women workforce

Ester Boserup (1910-1999) was a Danish economist, specializing in agricultural development. She was highly influential in the discussion on the role of women in the workforce and human development, as well as better professional and educational opportunities.

She started work for the Danish government, but soon began a collaboration with the United Nations, and developed several important theories on the relation between agriculture and population. She wrote the 1970 book Woman’s Role in Economic Development, highlighting the vital contribution of women in the global economy.

Women in the Ordnance Corps, 1945

The number of women in the American workforce increased exponentially after the United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941. Women filled critical wartime industry positions left vacant by men fighting in Europe and the Pacific. Pictured here are civilian and military employees working in the small arms plant of the Curtis Bay Ordnance Depot, Curtis Bay, Maryland. The women in this photograph operated machinery that affixed .50 caliber bullets to easily transportable ammunition “belts,” which were used during World War II to feed heavy automatic weapons. Women who took up these types of manufacturing jobs – think “Rosie the Riveter” - were essential to the war effort, as they produced critical ammunition and supplies that helped ensure an Allied victory.

Interested to learn more about Curtis Bay Ordnance Depot, and the activities of the Ordnance Corps during World War II? Check out our online catalog at: archives.gov/research/catalog and make an appointment to view our holdings at the National Archives at Philadelphia by calling (215) 305-2044 or emailing us at Philadelphia.archives.gov.

Today’s post was written by Samuel Limneos, Archives Technician at the National Archives at Philadelphia.


3SC 18-024-576-4 Curtis Bay Ordnance Depot. Small Arms Plant. 13 Dec. 1945; Photographs; Box 1; Management Improvement Files 1952-1953, Curtis Bay Storage Facility; Record Group 156: Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance; National Archives at Philadelphia. (Record Entry ID: PH-6022) (Series NAID: 638784).


It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! One of the biggest “hot topics” of today is the unrealistic beauty standards for women. We are constantly surrounded by Photoshopped images and celebrities who spend a vast amount of time and money sculpting their bodies to “perfection.” Though the discussion is at the forefront now, the topic is nothing new. One of the most iconic instances of these near-impossible beauty ideals is the infamous turn of the 20th Century Gibson Girl.

The Gibson Girl is named for her creator, artist Charles Dana Gibson. In the 1890s, Gibson worked for LIFE magazine, where his girl first appeared. As she gained popularity, his work was soon printed in all the major magazines. There is speculation that the girl was modeled after his wife or his sister, but according to Gibson, she was not one girl, she was every girl, and that’s what made her beautiful. He saw her as the embodiment of the American melting pot- she was a combination of countless nationalities and races (of course, in this era, that still meant a very pale caucasian). In a way, the Gibson Girl was the first “All-American Girl.”

Gibson believed that the more races were mixed together, the more beautiful women would become, as he predicted only the best features from each would be passed down. He theorized that as a result, women of the future would be far more beautiful than the women of his day. In his drawings, Gibson combined what he saw as the best features: delicate facial features, soft hair in the latest bouffant style (but still with natural wisps and tendrils falling gracefully aside) a full chest and hips paired with a slender waist, positioned into the highly corseted S-bend. She was perfect, but not absurdly so, in a way that felt almost attainable.She wore the latest fashions, but was not at the level of the royals whom Europeans often turned to for beauty standards.

If her so-close-yet-so-far looks were not enough to attract admiration, Gibson gave her a personality to match. She was active and independent, playing sports, going off to work, not desperate for the help of a man. She was playfully teasing towards men, for how could they possibly hold the interest of such a woman? She did get swept up in romance, though, becoming a wife and mother. She was not content keeping house, though, and continued to spend her days with women as equally tenacious as she. Yet she was not political or controversial, steering clear of the rising suffragette movement, or stating any strong opinions of women’s rights. She was the perfect blend of modern and traditional.

The Gibson Girl was the perfect embodiment of “Women want to be her, men want to be with her.” It is due to this mass appeal that so many women strove to physically emulate the Gibson Girl. After all, who wouldn’t want to be the girl that so many people adored and admired? Of course, creating the look in real life was not nearly as simple as it appeared. The S-bend corset became extremely popular, yet this corset style forced the body into arguably the most unnatural shape of any other corset throughout history. Reality meant that it was near impossible for women to adopt the relaxed and care-free attitude of the Gibson Girl.

There were a few actress and celebrities who came close to the ideal, several of whom actually served as models for Charles Gibson, most notably Camille Clifford, whose near-perfect hourglass figure was the drawings come to life. Of course, this only enhanced the idea that the look was attainable for the average woman. Just like every beauty ideal, though, the Gibson Girl look eventually fell from favor. By the 1910s, society was shifting. The women’s rights movement was gaining momentum, catapulted by women joining the workforce en masse. The Gibson Girl was soon viewed as too proper, uptight, and locked in tradition. However, to this day the image remains the icon of the Edwardian age.

Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!


Olivia will be honoured at the 42nd annual Gracie Awards.  Each year, the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation “celebrates female luminaries by recognizing their outstanding achievements across new and traditional media platforms.” The 2017 gala — which supports the AWMF’s educational programs and scholarship campaigns that benefit women in media — is set for Tuesday, June 6th at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. Among the topics that will be addressed at the gala are immigration, reproduction rights, race relations and women in the workforce.

Olivia is honoured for her performance as Angela Burr in The Night Manager


Hi everyone! At this point, I’m approximately half-way done with my paper (it’s over 12 pages at this point, woah), and since I plan to get it published in a scholarly journal, I won’t be posting it on here. But I did give a presentation based on my research at Simmons College’s undergraduate symposium this past Wednesday.

Subjects of my research

Agent Carter

The ABC series Marvel’s Agent Carter, which is a spin-off of the Captain America film series focusing on Agent Peggy Carter, a skilled agent for the Strategic Scientific Reserve and the right-hand-woman/love interest of Captain America, as she struggles to prove herself in the sexist society of post-World War II America.

Sailor Moon

A Japanese magical girl anime and manga series that follows 14 year-old Usagi Tsukino, a.k.a. Sailor Moon, and her friends who upon awakening with the power to transform into a team of superheroines, known as the Sailor Guardians, fight for love and justice in order to protect the Solar System.

What is weaponized femininity?

A trope commonly found in female action heroines wherein their femininity is retained alongside masculine demonstrations of physical or mental strength, or functions as something to be manipulated as a tool of empowerment.

Its juxtaposition of masculine power with traditional femininity presents the feminine and the feminine-subject as active agents capable of undermining patriarchal power as well as cultural assumptions of girls and young women.

Offers resistance to what feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey called the “active-male/passive-female dichotomy” of gendered power on film, wherein men are depicted in active roles that bestow them with agency within a narrative, whereas  women in film serve as objectified, sexually titillating spectacles for “the male gaze” of the male audience.

Although hyperfeminine action heroines and female characters who manipulate the terms of their femininity have been the subject of feminist media scholars for years, there is currently no academic scholarship on the trope of weaponized femininity itself. This is because the term “weaponized femininity” is a neologism that began circulating around the feminist blogosphere around 2013. Thus, I was tasked with giving this concept validity as a trope in and of itself.

Component #1 - Masquerade

Female characters use or manipulate the terms of their femininity in order to gain power, navigate through oppressive power structures, or subvert patriarchal authority.

Draws from theorist Joan Riviere’s idea of femininity as strategic masquerade, wherein “womanliness…[can] be assumed and worn as a mask” to hide a woman’s possession of masculine strength.

Often enacted by superheroines, female secret agents, and female assassins, who perform a carefully constructed feminine identity in order to infiltrate the unsuspecting male sphere.

Component #2 - Destability of Gender Assumptions

Wherein hyperfeminine female characters demonstrate physical and/or mental strength on par with men.

The physical power and mental strength of these feminine subjects stands in opposition to cultural assumptions of female passivity,  refuting assumptions of appropriate gender roles by unifying feminine appearance and masculine toughness.

This iteration of weaponized femininity is frequently found in the young girl action heroine, who offers transgressive potential through her unique combination of physical power with stereotypical youth and femininity.

While the young girl action heroine has been featured throughout Western media ― The Powerpuff Girls (1998 - 2005), Hanna (2011),  and The Professional (1994) ― she has proven to be a cultural phenomenon throughout Japanese anime and manga in the form of “the beautiful fighting girl” (sentō bishōjo), young heroines whose “pure and lovable girlishness remain intact” while they do battle and fight to save the world.

Component #3 - Empowered Femininity

The powers of these heroines are characterized as feminine or depicted as stemming from femininity.

Constitutes a reclamation of femininity as a site of empowerment, reinscribing traditionally feminine characteristics with the active power commonly attributed to masculinity.

“The heroines themselves are empowered by their femininity, their weapons and superpowers as pink and girly as Barbie’s accessories, but as lethal as Rambo with heavy artillery strapped to his bulging chest. ”

Divisiveness of Criticism

However, feminist criticism towards these feminine action heroine attests to the weaponized femininity trope having a “double stake” in simultaneously resisting and reinforcing Mulvey’s active-male/passive-female dichotomy

The degree in which these hyperfeminine heroines are coded as sexually desirable objects sees the trope working in favor of the male gaze, presenting their resistance to female passivity as “erotic spectacle” and turning them into “sexist window-dressing” for male audiences.

The empowerment strategy contained in weaponized femininity also bears likeness to the neoliberal “tropes of freedom and choice” contained in postfeminist ideology. Thus, the trope often takes the form of the depoliticized, market-oriented Girl Power narrative that presents surface-level feminist rhetoric in commercial, apolitical ways.

Zack Snyder’s (Dir. Batman vs. Superman) 2011 film Sucker Punch was subject to criticism for the highly sexualized ways in which its heroines were depicted. Variety’s Peter Debruge called the film “misleadingly positioned as female empowerment despite clearly having been hatched as fantasy fodder for 13-year-old guys.”  

My Argument

As valid as these criticisms are, most of them fail to take into account the influence that female-authorship and female-readership/audience have on the trope’s images. Male agency over these narratives is assumed, and thus depictions of female sexuality constructed by female creators can be conflated with sexual objectification.

Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze specifically notes that these sexist images of women are the products of male production and the privileging of male audiences.

Furthermore, for feminist scholarship on Japanese anime (particularly Sailor Moon), theorists tend to apply strictly Western concepts of gender and feminist theory (such as Girl Power) onto these culturally Eastern narratives. This also ignores the fact that there is a rich history of female authorship to be found in Japanese manga.

I my paper I examine how female authorship and an explicit focus towards female audiences influence depictions of weaponized femininity, which I propose give female characters greater agency, subverts sexual objectification, and reinserts feminist gender politics back into the trope itself.

Weaponized Femininity in Agent Carter 

A significantly female production that centralizes female creative power, giving female-agency over a female-led narrative. Not only was Hayley Atwell integral to to show’s development but she’s an outspoken feminist herself who’s emphasized the political nature of her character.

Additionally, two of the three showrunners are women - Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas.

Agent Carter is also the first series within the Marvel Cinematic Universe to focus on a female heroine, and was also developed out of response to feminist criticism that the Marvel series was sidelining female characters. To this date, this series and Netflix’s Jessica Jones are the only two female-led series to exist.

While Peggy Carter’s role as Captain America first love-interest in the comics was minor, she was expanded on into a supporting role in the film. In the series, her male-authored history is challenged under female-authorship, which gives her the leading role. In this way, you can say that women really reclaimed Peggy as their own!

The show’s 1946 setting sees the trope politicized against post-war sexism and misogyny, at a time when women were being forced back into the home and gender roles were being re-established.

Despite her credentials, Peggy is dismissed by her male peers at the S.S.R., who demote her to secretarial duties and exclude her from field work.

In order to clear the name of her War-friend Howard Stark, Peggy is forced to use her femininity as masquerade in order to navigate institutional sexism and conduct her own investigations.

The show’s emphasis on post-war sexism simultaneously serves to provide a metacommentary on the erasure of women from the comic book industry, which began after men returned from the War and pushed women out of the workforce. This resulted in the cancellation of many superheroine comics and superheroine characters being demoted to either love-interests or minor, unsuper roles.

Similarly, Peggy is dismissed by her male colleagues as nothing but Captain America’s “gal”, and the erasure of women from comics is paralleled via the character Betty Carver, Peggy’s fictionalized counterpart on the radio show “The Captain America Adventure Program,” which demotes her role in Captain America’s story the core and powerful ally he revered to a gushing, damsel-in-distress.

Weaponized Femininity in Sailor Moon 

Created by Naoko Takeuchi, a female manga artist, who created the series specifically for young girls, because she saw a lack of female characters in the male-dominated super sentai (Japanese superhero team) genre.

Is a genre-hybrid of shōjo (manga aimed towards young women), mahō shōjo (magical girl), and super sentai. But falls in the realm of what Japanese psychologist and media scholar Saitō Tamaki calls the “beautiful fighting girl” character.

Takeuchi consistently places the experiences of Japanese girls and young women at the story’s forefront, reflecting shōjo’s history of politicizing girl’s experiences (sexuality, gender, etc.).  

A history of female-authorship exists in manga. Specifically, the “beautiful fighting girl” figure that Sailor Moon represents originates from shōjo.

Around the late 70s and early 80s, a new audience demographic for these stories and the beautiful fighting girl arose ― male otakus, or adult male hyper-fans of anime and manga, who came to sexualize these young female characters.

This resulted in many beautiful fighting girl characters and series to become sexualized in order to appease this audience and their consumer interests (such as anime merchandise).

Japanese Gender Politics

Once a patriarchal structured society, Japan in the early 70s saw a change of gender roles as women were given greater social freedoms, such as the ability to make their own marriage decisions.

However, this resulted in a sense of male anxiety and emasculation, and men began to feel socially disempowered relative to women’s increasing social status.

As Saitō Tamaki notes, this change in gender roles informed a sense of sexual entitlement and fetishization of young girls, who are still relatively bound within Japan’s age-based social system (one which expects conformity from children and prioritizes seniority.  

Thus, the beautiful fighting girl character was “hijacked” from female authors and female audiences because her youthful femininity and fictional nature allowed her to be easily fetishized.

The agency over the narrative allotted by female authorship sees the trope used to subvert the Madonna/whore dichotomy, as Sailor Moon’s power is sourced in her “pureness of heart” and yet, while being a clutzy, crybaby of a teenage girl, she’s allowed to be a sexual being and have ownership over her own desires.  

The very concept of weaponized femininity is also queered through the number of characters who express/engage in non-heterosexual love (the lesbian relationship between Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune) or are depicted as having a fluid gender-identity (Sailor Uranus and the gender-bending Sailor Starlights).

When asked why she included such a non-fetishized depiction of lesbians in the series, Naoko Takeuchi stated, “There’s not only heterosexual love, but there also can be a homosexual love, in this case between two girls.“

So, not only does this queerness work to destabilize the notion of female essentialism in weaponized femininity, but this form of queer representation remains radical even in 2016 Japan, which is still very behind in terms of extending anti-discrimination and marital rights to LGBTQ citizens.

Things I learned from AP Euro this year:
  • people don’t like people who are different (Wars of Religion, Reconquista, Inquisition)
  • women can do everything men can do - and better (Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, women in the workforce during WWI and WWII, women in the Soviet Union)
  • you can be successful and people still won’t like you (Otto von Bismarck, Wilhelm II, and the “dropping of the pilot”)
  • when you forgive someone, forgive them completely (Treaty of Versailles, The War Guilt Clause, German-French conflict)
  • stand your ground (appeasement, Munich conference, Hitler’s eventual empire)
  • teamwork is safer (North Atlantic Pact, Treaty of Rome, Common Market, Maastricht Treaty, European Union)
  • …but you should never completely trust the other person (Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact)
  • good ideals become twisted over time (Karl Marx, Marxian communism, Lenin, Stalin, socialism)
  • when things go wrong, you can always start over (French Revolution, National Assembly, Legislative Assembly, National Convention, Directory, Consulate, Empire, 2nd French Republic, 3rd French Republic, 4th French Republic, 5th French Republic)

So regardless of what score I get on the exam today, I want to acknowledge that, on the whole, I think I really loved this class.

To All the Daughters Out There

To all of the daughters out there.
We as women
who came before you
who weren’t even considered citizens.
So much so
that we could’t own property.
but were property
owned by men. 
We as women
were told our place
in the world
was to be the maker of the home
to pop out babies
and raise the babies.

Young girls learned
that nothing more was ever expected of them.
So little girls quit going to school
to fulfill their destiny
as a homemaker.

We as women
finally had the opportunity
to find our place
in the workplace
while our husbands went off to war
we were no longer forced to stay
inside the home
and on the farm
we finally had that freedom to work
but it didn’t matter what wages we were being paid
and how poor the conditions were. 
It didn’t matter if we got any time off to take care of our little babies
and to heal our bodies
from the labor of love 
of pushing out a baby
through our vaginas. 
And when we finally felt
it was okay for us to go back to work,
not that we were okay inside
but because we were afraid we’d lose our job
for taking too much time off
to raise the next generation
and to care for their needs. 
Those first few months,
and years 
set the foundation for the rest of a child’s life.

When we went back to work
we were thrown to the side
with no opportunity for advancement.
Why must we be punished
for doing something as grand
as raising tomorrow’s 
tomorrow’s workforce:
and presidents.

Women and children
help grow our world. 

To all the daughters out there,
I hope you can live in a world
where your strength is recognized
and celebrated.
I hope that you and your babies will be given the time you so desperately need. 
Without question.
Without retribution. 
I hope that you won’t have to kick and scream as much as we do.

Women in the workforce, minority workers, students who work and heterosexual white male workers structurally possess the power to bring capitalist society to a screeching stop. They also possess the knowledge and skills necessary to run industry and services under socialism. Housewives, students, unemployed minorities and unemployed white men do not possess such a power or ability.

Hmmmmm I dunno about this, on like, multiple levels…

It is also time to stop giving lip service to the idea that there are no battles left to be fought for women in America, that women’s rights have already been won. It is ridiculous to tell girls to keep quiet when they enter a new field, or an old one, so the men will not notice they are there. In almost every professional field, in business and in the arts and sciences, women are still treated as second-class citizens. It would be a great service to tell girls who plan to work in society to expect this subtle, uncomfortable discrimination - tell them not to be quiet, and hope it will go away, but fight it. A girl should not expect special privileges because of her sex, but neither should she ‘adjust’ to prejudice and discrimination.
—  Betty Friedan

The STEM diversity gap

The U.S. is quickly learning why diversity within STEM careers is a critical element to competing on a global level. We’ve seen that the ability to approach a problem from multiple angles is key when it comes to quicker breakthroughs, safer solutions, and more intuitive technology.

But even with recent efforts to bring women and minorities into these rapidly growing industries, the change is still slow-moving. A 2014 study conducted by Change the Equation found that the STEM workforce is no more diverse today than it was in 2001. We still have a long way to go before these careers better represent our country’s population.

Keep reading


It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT time! Last week I gave an overview of the history of trousers (read here.) Today I’m going to talk about how pants became womenswear in the western world. While there were rare cases of  women wearing trousers in the ancient world, it was not until relatively recently that women wearing trousers became an acceptable fashion.

In the early 1850s, there was a very small group of women who advocated for a bifurcated (aka, divided in two) garment for women. This was  during the early days of the crinoline trend, when layers of petticoats made skirts extremely heavy and restricting.  Activist Libby Miller promoted wearing full, loose trousers cinched at the ankles, similar to the Turkish style. She introduced the garment to Amelia Bloomer, editor of the first women’s newspaper, The Lily. Bloomer loved the garment, wore it often, and advocated for it in her newspaper. Thus, these loose trousers were dubbed “bloomers.” However, once the cage crinoline was created, Bloomer declared that was change enough, and so abandoned the bloomer trouser. The garment did not disappear completely, though. A modified version became a popular undergarment, allowing women to adopt reform without shocking polite society.

As technology and society developed towards the end of the 19th Century, there were many who recognized that women’s fashion needed to shift along with it. In the early 1890s, the bicycle became extremely popular, as the “safety bicycle” was invented, and costs came down. It allowed women an independence and freedom they had yet to possess. Yet cycling in a long skirt was extremely difficult, and so the newly formed Lady Cyclists’ Association promoted the Bicycle Suit, a menswear inspired garment with full, knee-length trousers. They became very popular, yet were still considered shocking by many, and scandalous when worn outside of cycling.

It wasn’t until the 1910s that it became somewhat acceptable for women to wear trousers outside of active wear. During World War I, when nearly all the working-age men were off fighting, women took their place in the working world. Those who had jobs in factories, and other such hard labor positions, altered their husbands trousers to wear while working. This was both for the
freedom of movement trousers allowed, as well as to save money and preserve their skirts for social situations. Even during this time, a woman wearing trousers in public was still considered scandalous. When the war ended, there were a bold few who were not so quick to give up the freedom which trousers allowed.

Throughout the 1920s and 30s, it became increasingly common for a woman to wear trousers for leisure. Women more commonly participated in sports, and the rise of the aviator meant an increasing number of female celebrities seen wearing trousers. This was also the case with the rise of the Hollywood Movie
Star, with actresses such as Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn frequently photographed in trousers.

When World War II hit, the situation from WWI repeated itself, with women entering the workforce and wearing their husband’s altered clothing. This time, however, it occurred to an even greater extent, with vast material shortages and clothing rations. This solidified trousers’ position in women’s wardrobes. Though they were still only accepted in casual situations, they continued to increase in popularity throughout the next several decades. There was an additional boost in the 1960s when Yves Saint Laurent introduced the formal trouser. Despite the development, though, women’s trousers are still mainly acceptable only in more casual situations to this day. As we know, though, fashion is constantly

Want to learn more about the history of women wearing pants? Check out these books:

Women in Pants, by Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig

100 Years of Fashion, by Cally Blackman

Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!

Sweden now has a mansplaining hotline for women in the workforce to call

There are myriad ways that women can experience mansplaining in their lives, but it’s perhaps most prevalent in the workplace. “Mansplaining” is what happens when a man explains to a women something she already knows, usually in a subtly (or not-so-subtly) condescending way. Fortunately or unfortunately, the line has been set up for a specific reason and may not be around forever.