TW: mentioning of suicide/death, mental health issues, sexual abuse
And this article once again is concerned with a very famous woman: Marilyn Monroe.
The actress, sex symbol of her time, led a difficult life from her childhood on. Moving around from one foster home to another she finally turned to marrying at a young age to find more stability, that was not the case though. Her career started as a form of escapism but brought not only fame and success but also the dark sides of the entertainment industry with it. The pressure of conforming to the beauty standards and getting casted only as a sex symbol made life hard for her. But she took this as an advantage. Unfortunately her life came to a tragic end when she died of an barbiturate overdose. She is still remembered today as one of the most successful actresses of Hollywood.
In her lifetime Marilyn proofed many people wrong and used her sex symbol status as an advantage. How she did that and how she acted as a women’s right activist in the film industry by doing so, will be explored in the article below!
Norma Jeane Mortenson | *01-06-1926 | † 04-08-1962 | USA | Actress, Model, Singer
Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, was a well-known actress, model and singer in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, she is remembered for being a “sex symbol”, a pop culture icon and as an emblem for the sexual revolution in her time. Marilyn’s early childhood was influenced by the rocky life of her mother. Her mom, Gladys Pearl Baker, had been in an abusive marriage, from the young age of 15 years old. From this marriage came two children, who were kidnapped by their father even though Gladys had full custody. This resulted in Marilyn only just meeting her siblings when she was already an adult. The identity of Monroe’s own father remains unknown, because of which Marilyn mostly used her mother’s name, Baker, as her last name. In her early childhood, Marilyn was placed in a foster home, where she still had contact with her biological mother. However, after a breakdown, her mom was diagnosed with schizophrenia and she and Marilyn eventually lost contact.
Marilyn continued living within different households, but sadly she became the victim of several instances of sexual abuse. Moving in and out of various places, she eventually got married just after her 16th birthday in hopes of finding more stability. Later on, she stated that she and her husband were never a good match and that she got bored of the marriage quite quickly and they got divorced not long after.
However, during these years is when Marilyn’s career started to blossom. According to Monroe herself, her past abuse was what led her to wanting to become an actress, to escape reality. After being asked to model for pictures, she eventually signed a contract with a modelling agency in 1945, which is where her career really took off. Her figure made her suitable for pin-up modelling. Through these kinds of modelling jobs, she eventually signed a contract with an acting agency in 1946. This is the time where she picked her stage name to be Marilyn Monroe, which would become a name everybody knew. This is also where her famous blonde bombshell look originated; she dyed her hair platinum blonde, in resemblance to the well-known Rita Hayworth.
Monroe worked on various small roles in different films and she only grew beyond that, as she started working on larger movies. She quickly became popular and gained a plethora of fans. During the time that she was working on larger movies, she gained public sympathy because she was the centre of a scandal in which she posed for nude pictures. By admitting that she did this because she needed money, she gained people’s interest and sympathy: a sex symbol was born. From now on, she was mainly casted for her sex appeal, only adding to her image. One of the most defying movies here was ‘Niagara’, from 1953, where Monroe portrayed a femme fatale. In this film, she fully established her signature look with her platinum blonde hair, dark eyebrows, a beauty mark and her famous red lips. Her “movie personality” was established in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’, where she established her persona as what some would call a “dumb blonde”. Not long after, Marilyn got tired of these type of roles and she stated that she was “tired of the same old sex roles”. She resigned her contract not long after.
Under a new contract, Marilyn started doing movies that she picked and preferred herself and people were finally starting to respect her as a serious actress. She even won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for the film ‘Some Like It Hot’, from 1959. She also was the first woman ever to get script and director approval on her films. Later on, one of her last major public appearances was when she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”, at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday celebration. She showed up in a skin-tight, nude dress, embellished with rhinestones. The public seemed quite shocked by this, but Kennedy commented: “I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.”
Clearly, Monroe was, and remains, a cultural icon. Despite the challenges that came with her seemingly unmoving image of being a “sex symbol”, like not being taken seriously and being perceived as dumb, Marilyn proved so many people wrong. She was smart to capitalize on this. She used her image to her advantage and at the same time she managed to step away from her contract and redirect the attention people had for her already, to her talent as an actress. Her carefully constructed appearance of the sex symbol and film star allowed her to make an unreal career in her own way. To this day, she is still one of the most well-known actresses and as she said herself: “I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.” Despite her rocky childhood, the prejudices and so on, Marilyn Monroe used patriarchy to her advantage. As a women’s rights and civil rights activist, she was the example for many young women and still is. It’s not what you can do for patriarchy, it’s what patriarchy can do for you.
Author: Shanna de Caluwe
Image: MacFadden Publications