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From Litho Stone to Pentium Chip: Interpreting Gender in U.S. World War I Posters

1

Anonymous (after Howard Chandler Christy)
Untitled (Gee!! I wish I were a man.), 1917
offset lithograph mounted on board
39 x 25 in. (sheet); 41 1/2 x 28 in. (board)
95.3.59

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Women and War by Louis DelSignore '01 and Emma Joyet '00
A common theme in U.S. World War I posters is the representation of a woman in times of war in order to animate and excite the male population to join the armed forces.  The "Christy Girl," named after the artist Howard Chandler Christy, stands in a masculine manner, wearing a sailor suit, encouraging men to join the Navy.  She says, "Gee!  I Wish I Were A Man...I'd Join the Navy."  This statement expresses to men who have not joined the armed forces that they are not doing their duty and are less than 100% American. (1)  Generally viewed as being weaker, both physically and emotionally, women as portrayed in World War I posters as willing to enroll in the Navy prompt men who have not joined to feel dislocated from the others who are fulfilling their American duty in the war efforts. 

In this era, war was a man's job, yet this poster depicts a woman wanting to serve her country.  These posters contain subliminal messages to those at home.  The "Christy Girl" is presented in this poster standing with her fists clenched and wearing a sailor suit that just misses exposing her cleavage.  She has a look of contentment and happiness, almost teasing those she looks down upon onlookers, urging them to join.  This poster defiantly shows that being in the Navy is a masculine job and way of life.  The statement that the Christy Girl wishes that she were a man so she could join the Navy implies that women are not permitted to join the Navy.  The phrase "Be a man and do it..." illustrates that only men are able to serve their country, and suggests that they are not truly men if they do not join the Navy.  The poster also makes a mockery out of women wanting to serve their country. 

The "Christy Girl," with the patriotic colors of red, white and blue, along with her sailor suit and her enthusiasm, is a symbol of recruitment.  She is a fit female, with light completion and a compelling look.  She has ocean blue eyes and is dressed to expose her womanhood.  Her face and body being posted all over the United States threatens the male population somewhat and gives rise to female power, saying she would join the Navy.  She threatens the male ego by her willingness to join the Navy and motivates men to do the right thing and serve their country. 

1.  Dr. David Schmitz, guest lecture, February 12, 1998.

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