I am willing to declare, loudly, that last night’s Bomb Girls episode has been probably my favourite of the entire series. It was, in many ways, the most explicitly feminist episode to date but also it featured burlesque. As a burlesque dancer, that definitely caught my attention. Warning, full spoilers below!
“Something Fierce” came out swinging with a theme that investigated the value of a woman in the 40s. The episode kicks off with the girls reading the paper outside Victory Munitions. In the paper, Vera shows Kate that there is an upcoming “all-girls revue,” and encourages her to audition for it now that she has her voice back. Ever the downer, Ivan is less than impressed by this idea.
Enter Dottie Shannon (Rosie O’Donnell), quickly established as the kind of woman who causes trouble, having recently penned an article that was critical of the recent debacle at Dieppe. She tells Kate that Ivan might be cute, but she shouldn’t let him tell her what to do! Dottie is visiting VicMu to write an article about women’s effort in the way. Lorna is skeptical, and grants Dottie a less than warm reception. Dottie asks the girls on the line a serious of questions about their health, and the long term impacts of cordite on their bodies. Lorna shuts the questioning down, and Dottie finds a new subject for her piece.
In the cafeteria, Gladys is approached by Clifford Perry. She asks why she hasn’t been contacted yet. Perry informs her there are changes afoot, and Gladys deduces “you’ll let me know when there’s a problem.” In an adorable act of flirting, Clifford taps his cheek in a (cheeky?) way to let Gladys know that she has creamed corn on her face. Gladys blushes and I am insanely jealous of anyone who gets to be that close to Tahmoh Penikett. It seems to me that they are setting this up not only to be a spy mystery, but also giving Gladys a new love interest.
Also at the factory, Betty decides she wants to buy a house, and Marco is informed that due to new ‘rules,’ Leon will be signing off on the materials handling. Marco is not impressed by this, and believes that something else is going on. He thinks about quitting VicMu and finding a line of work that would grant him more respect.
Dottie approaches Lorna to be the subject of her article. Lorna is hesitant, but Dottie manages to convincer her by giving her a ride home and informing her that the readers will find her story very inspiring. At Lorna’s home, she and Dottie bond over the challenges of being women working in a ‘man’s world.’ Meg Tilly nails her performance when Dottie asks Lorna what happens when the war is over: “Maybe it will be my turn” Lorna responds, with a mix of hope and sadness.
At the Jewel Box, Vera, Marco and Ivan watch Kate audition for the revue. Kate sings Molly Malone, but fails to impress. The stage manager thinks that Kate smacks of “never been kissed” and dismisses her. Kate walks over to Ivan and plants a big one on him. The stage manager tells Kate that if she can bring some of that sass to her routine, she can sing a song. Kate skips off gleefully, while Vera and Marco watch the next audition, a beautiful curvy woman who appears in a corset and begins a tease. It turns out this revue is a burlesque show!
Vera races off to tell Kate, interrupting a steamy monopoly game to let her know that the revue is a burlesque show. Everyone assumes that Kate will obviously pull out of the show, because she doesn’t participate in those kinds of events. Ivan in particular disapproves of Kate’s involvement with a show full of ‘loose women.’ They fight, and Kate informs Ivan that if he has a problem with it, then maybe she shouldn’t be his girl! They part ways angry.
Vera, who has been to a burlesque show to two, tries to teach Kate some dance step. She lets Kate know that burlesque is all about what you don’t show, and teaches her the art of giving the audience a peek, and taking it away again.
Meanwhile, Gladys is playing tennis with her father. He asks her to host a gathering he’s putting on, and informs her that she need not worry about her future. After all, she’s a beautiful girl with an attractive fortune, any man is going to want to get with that! Gladys presses her father to know how much money is in her trust, but Mr. Witham just tells he she doesn’t need to worry about those sorts of things.
At the gathering, Gladys is ‘introduced’ to Clifford Perry by her father. They pretend to never have met, but meet secretly outside later on. Gladys tells Clifford not to go after her father, but he informs her that they are actually working with her father to pack light explosives into cans of beans. Gladys is skeptical of her father’s involvement, assuming he is in it to make a profit, but Clifford informs her otherwise. Mr. Witham isn’t taking a penny.
Dottie’s article comes out in the paper, and its a wonderful ode to Lorna’s work. Unfortunately, Dottie uncovered an interesting tidbit about the payrates of women at VicMu. They make only $1100 a year to the men’s $2000. Its not just the women who are upset about this information, the men at VicMu begin to lash out at Lorna trying to remind her about ‘women’s work.’ Marco tells Lorna that men are worried they are going to replaced. If the women don’t return home after the war and do more work then the men do for less pay, the men see themselves are replaceable. Of course, there is absolutely no reason that the men need to take out their frustration on Lorna, but she becomes the target for their pain.
Lorna discusses her pay with Mr. Akins but he dismisses her, telling her its more important to fight Hitler than make an extra .50 cents a day. She then approaches Dottie, angry at the trouble the article has caused. Dottie encourages Lorna to take what she is owed, and tells her that someone has to be the first through the door. Lorna takes this advice to heart and confronts Aikens, threatening to walk away from VicMu and get a job at another factory.
Gladys goes with Betty to the bank to help her secure a loan in order to buy a house. While they were expecting to find a man that they could flirt with, the women are instead introduced to a woman. Unfortunately, she has bad news to Betty. Although Betty has a good savings of $140, the loan officer is not convinced that Betty’s future income is stable and she has no credit history to fall back on. She advises Betty to buy victory bonds and wait for the right man to show up.
At the revue, the audience is entranced by a burlesque performer while Betty laments the future job opportunities that she has: teacher, nurse and burlesque performer. She doesn’t know where a skilled factory worker is going to fit in. Kate takes the stage in a gorgeous outfit. She’s nervous at first, and catcalls from the audience telling her to take off the clothes seem to throw her off. Ivan tells the audience they need to show her some respect, and Kate begins to take off her shawl while singing. She gains her confidence and wows the audience while doing a glove peel. She also take the opportunity to show a little leg. For someone who was taught that her body was sinful, Kate does a great job of embracing her sexuality! She explains to Ivan that this is because when she’s singing, she forgets about being afraid. Ivan decides to propose to Kate, explaining that the way she feels while singing is the way he feels around her. Although she seems hesitant at first, Kate says yes.
After the show, Vera goes to Marco’s house where she finds him making wine with some other Italian men from his neighbourhood. I knew that George Stroumboulopoulos had a role in the show this year, and he appears in this scene as an adorable Italian speaking friend of Marco. Vera asks the men to show her how to make wine and joins the party. Afterwards, Marco demonstrates his knowledge of burlesque to Vera with a sexy little dance, and the two finally do the deed. I am a huge fan of Marco and Vera together, so I say its about time! I really hope that it doesn’t end badly for them.
The show wraps up with Lorna receiving a raise (although its not extended to all the woman), and writing to her husband. Betty returns to the bank for a loan of $50 to start building her credit history so that she can get a house in the future. Gladys convinces her father to let her have some control over her finances, and gains access to the interest on her trust fund. Kate lets Betty know that she is getting married, and Betty seems genuinely happy for her.
The issue of the value of women’s labour is extremely timely, given that today is Equal Pay day. In Canada, women’s pay still lags behind that of men. Seventy years after the time of Bomb Girls and women are still fighting to make the same amount of money as men. This commonality makes it easy to relate to the women in Bomb Girls. Their struggles for recognition are universal, although the wage gap has certainly become smaller.
There is also the question of valuing women’s bodies. The burlesque performers are clearly seen as less than upstanding women. Ivan refers to them as ‘loose’ and Betty makes it clear that she does not see it as fulfilling career option. Additionally, Dottie draws attention to the lack of care given to the health of the women working the factory floor. This remains a contemporary issue as well. Just yesterday, the CBC broke a story about an issue with women’s birth control. A mistake was made, and some packages received two weeks of placebo instead of only one, although they were being recalled as of Friday August 5th, the woman taking these pills were not immediately informed. Instead, the company reached out to retailers and wholesalers first.
Despite Bomb Girls period setting, the struggles of these women remain reflected in the struggles of Canadian women today. It allows us as viewers not only to reflect on how far we’ve come, but also reminds us of how much work there is remaining to be done.
- “They have all girl everything these days!” – Gladys
- Burlesque, burlesque, burlesque!
- I loved Rosie as Dottie Shannon. She was loud, obnoxious and pushy but also genuinely concerned for the well being of the women at VicMu.
- My love for Tahmoh Penikett knows no bounds, but that accent needs work. It makes me laugh every time he talks.
- George Strombo