I have read that Rosie the Riveter is a symbol of the American woman who worked in factories instead of men during the Second World War.

She appears to be associated with the slogan “We Can Do It!” Is this expression still in use nowadays? I mean, do ordinary (American, in particular) people know who is it? Does it preserve its meaning?

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    That's somewhat of a cultural question, not really a language question. But yes, many people learn about it in school, just general WWII history or maybe feminist history. You'd have to be pretty old to know about it from the original ads though. – Mitch Aug 2 '12 at 2:25
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    I'm in the U.S., and I think my teenagers would recognize the image posted in the answer below as being from WW II, but I'm not sure they would know the name Rosie the Riveter. – JLG Aug 2 '12 at 3:19
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    I agree with JLG - adults are likely to recognize the phrase, but youngsters? Not so much. – Lynn Aug 2 '12 at 3:54
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    Most American teenagers don't know what World War 2 was, never mind who Rosie the Riveter was. :-) – Jay Aug 2 '12 at 6:25
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    I have edited the question slightly to emphasize its link to the "We Can Do It!" expression. – JAM Aug 2 '12 at 16:51

Oh yes, Rosie the Riveter is certainly well recognized in North America these days. This image is iconic:

enter image description here

and, although frequently associated with Rosie the Riveter, I'm surprised to learn in my research on these linked pages that she is not in fact a representation of Rosie the Riveter.

You ask about Rosie the Riveter as an expression. It isn't an expression at all but a cultural icon. It was also a hit song from 1942. The "We Can Do It!" expression in this image is associated today with Rosie. In a Google search for "We can do it" all the top hits are either to Rosie the Riveter directly, or indirectly via the poster. So "We Can Do It!" is an expression that has probably become bound to Rosie the Riveter.

Rosie the Riveter, and this image and expression in particular, are widely recognized in the US precisely because of the cultural products that come from that country containing Rosie's image/mythology. In remote northern Canada we're well acquainted with her, too, and I've seen the poster/notecard/fridge magnet in various urban kitchens throughout the country. However, as other users mentioned, it is possible or likely that young people in their teens and twenties don't recognize Rosie the Riveter nor associate the expression with her or with WWII.

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  • @J.R. thank you for the edit; it's the first time I've put a picture up here and it looked clumsy. – JAM Aug 2 '12 at 2:51
  • In North America or in the USA? Please also explain what the expression means and why you conclude that it is still in use today. – coleopterist Aug 2 '12 at 4:08
  • @coleopterist Rosie the Riveter, and this image in particular, appear, as user bib said in their answer, as symbols of women's power in posters and other cultural products, for example, those sold by the Syracuse Cultural Workers (syracuseculturalworkers.com) where a search for "Rosie the Riveter" brings up this image. – JAM Aug 2 '12 at 13:55
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    @coleopterist - have done so as per your suggestion. Not sure what happens next. – JAM Aug 2 '12 at 15:58
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    This would be great for history.SE – Mitch Aug 2 '12 at 17:54

Before WWII, significant numbers of women worked in light industry, such as clothing manufacture, but very few in heavy industry, such as airplane production. As large numbers of working aged men were drafted or enlisted, there was a shortage of labor in plant, and in particular, war industry.

Women were recruited to "man" the assembly lines. This was a dramatic cultural shift. The image of Rosie the Riveter was coined to both recognize those women contributing to the war effort and to rally support.

She appeared in numerous posters and a film was made as well.

The iconic image of the flexed muscle is still widely seen, currently on refrigerator magnets, as a symbol of female power. However many younger folks in the U.S. have no idea who Rosie was or why her role was significant.

Ironically, many women who worked in factories were displaced as men returned from war. The fact that women had successfully done jobs that previously were viewed only as "man's work" would eventually help women as they sought equal opportunity in the workforce, albeit decades later.

See this article.

SUPPLEMENT: Below is a poster with a female war effort worker who is usually identified as Rosie.

proud of rosie

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  • Great context +1 – JAM Aug 2 '12 at 13:47
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    @JAM - Thanks. I own a little seen original poster of Rosie with a male machinist and a sailor that I will try to post a picture of once I get home. – bib Aug 2 '12 at 13:57
  • Would be good to see! – JAM Aug 2 '12 at 13:59
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    @JAM The picture is up. – bib Aug 4 '12 at 17:48
  • Neat picture bib – JAM Aug 5 '12 at 2:04

"We can do it" in this context means "we can do a man's job" (riveting, heavy lifting, etc.). A few women even enlisted in the Women's Army Corps (WACs) or the naval WAVES, thereby paving the way for today's women to be part of the modern army.

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  • I always thought it was more of an "America can do it and win the war" kind of thing, but I am mostly going by my interpretation of the propaganda. Sadly, the jobs and independence women gained during the war were mostly lost when the soldiers came home. – MichaelF Aug 27 '12 at 12:00
  • @MichaelF: The women were displaced by returning soldiers who had WON THE WAR. (But paved the way for their daughters to get good jobs). – Tom Au Aug 28 '12 at 13:47
  • Uh yes, I'm not disputing the fact but in the long run the female independence achieved in those few years was short-lasting for them. There are winners and losers in each side – MichaelF Aug 29 '12 at 10:23

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