She’s not SO dumb

wave rockI’ve just come back from a week’s holiday and I had such a great time. I visited Esperance, and spent some time on the whitest beaches in Australia (officially the whitest, that’s not just my opinion šŸ™‚ ) and taking a boat trip through the islands of the Recherche Archipeligo. On our way back home, we stopped at the natural marvel that is Wave Rock, and found a toy soldier museum, which my husband and son, being World of Tanks fans, couldn’t really walk past.

keep mumI ended up being thrilled they wanted to see it, because inside, the curator had put up some truly interesting and significant newspaper cuttings and posters from WWII. One of them really caught my attention, a poster which formed part of the British Careless Talk Costs Lives campaign.

The first posters in this campaign featured the slogan: Be Like Dad, Keep Mum.

The powers that be were strangely surprised when that slogan elicited a great deal of criticism from the women of Britain. Particularly as no one was ‘keeping’ them at the time. They were working their butts off in munitions factories, the ambulance services and on farms, and any other job the government gave them.

So, suitably chastened, they came up with a new slogan: Keep Mum, She’s Not So Dumb.

These posters featured members of the armed services talking to their wives and girlfriends, and in the poster I found at the museum, talking to each other at some party or function, over the head of a beautiful blonde, lounging around looking beautiful. This article from the Daily Mail, which discusses the find of a batch of pristine posters, some of which include the Keep Mum, She’s Not So Dumb slogan, makes a reference to the condescending and misogynist nature of the poster, although I see a number of commenters couldn’t understand why (!). Portraying women as untrustworthy, treasonous blabbers is fine, right?

I was so immediately and hotly offended by this poster that a story bubbled up inside me almost on the spot. That beautiful blonde is going to be a heroine in a book I write set in WWII. I did some research on the poster, and how it was seen at the time (obviously better than the Be Like Dad one, as it seemed to prevail, or maybe the powers that be just didn’t care or couldn’t afford to change it AGAIN, having stuffed it up twice already), and I found this hysterically funny article on posters in general, in which my poster from the museum appears as #1. As the author of the article writes:

the word “so” isn’t strictly necessary to the wordplay, they just threw it in there so women didn’t think this was a compliment or something.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. I think it’s the ‘so’ I object to most, hence my putting it in caps in the title.

Other sites which discuss the posters, if you’re interested, are:

National Archives


I love it when I get a strong reaction to something and a story or character just coalesces in my head. In this case, it was a character. I can’t wait to write about her.

Which things push your hot buttons?

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction and fantasy. To find out more about her and her novels, you can visit her website.
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9 Responses to She’s not SO dumb

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    Wow, very condescending. I’m so glad I didn’t live during that time. I’m already eager to read your book with the beautiful blond.

    Your vacation sounds like fun! Wave Rock looks amazing!

  2. I’m pretty sure my blood would boil if I saw a poster like that with no explanation, Michelle!! Wow… The good news is that it sparked a story idea for you, so that’s worth celebrating, even though I’d love to reach back in time and strangle the men who came up with that slogan ;).
    Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …A Q&A with Author Leslie Lehr

  3. Misty Evans says:

    Women were very powerful behind the scenes and in the thick of things during WWII. I’m excited to hear you’re using them to write a new heroine! I can see her torching that poster now. šŸ˜€

  4. Liz Kreger says:

    Hmm, my anti-spam word was “broad”. How appropo. šŸ˜‰

    Yep, that poster was very condescending. And certainly in keeping with the times – unfortunately. I don’t think women were viewed as particularly bright. But then, what does that say about men who cannot keep their mouths shut in the first place?

    What pushes my buttons? Geez, where to begin? The glass ceiling; unequal pay for equal work; anything to do with congress having a say in a woman’s reproductive decisions … apparently we’re too stupid to make this all so important decisions on our own.

    I could go on for quite awhile. šŸ˜†

    Glad you had a good time on your holiday, Michelle. you seem to go to the most interesting places.

  5. Women were considered bright when it suited them. Like when they were working around the clock to help crack the ENIGMA code, for example.

    And thanks, Liz. Yes, I do go to great places on holiday!

  6. Dale Mayer says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Women were very rarely given credit for work they did. Men were always in the forefront. It saddens me to still see examples today. I knew a saddle maker years ago who was well known for his phenomenal leather designs, after something like 50 years of success, he admitted his wife did most of them!

    Dale Mayer`s last blog was …New Release! ā€“ UNBOUND

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