Images of Femininity in American World War I Posters

TitleImages of Femininity in American World War I Posters
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsJames, Pearl
EditorJames, Pearl
Book TitlePicture This: World War I Posters and Visual Culture
Pagination273 - 311
PublisherUniversity of Nebraska Press

War posters have been described alternately as portraying “thoroughly traditional” roles for women and as the site of a breakthrough for an entirely new figure, the “Emancipated Girl.” The author of this book chapter argues that they vary “to the point of self-contradiction.” Even after reducing the question of woman’s place to two dimensions and confining it to the boundaries of a poster, it remains difficult to resolve. Looking at the variety of war posters in which women appear, one is immediately struck by both the sheer number of them and the range of femininities they portray. They offer selective and idealized images of American womanhood. Together, these idealized female figures did the symbolic work of selling the war.  But for the author they do more. She argues that American World War I posters reflect more radical possibilities for female subjectivity. Some testify to the important and new roles real women took up during the war. The posters that stake new claims for women as workers and contributors to the war effort are undoubtedly fewer in number. However, contradictions in and among images of femininity, read within the context of their historical moment, signal that the category of “woman” was incoherent and unstable, and thus malleable during World War I.

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