Yesterday, in honor of May Day, Anna North at Buzzfeed Shift posted a set of photos on the history of women in the (mostly U.S.-based) labor movement. One that I found particularly interesting was this 1918 poster urging women to be both thrifty and productive industrial workers as they play their role in winning World War I:
Note how patriotism is clearly connected to the idea of women having more opportunities:
To woman, the possession of a home, the opportunities of education for herself and her children, the betterment of her own social conditions, should always be the dominating thought.
But the poster simultaneously warns them against using their freedom for their own pleasure at the expense of the nation:
…restlessness urges the breaking up of home life and the shifting of occupations. It is for her to think well before jeopardizing the future for the sake of temporary gain…it is hers to show industrial stability and check the dangerous tendency to shift about and gamble with the future. America’s women can best serve American by being steadfast — bending to their task and holding it — and by saving all they can from today’s pay envelope for future needs.
So women are encouraged to think of themselves as empowered workers, with increased opportunities available to them, but only to the degree that this makes them reliable, productive workers and thrifty citizens, drawing on ideas of women’s special role in the home. Just as women are the “custodians” of their homes, they must also ensure “industrial stability” by sticking with their jobs for the good of the nation — a choice which might, of course, conflict with a woman’s efforts to improve her own or her family’s social conditions by, say, taking a job that pays more or has better working conditions. The poster encourages women to consider their opportunities, but ties those opportunities tightly to the common good of the nation and the family, ultimately warning women against too much pursuit of individual self-interest.