in the rapidly expanding pinup genre. Scrutinized and sexualized in new ways, women understood that their faces, clothes, and comportment would indicate how seriously they took their responsibilities as citizens. McEuen also shows that the wartime rhetoric of freedom, democracy, and postwar opportunity coexisted uneasily with the realities of a racially stratified society. The context of war created and reinforced whiteness, and McEuen explores how African Americans grappled with whiteness as representing the true American identity.
Using perspectives of cultural studies and feminist theory, Making War, Making Women offers a broad look at how women on the American home front grappled with a political culture that used their bodies in service of the war effort.
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