7 Degrading Women Through Language and Imagery Within LIFE Magazine

Mia Dolan


Below is an article that was featured in the July 6, 1942 issue of LIFE magazine, which includes a combination of images and text.[1] This publication was released during the United States’ involvement in World War II. Women played a crucial role in contributing to the war effort on the homefront through working jobs in factories, offices, and practices, while (mainly) men were fighting on the battlefront. An impressive seven million women who had not previously been wage earners joined the workforce.[2] For the first time, the media created an image of a strong and capable woman on a large scale through figures such as Rosie the Riveter. However, this article from the same time period displays women in a more degrading manner.

This piece contains a great deal of material that can be analyzed in terms of how women are discussed and portrayed. First, we have the image of a woman (Marjorie Woodworth) being tossed into the air by a few soldiers on the beach. The caption says “You must enjoy being bounced in a blanket by soldiers”.[3] The language of this caption, along with the image itself, is extremely condescending. It implies that men are the strong forces fighting for the country while women just sit back and relax on the homefront. Additionally, the woman in the picture is photographed in a remarkably powerless position. She appears to have little control over herself (as shown by her body position and the shock on her face), and certainly less control than the soldiers who are flinging her into the air. This clearly demonstrates Woodworth as a subordinate to the soldiers below her.

Next is the written portion of the piece. This component gives an explanation of how a woman should entertain soldiers, making it seem like the duty of a young woman to go out and charm the soldiers as an acknowledgment for their hard work in army training. Rather than advertising for substantial, meaningful work that women can engage in to help their nation in the war, they push for the superficial importance of keeping the soldiers’ company and providing them with entertainment. The language used gives the impression that putting a smile on the faces of these dedicated soldiers is the least that a woman can do for her country. It is almost as if the article is saying that women do not have other skills to contribute. To take it one step further, if they do not engage in “this type of war effort”, then the assumed alternative is relaxing at home while the rest of the country is pitching in to win the war.[4]

There are a number of words and phrases within the text that have a demeaning connotation towards women, specifically in the sense that they are inferior to men. First, we have the phrase “For a girl to keep up with their [the soldiers’] fun is very hard work”.[5] While this sentence may be included to emphasize the tremendous energy that the soldiers hold, it gives off the implication that women have to “keep up” with men, and that women are always one step behind. This same undertone is exemplified in the next paragraph, which states “The young lady proving here that she can take it for Uncle Sam is 21-year-old Marjorie Woodworth of Hollywood”.[6] This sentence is implying that a woman must “prove” herself of being capable of competing on the same level as a man. LIFE also mentions Uncle Sam here, which is a significant name to include, as Uncle Sam represents many values that hold importance on a national level. Involving this substantial character signifies that it is a woman’s duty for the good of her nation to carry out the critical work of “entertaining” the soldiers. The next phrase that has a degrading connotation to it is “Whatever the boys did, Marjorie did, or tried to do”.[7] This again provides the readers with the undertone that women will never be capable of successfully doing the same jobs or activities as a man. However, this “hard” work does have its rewards in the form of “warm masculine appreciation”, because what greater benefit is there for a woman than attention from a male?[8] The mention of this “reward” is especially disappointing. Women at this time were being recruited for jobs in the workforce by propaganda that promoted the incentive of helping the United States win the war. The United States War Manpower Commission even put out a declaration of “Women Workers Will Win the War” to emphasize the vast importance of women bringing their skills to the workforce.[9] However, it appears as though the writer of the article in LIFE magazine believes that American women think that a greater incentive than winning the war is receiving male attention.

The last portion of the text that portrays a rather demeaning message of female inferiority is when the article discusses Woodworth’s upcoming movie. The exact phrase is “Though she is a person of increasing importance in the movie world – Hal Roach is releasing her first starring picture, The Devil With Hitler – Marjorie … ”.[10] First off, the mention of this movie is rather random and unnecessary, especially within such a short article. Nevertheless, the part that is especially triggering is the referral of Woodworth’s director Hal Roach. This simple sentence brings Woodworth’s achievement back to that of a man’s. The mention of the movie is irrelevant in the first place, however the mention of Hal Roach is even more insignificant, and it connects Woodworth’s accomplishments with Roach rather than her own hard work.

Overall, this demeaning language and imagery within this article contrasts from the more positive image that Rosie the Riveter. It is possible that articles like these contributed to the failure of lasting institutional change for women in the workforce. According to Sarah K. Murnen, degrading language in this sense reflects male power over women through objectification and subordination.[11] If publications like these perpetuate the thought that women are not to be taken seriously, there is little chance that society will be eager to bring about significant change.

LIFE Magazine (1942): Speaking of Pictures … Here is a Girl’s Guide For Entertaining Soldiers

What you see here is a new pattern of entertainment for girls who visit their soldier friends in U.S. Army camps. All over the country girls are finding it a patriotic pleasure to brighten the lives of these boys, but they are also finding it no pink tea.[12] Stiff training makes the boys husky.[13] They are full of vim.[14] They are full of fun. For a girl to keep up with their fun is very hard work. But this hard work has its rewards in the form of warm masculine appreciation.

The young lady proving here that she can take it for Uncle Sam is 21-year-old Marjorie Woodworth of Hollywood.[15] Marjorie was snapped by LIFE’s photographer while visiting some of her soldier friends stationed near a Southern California beach.[16] Though she is a person of increasing importance in the movie world – this month Hal Roach is releasing her first starring picture, The Devil With Hitler – Marjorie did not go Hollywood on the boys.[17] Instead of signing autographs or dining with officers, she jumped into her bathing suit like a good sport. Whatever the boys did, Marjorie did or tried to do. LIFE herewith presents these pictures as a guide to other girls involved in this type of war effort.

Mia Dolan is a second-year student at Wake Forest University. 

  1. “LIFE.” Time Inc., July 6, 1942. This is where my primary source comes from.
  2. McEuen, Melissa A. “Women, Gender, and World War II.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History, June 9, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.55.
  3. “LIFE.”
  4. “LIFE.”
  5. “LIFE.”
  6. “LIFE.”
  7. “LIFE.”
  8. “LIFE.”
  9. McEuen, “Women, Gender, and World War II.”
  10. “LIFE.”
  11. Murnen, Sarah K. “Gender and the Use of Sexually Degrading Language.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 24, no. 4 (December 2000): 319–27. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2000.tb00214.x.
  12. “Pink tea” is an informal way of referring to any trivial or silly social gathering, where usually the majority that attend are women (“Pink Tea Dictionary Definition | Pink Tea Defined.” Accessed November 12, 2019. https://www.yourdictionary.com/pink-tea.). This is another example of the language that is degrading towards women, suggesting that women regularly engage in gatherings that are unimportant and idiotic.
  13. Stiff training refers to the training that soldiers underwent at army camps in preparation for fighting on the war front for the United States. Training at these camps included constant drills, leadership lessons, and exercises to ensure extreme physical shape. It also included a variety of survival and combat training (“THE WAR . At War . Face of Battle . Training | PBS.” Accessed November 12, 2019. https://www.pbs.org/thewar/at_war_battle_training.htm.). Husky means big and strong, burly. (www.dictionary.com. “Definition of Husky | Dictionary.Com.” Accessed November 12, 2019. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/husky.). This word emphasizes the physical strength and manliness of the soldiers.
  14. Extreme energy and enthusiasm. This word usually has a connotation of toughness and strength; someone who is described as “full of vim” is usually thought of as strong and robust (“Definition of VIM.” Accessed November 12, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vim.). Again, emphasizes the strength and masculinity of the soldiers.
  15. Uncle Sam is a figure symbolizing the United States and all that it stands for, who first emerged during the War of 1812. Uncle Sam became a popular character in WWII propaganda (“Uncle Sam | History, Artist, Drawing, Propaganda, & Facts | Britannica.Com.” Accessed November 12, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Uncle-Sam.). Marjorie Woodworth was an American actress in the 1940s. Hal Roach “discovered” her when she was in college and Hollywood immediately looked to make her an it-girl, as she modeled for cosmetic and fashion companies. However, she failed to make a lasting impression and her acting career decreased until she retired from acting in 1947. She wrote columns about the US Navy during WWII and often visited army camp Camp Huachuca in Arizona to entertain the soldiers (“Marjorie Woodworth -- Hollywood Star.” Accessed November 12, 2019. http://www.woodworth-ancestors.com/woodworth-people/Marjorie-Woodworth/index.htm.).
  16. John Florea, who worked as a photographer for LIFE from 1941 to 1949, captured the two pictures of Woodworth. He was mainly a war photographer and spent time photographing on the battlefields during WWII. He also took pictures of stars of Hollywood, including Marilyn Monroe (“John Florea - Artists - Steven Kasher Gallery.” Accessed November 6, 2019. http://www.stevenkasher.com/artists/john-florea.).
  17. Hal Roach was a prevalent American director and producer who was active in the film industry from the 1910s to the 1990s. During WWII, Roach made many propaganda, morale, and training films (Encyclopedia Britannica. “Hal Roach | American Director and Producer.” Accessed November 12, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hal-Roach.). The Devil With Hitler is a short comedy film from 1942 in which the Devil is threatened to be replaced by Hitler in Hell unless the Devil can get Hitler to commit a good deed. This summary is placed in a footnote to emphasize its irrelevance to the article (The Devil with Hitler (1942) - IMDb. Accessed November 12, 2019. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034651/plotsummary.).

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