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.
Melissa A. McEuen is a professor of history at Transylvania University. She is the author of Seeing America: Women Photographers between the Wars, which received the 2000 Emily Toth Award for the best single work in women’s issues from the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations ix
1 All-American Masks: Creaming and Coloring the Wartime Face 6
2 Tender Hands and Average Legs: Shaping Disparate Extremities 56
3 Pleasant Aromas and Good Scents: Cleansing the Body Politic 100
4 Proper Attire and Streamlined Silhouettes: Clothing the Home Front Figure 133
5 Sacrifice and Agreeability: Cultivating Right Minds 178