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Thanks to Beyonce, Rosie is feminism's new icon

By Gillian Orr

With her red headscarf, brown curl and determined expression, Rosie the Riveter is the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment. Now Beyonce has posted a picture to Instagram of herself dressed up as the Second World War poster girl. It quickly became the most popular photo on her account to date, amassing more than a million 'likes'.

Rosie emerged in the 1940s to cheer on women who replaced male workers who had gone to war, and has captivated us ever since. The term first appeared in a 1942 song about an energetic female assembly worker, and any number of Roses, Rosies and Rosalinds who worked at aircraft manufacturers have been attributed as the inspiration.

The famous picture, however, is said to be of Geraldine Doyle, who was working as a metal presser in Ann Arbor when a photographer visited. The image made its way to the graphic artist J Howard Miller, who reimagined it as a poster for Westinghouse Electric Company.

Doyle discovered that she had appeared in the posters only in the 1980s, when they started to be used in connection with women's equality in the workplace. They subsequently became associated with feminism, and the image was incorrectly referred to as Rosie the Riveter. It has stuck ever since.

"It's become such an important image," says Deborah Coughlin, a former editor of the Feminist Times. "It shows a woman who is powerful, strong and working in a man's world. I'm not surprised that Beyonce wants to embody all the aspects of that image because that's what she's trying to get across in her career."

Bey joins a number of other women who have dressed up as Rosie in recent years. Pink, Parks and Recreation's Leslie Knope, and Marge Simpson have all donned the denim shirt and raised their arm in solidarity with female struggle.

Emily Reynolds, who runs the feminist blog Diet of Broken Biscuits, was so taken with Rosie that she recently had her tattooed alongside the word "feminist" on her thigh.

"I thought that she was a beautiful way to represent my feminist beliefs," says Reynolds. "I love the 'power stance' she's doing; I feel like it really communicates something basic about feminism, even to someone who might not know who Rosie is. I know a little bit about her but it's less the specifics and more what she symbolises."

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