Norma Jean Baker did not have a happy childhood after she turned 8 years old. Her first 8 years of life were spent with a good foster family, the Bolanders. They wanted to adopt her and take her with them to England. Her mother, Gladys Baker, a paranoid schizophrenic who was frequently in and out of a mental institution refused to let her go. Norma Jean was fostered out to a number of homes during this time. She experienced 13 foster brothers and sisters. Like most foster children, Norma Jean suffered emotional and sexual abuse. One foster mother stayed in her mind all of her life. “I called my foster mother mommy and she said don’t call me mommy! I’m not your mommy!| Norma Jean asked if the woman’s husband was her father and the answer was “no.” Norma Jean was forced into an orphanage for a year of her life. “They had to drag me in, I said I’m not an orphan!” Imagine the little girl’s horror and rage at being made to feel that she didn’t matter, that here was a place to put her as if she had no family whatever. It might have been worse than a foster home for the unhappy child.
It may have been the sex abuse that led Norma Jean to develop her obsession with sex and beauty. Sex abuse is rape. it is unnatural, an imbalance in power and a complete loss of innocence. At the same time, it teaches the child that her worth lies is her body and in her ability to arouse adults. Marilyn Monroe was the personification of sexuality, the sexual fantasy of men and a beauty ideal women sought and usually failed to achieve. The sex goddess Marilyn unquestionably grew from the sexually abused Norma Jean. Not surprisingly, the real woman was unable to find love or family through sex. Who does?
The absence of Gladys in Marilyn’s life created a void that was impossible for the lost little girl to fill. I’ve often heard women say, “a girl needs her mother,” and not only with reference to Monroe. I tend to agree. I found it awkward and rather difficult growing up, entering womanhood and experiencing all of the sexual and emotional changes a girl experiences and I had a strong, stable mother to guide me through it. Without her, it would have been hell. Who did Norma Jean turn to when she first began to menstruate? When she needed her first bra? When she began to feel interested in boys? When boys wolf-whistled at her,as if she was public property? When the first boy she knew asked her out?
Norma Jeane attended Emerson Junior High School in Westwood Village beginning in September 1939. Thirteen years old at that time, she soon grew tall and her figure developed rapidly, causing a sensation among the boys at school. For the first time in her life, Norma Jeane began to receive favorable attention. Her stutter diminished and her level of confidence soared. It was quite a change from the previous year, when the boys had called her “Norma Jeane the Human Bean” because of her rail-thin torso. Though she had fallen behind in school and had to repeat the seventh grade, she eventually made it up by skipping the latter half of the eighth grade.
Did she navigate these unfamiliar female waters alone or did anyone provide comfort and advice? After her death, Sophia Loren (referred to as the Italian Marilyn Monroe) made the statement, “I cried when I heard Marilyn Monroe was dead. I thought if she’d had a mother she would still be alive.”
Looking closely at Norma Jean’s use of her sexuality, it is apparent that from her early teen years, she saw herself as a sexual being. Norma Jean’s body matured early. Her face took on an oddly mature look and, as sexually abused children are wont to do, she behaved in a sexually precocious manner. A child who displays inappropriate, early sexual behaviour is a child in need of protection and Marilyn never received that protection. Instead she found acceptance in her sexuality and beauty. She was well aware of her physical attractiveness and was happy to play up to it. In her teens she wore tight sweaters and short shorts. She took to high heels and wedge shoes like a duck to water. She was always made up and her hair was perfectly coiffed. She seemed to have a natural ability to attract the attention of male admirers, but in reality she also worked hard at it. It was becoming her identity.
Her early sexual abuse led to a lifetime of difficulty in establishing relationships with men. She saw herself first and foremost as a sex symbol, naturally so did they. Only a handful of men saw through the image and these were the men she tended to marry. Her inability to remain married however reflected a lonely and abusive childhood. Sexually abused children, especially those who are raised in unstable, transitional environments without the presence of at least one parent or guardian, often have great difficulty in establishing long-term relationships as adults. In Marilyn’s case, she never did, at least not in marriage. One theory states that the person who is raised in highly unstable environments learns to mistrust others and to avoid embracing intimacy. The child never knows when the comfort of family will be taken away. The result is avoidance-reactive disorder or attachment disorder; the child wants to be loved, enters relationships hoping for the security that was non-existent during childhood. All too soon the unstable partner deliberately, although not consciously, behaves in a manner that threatens the stability of the union. When the healthy partner leaves, the unhappy sufferer can tell herself “I always knew you wouldn’t stay.”
Marilyn made a comment along the lines of “imagine that loneliness was a room. Take that room and multiply it by 40 rooms. That’s how lonely I am.” Abuse, neglect, a motherless childhood, foster homes, a childhood marriage that quickly ended in divorce, all of these things contributed to Norma Jean’s loneliness. By the time her life was ending, Marilyn’s loneliness was more complex. She’d had years of cruelty by Hollywood executives and other people who were determined to ruin her for one reason or another. She had become dependent on sleeping pills yet suffered from insomnia. There were many more factors that led to Marilyn’s suicide but its roots were firmly planted in the childhood she never had.