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Pabst Blue Ribbon Art billboard on 1-35 in Austin, Texas

Rosie the Riveter drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. There are so many things wrong with this I just have to post about it. I don’t often drive up and down I-35 here in Austin because it’s a congested highway and there are alternate routes I prefer, but the past weekend the Austin International Poetry Festival has been going on and I have driven by this billboard numerous times to access events about town.

Every time I see it, it annoys me. Why?

It takes Rosie the Riveter, who was originally used as government propaganda to “get the girls into the war effort” until the troops came home back in WWII and uses her for selling beer. It takes Rosie who has been used more recently as a feminist icon and reduces the issue of women’s equality to beer drinking.

Women of color and working class women had always worked, but even there, the division of labor and difference in pay between men and women was noticeable. Rosie was a fictional character, created to promote the idea that women would be loyal, patriotic workers who could do men’s work until those men came home from the war.

Many of the women who took those jobs were already in the workforce, but moved to these higher paying factory jobs. Patriotism encouraged women, but ultimately the pay and experience were the ultimate influences. This movement into the labor force was something that never went back to how it had been. Sure, when the war was over, many women went back to being homemakers and society pushed that. Many others were moved back into their lower paying jobs, but still the world was different because of women having been in those jobs. Essentially Rosie pushed women into the workforce in a different way, one that proved women’s ability and worth, paving the way for equal pay and labor duties.

Rosie has been used by feminists over the years as a symbol for equality. Her image represents the hope and possibility for equal pay in the workplace, something that still is not happening in our world today. It represents the need for a woman’s right to work in the same jobs as men if they wish to do so. Women still are not able to do certain jobs in the military and in other realms societally deemed fit only for men, regardless of ability.

Rosie represents women having equal rights, women being equally represented in government, and women being able to participate fully in society in equal standing with men. This equality inevitably leads to the eradication of gender based violence.

So to have Rosie the Riveter on a Pabst Blue Ribbon billboard is insulting to an entire movement- it works perfectly reducing the fight for women’s equality to the right to drink beer. And bad beer, but that’s beside the point.

This is not art, it is misogyny. I’m sure Austin isn’t the only place this billboard is up and it’s not the only offensive billboard I’ve ever seen, it’s just one I have to pass in the middle of my city. Stop trying to reframe the issue of women’s equality as trivial. Take it down Pabst!

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