A common joke comparing Canada to America is that Canadians are like Americans but without a gun. While this joke is supposed to be a dig at American gun control policy, it can also be applied to the overall stereotypes of the two countries: America being an aggressive and powerful nation and Canada being its more modest neighboring counterpart. World War II demonstrated this observation when the United States was a main Allied Power, and Canada was certainly involved in the war but played a smaller and less recognized role. This was partially due to the difference in the size of the nations but can also be credited to the differing attitudes towards the war each country took. According to The National Museum of American History, in 1942 America, Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company produced the famous “Rosie the Riveter” poster (“We Can Do It!”). Meanwhile in Canada, a flyer produced by the Canadian Red Cross was floating around. These specific examples of war propaganda from two different countries portray their difference in attitudes, despite being advertisements for organizations with slightly varying goals, in terms of the type of civic engagement they are trying to promote. Both the American Westinghouse and Canadian Red Cross posters showcase women on the homefront to exploit the kairos of the time period, but vary in the type of woman portrayed and the theme exhibited through ideologies, visual aspects, and emotions drawn out, falling in line with the stereotypes of the nation each originated in.
Despite the geographical difference in the context of these posters, the rhetorical situations are very similar. The exigence was the war and the need for help on the home front; the audience was composed of civilians (mostly women) left at home by friends and family fighting in the war; and the constraints were the effects of the war and the previously upheld notion that women do not belong in the workforce. However, it is apparent that the difference between the women’s rights movements in Canada versus the United States at the time of WWII was the extent to which the movement was progressed. This difference is demonstrated by pointing out that Quebec became the last Canadian province to allow women to vote in 1940 (Strong-Boag). Meanwhile, American women had already been voting for about twenty years, which, put simply, shows that the women’s rights movement was further developed in the U.S. than in Canada. According to “Women and War”, “…the temporary nature of women’s contributions during the First and Second World Wars ensured that their wartime efforts did not challenge the established system and that they reverted to conventional female roles after hostilities ended. In war, women’s labour was essential, but in peace it was expendable” (Chenier et al.) Therefore, in America, the audience of this poster consisted of women who were motivated to get and stay involved in the workforce; whereas, Canadian women were motivated to contribute during times of war but then went back to their typical roles when the war ended without putting up a fight.
Regardless of the specifics, these posters were clearly produced during a time of emerging ideas about society, which extends the opportunity for kairos to be presented. The timing given the rhetorical situation provided the exact right time for both of these posters to be produced and displayed. Kairos is demonstrated in these posters by symbolizing the new and contemporary idea that women could enter the workforce. On both these posters, it is a woman, not a man, who is portrayed as working, which was unconventional for both Canada and the United States. First, the use of a woman directly communicates to the women that made up most of the audiences of these two posters due to the fact that many of the countries’ men were overseas fighting. Second, the use of a working woman draws on the growing encouragement of women to take over jobs previously done by men.
While the Westinghouse poster more obviously generates a motivation in the women viewing it with the brawnier woman featured, the Canadian Red Cross still subtly fits the feminist attitude of the time by emphasizing that the nurse featured is also a strong and able-bodied working woman. However, the roles of the women portrayed are very different and mirror the stage that each country is at in terms of women’s rights movements. The woman featured on the Westinghouse poster, who also comes to be known as “Rosie the Riveter,” appears to be a woman working in a factory or some other blue collar job that requires physical labor. She holds a stern expression on her soot-covered face, signifying a determined and persistent mindset. Given that her body language is holding a fist and making a muscle, she also portrays aggression and toughness. All of these qualities were important for all the women in America who were working hard to fulfill men’s jobs during the war—the same women who would fight to keep those jobs later on in history. On the other hand, the woman featured on the Canadian Red Cross poster is a clean and uniformed nurse, the face of the Red Cross Society. Her expression is neutral and calm, signifying that she is simply doing her duty without much of an opinion at all. Given that her body language is her arms extended and welcoming to donations, she portrays that asking for help makes no blow to her pride. All of these qualities are typical of a vulnerable woman who is fulfilling her wartime role without striving to change the stereotype, as could be found in Canada at the time.
Besides the women featured, the other visual aspects, differing between the two posters, are also utilized to portray the war attitude of each country. The Westinghouse poster displays bright, eye-catching colors and very large and bold font for the only text “WE CAN DO IT” (Westinghouse Electric Corporation). They also focused more on illustrative components rather than text. This choice of a capturing image, vivid colors, and short but noticeable text advances their theme of exciting motivated American women. On the contrary, the Canadian Red Cross poster takes a more humble approach of explaining through paragraphs of text why people should donate. They also use repetition of the Red Cross image to create a visual representation of their organization’s name. The poster’s background fading red to black concocts a dark and somber theme for the poster.
The appeal to emotion is a strong element of the Westinghouse and Canadian Red Cross posters and is derived from the themes portrayed by the visual elements. The Canadian Red Cross poster evokes the feelings of sadness and desperation brought on by the war. The poster draws out sadness by mentioning war horrors such as casualty lists, wounded and maimed soldiers in hospitals, and homeless orphans. The poster draws out desperation through the use of language that implies urgency and a sense of last resort. They use words and phrases like “vital,” “there is no one else to do the job,” and “we must see them through” (Canadian Red Cross). Towards the bottom of the poster, pathos is conclusively addressed with the strategic language in the line, “We ask you to open your hearts and purses, giving to the limit of your ability” (Canadian Red Cross). This poster tugs on heartstrings of Canadians with the assumption that it will be proceeded by an emotional response.
While the Canadian Red Cross is tugging on heartstrings in their poster, the Westinghouse poster from America tugs on the optimism and excitement that accompanies a war. This poster intends to encourage women to get out into the workforce and provide the industry labor essential to supplying the military. To do this, they sensationalized feminism in a way that actually changed the mentality of women in general. The figure in this poster became an icon of the American woman who worked in factories during WWII as a result of the emotional response that it triggered in women. The appeal to encouraging women into the workplace is certainly a distinguishing characteristic of this poster; however, it also transforms the attitude towards the war overall. The aggressive and motivated facial expression and body language of the woman on the poster reflects the inner desire of all Americans to finish and win the war.
The posters further differentiate themselves by country through the variance of the ideologies portrayed. The Westinghouse poster invokes the American ideology of “Go Big or Go Home,” to use a contemporary phrase. This poster is very aggressive and tough, which was an element of the attitude towards this war that the American people could relate to. The Canadian Red Cross poster plays on a more modest ideology that even the smallest action can make a difference, which happens to be a reflection of the nation’s size at the time. Clearly, the Canadian people viewing this poster are not directly serving in the war, but they can still feel like they are contributing even if they are merely donating. These differing ideologies are specific to each country and, therefore, work uniquely towards the common goal of gaining support.
The Canadian Red Cross poster and Westinghouse’s “We Can Do It!” poster from World War II reflect the attitudes of their home country by employing kairos, visuals, pathos, and ideologies to call on citizens to do their part during the time of war. Although differing greatly in their approach, both posters achieve their common purpose of stimulating support for their war effort. Nevertheless, that is not to say that the support expected from women, or even the whole nation, was the same for Canada and the United States. Clearly, the United States promoted and gave off a brash war position as Canada was not as aggressive. While it may seem presumptuous to apply these stereotypes to the entire nations in general based off of two simple artifacts, it would be insensible to ignore the recurring theme, not only in these posters, but also in history and today’s world, that the United States airs a self-asserted stance whereas Canada positions itself more meekly. After all, it is said to this day that Americans are the ones with their guns out.
Canadian Red Cross. “The Need Grows As Victory Nears.” Advertisement. Pinterest. Canadian Red Cross, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.
Chenier, Nancy Miller, et al. “Women and War.” Historica Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2016. Web. 10 Oct. 2016
Strong-Boag, Veronica. “Women’s Suffrage in Canada.” Historica Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2016. Web. 10 Oct. 2016
“We Can Do It!” The National Museum of American History, The Smithsonian Institution, 2016. Web. 26 Sep. 2016.
Westinghouse Electric Corporation. “We Can Do It!” Advertisement. The National Museum of American History. Westinghouse War Production Co-ordinating Committee 15 Feb. 1942. Web. 26 Sep. 2016.