The Bren Gun Girl

Canada's History - - CURRENTS - by Mo­riah Camp­bell

The Sec­ond World War ush­ered in many changes to the Cana­dian work­force. While men were cross­ing the At­lantic to serve their coun­try, women were needed in the fac­to­ries to fill the spa­ces they had left be­hind.

And so the Cana­dian govern­ment, to­gether with the Na­tional Film Board of Canada, found a face that would rally mil­lions of women into fac­to­ries.

Veron­ica Fos­ter worked for John Inglis Co. in Toronto, as­sem­bling Bren light ma­chine guns. Her nat­u­ral beauty made her the per­fect model for the na­tional pro­pa­ganda poster cam­paign, and she be­came “Ron­nie the Bren Gun Girl.”

In her most fa­mous pho­to­graph, Ron­nie sports curve­hug­ging over­alls while ef­fort­lessly ex­hal­ing smoke from her cig­a­rette as she ad­mires her re­cently as­sem­bled Bren gun.

As the per­fect blend of fem­i­nin­ity and fe­male lib­er­a­tion, Ron­nie be­came the sub­ject of public in­fat­u­a­tion, so much so that the United States de­cided to cre­ate its own fe­male war icon. And so Ron­nie’s head scarf and can-do at­ti­tude was trans­ferred to the well-known Amer­i­can pro­pa­ganda im­age of “Rosie the Riveter.”

Along with the fa­mous cig­a­rette-and-gun photo, the cam­paign high­lighted pic­tures of Ron­nie play­ing base­ball, do­ing the jit­ter­bug, and touch­ing up her hat in a mir­ror. These pho­tos sent a dis­tinct mes­sage to women that they could have it all.

Sadly, the new-found in­de­pen­dence of women was short­lived. Fol­low­ing the end of the war and the re­turn of the men serv­ing over­seas, most work­ing women were forced back to their tra­di­tional pink-col­lar jobs.

To­day, Ron­nie the Bren Gun Girl rep­re­sents an iconic mo­ment in the on­go­ing fight for women’s equal­ity in Canada.

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