In Canadian TV Show “Bomb Girls,” It’s Women and Lesbians First

Hey-o, did you read a lot of historical fiction as a child? Do you like tough women handling heavy machinery in pants and sometimes changing into skirts afterwards but sometimes just keeping the pants on? Do you like lesbians? Then you’ll LOVE Bomb Girls, a sometimes-cheesy show about Canadian women factory workers during World War II with heaps of feminist and homosexual content. You might also love the fancy slick interactive educational website, another high-production-value element of the show my Canadian girlfriend says is unique for Canadian-produced television.


The show is drawing comparisons to Mad Men but I’m not sure why — the culture this program blows open, despite its color scheme, is nothing like Mad Men‘s slick world of sales and smoky boozey lunches. Mad Men is about the men with power who want more power and the women who surround them. Bomb Girls is about women with no power begging for a place on the production line because the men who traditionally surround them have been shipped overseas. The show’s description:

“Set in the 1940s, Bomb Girls tells the remarkable stories of the women who risked their lives in a munitions factory building bombs for the Allied forces fighting on the European front. The series delves into the lives of these exceptional women – peers, friends and rivals – who find themselves thrust into new worlds and changed profoundly as they are liberated from their home and social restrictions.”

Also Mad Men is a tightly-written, carefully crafted program. Bomb Girls is fun and entertaining with great pacing, and I love the fuck out of it, but at times the combination of oft-hammy dialogue and historical exposition gives it a distinctly 9th Grade American History feeling. Coincidentally, I loved Ninth Grade American History (or “Grade Nine” as they say it in Canada). If you liked Anne of Green Gables, you’ll probably like Bomb Girls. (I did and I do.)

That being said, the writing appears to be getting better as the season zips along — the first three episodes have already aired, the fourth comes on tonight at 8 — and if you’re anything like me, you’re gonna be glued to the screen in anticipation of the moment when the homosexuality buzzing so potently in the show’s subtext blows right open (like a bomb!).

The show focuses primarily on four different women.

Kate Andrews (Charlotte Hegele) is the demure, agreeable and secretly tough girl with a mysterious background — her real name isn’t Kate Andrews, and the show opens with the scene of Kate fleeing her home, with her mother’s blessing, as her fanatically religious father rants and screams at her. I’ve gone ahead and assumed that she’s a lesbian and that’s why she had to leave home forever, though this fact has yet to be absolutely confirmed. Also, she enjoys singing to herself in large empty rooms while carrying a clipboard.

Next up is Gladys Witham (Jodi Balfour), a wealthy privileged woman engaged to a wealthy privileged man who is relatively horrified that his fiancee has talked her way out of the office work she was assigned to and onto the factory floor. Her whole arc is a common trope, but it works, and Balfour does a winning job with the material. She looks a lot like Mary Louise Parker sometimes and I think wears real fur.

Then there’s Betty McRae (Ali Liebert), the toppy-sexy-uber-dyke-lezzer-lezoholic who never met a pantsuit she didn’t like. She’s tough and smart and overall seems like the kind of girl who could fix your cabinet or save you from a shark attack without flinching. She’s never explicitly declared her homosexuality but it’s way obvious. She’s protective of Kate, kinda, and the evolution of their relationship is the aspect of the show I’m most prominently obsessed with.

Betty and Kate live in a dorming house for factory workers which appears, to my totally biased eye, to be chock-full of lesbians.

Meg Tilly, who I like a lot and have met a few times, plays Lorna Corbett, the uptight leader of the factory girls. (Tilly was a big star in the 80s, you may also recall her sister Jennifer Tilly from Bound, among other films.) Tilly is patriotic to a cloying fault though the scenes with her at home with her husband do a lot to illustrate where, exactly, her discontented arbitrarily control-freakish ways come from — she seems starved, really, for love. Unfortunately there are no signs of her becoming a lesbian.

Although the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ period is often a topic of historical fiction, Bomb Girls seems to be daring enough to tell the untold story, too — like how this was a fascinating time period in LGBT history. During the War, lesbian women were granted unique privilege to actually exist as whole people, and the sudden availability of factory work gave women the opportunity to be self-sufficient and live with other women without scrutiny.

Although I’m not familiar with the Canadian Lesbo Underground, I know that in America during World War II, it was no longer as scorned upon for women to go places unaccompanied by a man, and unlike the elitist University Option many upper-middle-class gay women chose to escape domestic heterosexual life, the factories were often open to working class women as well. When looking at the Gay Rights movement as a whole, it’s easy to overlook the specifically gendered way in which gay men and gay women were oppressed. Many women of all sexualities craved autonomy, and this desire uniquely united a certain group of women (read: white and middle class), whether that desire for autonomy played itself out in ‘wanting a career’ or ‘wanting a relationship with another woman.’ (Or both.)

This is the first time I’ve seen this phenomenon addressed in such depth in a show for mainstream audiences. But even more refreshing than that is the fact that this is a show entirely about women. It passes the Bechdel test about every two minutes.

The Bomb Girls facebook page says tonight’s episode “is going to knock you off your feet” and contain “SERIOUS twists.” I’m pretty sure that means Betty and Kate are going to make out. Right? There’s only one way to find out…

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Riese is the 32-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1744 articles for us.

53 Comments

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    I want to be the first to say they need to bring in Sara Quin as a tough-as-nails-you-pissed-me-off-for-the-last-time-twinnie supervisor whose sister (who just happens to be played by Tegan Quin) sobs on various shoulders for sympathy.

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    THIS SHOW IS SO GOOD ITS SO GOOD
    my mom and i have been watching from the start and its SO good.
    im the hugest nerd for anything historical, and also there is such cute girls and my mom and i called the lesboness of betty in the first episode
    WATCH ITTTTTT

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    Bomb Girls was endorsed by the uber-cool Zoie Palmer, aka Dr. Hotpants from Lost Girl. What more recommendation do you need?!

    A word of advice for those catching up on Bomb Girls: make sure you’re not eating your dinner while watching second half of episode one. It’s hair raising.

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    SO GLAD YOU WROTE THIS ARTICLE, i am so obsessed with this show and especially with betty and i haven’t been able to persuade enough people to watch it yet, mostly because when i talk about it i’m like “LESBIANS IN A FACTORY!! PRETTY DRESSES!!!”

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    I discovered this show by complete accident last week when a Canadian friend mentioned it to me. As an American, it took some time to find it online but I did and have seen every episode so far. It really is an interesting show and like others I’ve become obsessed with Betty. I find all of the women genuinely likable actually. Even the frigid Lorna has her moments. I highly recommend everyone watch this show.

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    The honest truth:

    I heard about this show before it aired. I was intrigued. But I deliberately waited until Autostraddle covered it, because I didn’t want to start watching a new show until it was absolutely confirmed that it would include Gay Stuff and therefore would not be a waste of time.

    So thanks!

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    I’m pretty sure this is what I’ve been waiting for. Seriously, I remember wondering if anyone had ever made a film or tv show about women holding it down during WWII. Gotta check it out!!

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    BETTY IN THIS LAST EPISODE THOUGH. No makeouts (dammit) and I stared at the screen for like a minute after it was done trying to figure out what the twist actually was (I think it was that het pairing, IDK, it didn’t seem that twisty to me) but oh my god, Betty in front of that house with Kate.

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      oh god, the subtext with that film they were making was so intense, and betty in front of that hosue with kate!. i was impressed. i mean if it took place in this time period, i’d be like JUST SAY IT TELL HER YOU’RE GAY but because of the era I’m totally content with the subtext ’cause it’s actually realistic that way.

      i also have no idea what the twist is, i tried to imagine being a heterosexual person and thinking maybe there’d be a twist in there for them, like maybe it was the lorna affair or gladys and her husband something something? idk.

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        What I really liked is that even though they’re keeping it period it’s still really clear that Betty absolutely knows that she’s gay (although maybe doesn’t have the words to explain it), knows what she wants, etc. And that it’s clearly part of her identity because she’s actually planning a life without a husband, without the trappings of 1940s heterosexuality. And then for Kate to be like YES TOTALLY I WILL COME LIVE WITH YOU AND BE YOUR LOVE, asdf I know she’s probably straight but I am just going to keep pretending.

        I have determined that the twist was *either*: the STD plotline; the sex in the office plotline. But for all I know it was Gladys making out with her fiancé.

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    I’d just finished watching Made in Dagenham when this post popped up, so thought I’d make it a factory girls double-header last night, as it were, with the first ep of this.

    As reported, there is some industrial-level clunkiness in the writing, it seemed like each time someone opened their mouth it was just to rehash their character synopsis. And that singing, I hope that goes away. I have faith this will improve. Anyway, is not the wild lesbian constituted so robustly that she can endure the most cringeworthy of perils in pursuit of girl-on-girl media?

    The positives though…40s music, outfits, hair, pretty girls, TURBANS, smirking lesbians. There is so much fun potential here. I don’t know why I find the turbans so exciting, but I do.

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    OMFG it’s like the universe knows I was reading “Night Watch” but it’s almost over and what will I fill the gay-lady-WWII hole in my life with?!

    Also, how can a USian watch this?

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    Read this review, immediately went and watched all four episodes. I AM SO IN LOVE WITH THIS SHOW. Oh my god Betty is so great. ): Really wish I was in Canada so I could support this show by watching it on TV, it NEEDS to have a second season.

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