When most people think about World War II, they likely focus on the men who went to war and the government politics around the war. It wasn’t until my women and gender studies courses in university that I learned about the women behind the war who really helped propel the war for the Americans to win.
The women who were behind the scenes took over the men’s positions back home. They were never acknowledged for their hard work and still are overlooked .
Therese Ambrosi Smith did a spectacular job at using a feminist perspective to talk about the women’s side of the story in the 1940s. The story focuses on three young women, Tilly, Doris and Sylvia, who met through Kaiser, a company that built ships and supplies for the war. The three young women come from different backgrounds and the author portrays each woman thoughtfully and accurately.
Tilly is a waitress at her aunt and uncle’s restaurant on the coast line and lives at home with her parents. She is inspired by the iconic Rosie the Riveter, in this case an actress Katherine Hepburn, who had traded in her glamorous lifestyle for a welder’s mask, overalls and heavy duty gloves. She is strong, determined and courageous and decides to follow her heart and push herself out of her comfort zone and gets accepted to the Kaiser Company.
Doris is a cosmetician at a beauty store who lives in a small town with her mother. Her uncle is a mysterious man in her life who ends up leaving her in his will when he passes. Doris is roommates with Tilly in Airstream 27 at the Kaiser Park and the two form a sisterly bond instantly. Doris is one of the smartest women there, even smarter than some men who worked there previously and had one of the top positions at the company. Doris is an extremely confident and intelligent woman who knows and gets what she wants .
Sylivia is a devoted aunt and mentor to her nephew Robbie. When Robbie turned eighteen, he was deployed in the military and Sylvia found her life was missing a huge piece. So, she applied to Kaiser and got accepted. She was neighbors with Tilly and Doris at the Kaiser Park and we can tell instantly that Sylvia finds Tilly attractive. Sylvia is a lesbian, but is very quiet about it except for with TIlly; although their love and attraction for each other are never talked about openly until the end of the book, the subtle bond is undeniable.
I really liked the characters in this book because they positively showed the strength, intelligence, courage, love and potential that all women possess, but a lot of the times these qualities are overlooked and ignored. The book also intertwines a lot of secrets that some characters have, so it keeps you turning the pages to find out how everything unfolds.
Tilly’s mother harbored a secret for so many years that it took control of her life. Tilly decides that is no way to live and comes out and pursues her feelings for Sylvia. Doris handles Tilly’s coming out thoughtfully and supportively, just like how Tilly dealt with her mother’s secret.
All the women in this book possess such courage when dealing with their own situation and such compassion and acceptance when they are faced with their friends and family’s issues.
I really enjoyed the feminist undertone in the book because it never says directly that women should be equal to men or that men and women should work together to make change, but all of this is said just by the differences found in the characters.
They inspired me to be courageous and push myself further to be able to do what I want in my life. When so many obstacles stand in your way of what you want, you can either fight for it or let the obstacles take control. Through the characters, we see different sides of the latter and I found that clever and eye opening. This book makes me really proud of women, for women and that feminism has always been part of everyone lives, even in its subtlety.