Of all the women who hated Marilyn (and there were many, especially celebrities) I would have thought that one of the most empathetic, Gloria Steinem, would have hated her the most. Steinem was a radical feminist. She made that oddball comment “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” When she published Marilyn in the late 1980s, I was surprised by her kind and tentative narration about the late star. Clearly, Steinem is no beauty. That also made me think she would have reason to envy Marilyn and perhaps she did. The first entry in Marilyn claimed that she was angry after she watched Marilyn for the first time in a film. “How dare that big-breasted blonde act as insecure as I felt?”
Other women were openly jealous about the iconic beauty. Here is an apt entry written by Isabel Moore from the blog Retrorambling.
It all began when one of them inquired of another if she had seen Monroe at a party they’d all been to the night before. [The party was one where Marilyn received a People’s Choice award. She wore a gold lame dress open to the navel. Her husband Joe DiMaggio got up and walked out when Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra jumped on top of a table and howled liked wolves at her. ]The Christian having been thrown to the lions, the ring was cleared and the fight was on. The occasional defence of Marilyn by any of the men present only whipped the ladies up to new frenzy.
“That dress!” said one. “I wasn’t sure if she was trying to get into it or out of it.”
“Vulgar,” said another anonymous voice behind me. “After all, we know she’s got a figure. She doesn’t have to keep showing it.”
“Have you seen the suit she wears?” “You mean the one with the bunch of red roses tucked into the front of it? Seen it, my dear? How could you miss seeing it? I think it’s the cheapest, loudest, Sadie Thompsonish sort of thing I’ve ever-“.
”What do you expect?” chimed in another dear lady. “If I told you where I first saw Marilyn Monroe”
A male voice said mildly, ’What were you doing there?” “I was there on business.”
Later I said to a studio executive, “What’s Marilyn Monroe got, or what does she do, that brings the pack down on her in full force like that?”
and women. Marilyn was delighted.
“There,” she said happily. “That will prove to those old cats who are always criticizing what I wear that I can look good in anything.”
But ..the old cats. were…were not deterred. …. Marilyn Monroe continues to be the rage of Hollywood, the girl who’s done more than any other woman there to provoke the rage of other women. Marilyn has one answer to all the shouting.
“Oh, well,” she says, “I’d rather talk to men, anyway.”
I’m sure they felt the same.
Once when she was at a party, Marilyn made a comment of some sort and a jealous woman laughed, “see how stupid she is?” Women and men bought into the whole dumb blonde image, without realizing Marilyn was a natural brunette who bleached her hair blonde, and that she played up to the image because that was what the studio wanted. Perhaps it’s understandable that many women who met Marilyn, or who were celebrities when Marilyn lived, or even just women in the general public were jealous of this sex icon. She was unbelievably beautiful and very famous. Men salivated over her, and that included these women’s husbands and boyfriends. Ouch. No one wants to feel second best.
Someone else who perhaps should have loathed Marilyn was Betty Grable. How to Marry a Millionaire was heralded as the movie where Betty Grable “passed the mantle [of being a sex symbol] along to Marilyn.” Grable had enjoyed her share of pin-up fantasy in her day and she now paled in comparison to the flawless Marilyn. Studio execs cruelly told Marilyn to pose in front of Grable’s dressing-room door but Marilyn refused. Grable liked Marilyn and enjoyed working with her. She held no grudges and she was the actress who was replaced by Marilyn.
Here is a blog entry entitled Marilyn Monroe was no role model, by Meg Bergeron, that insults everything that Marilyn was in life.
I can quite honestly say that if she were someone I knew in person, I would not want to be her friend. Sure, she sounded very sweet, but so are a lot of people. The truth is, according to this biography, she was unpredictable and unhappy, and not even the long-term therapy she received was enough to help her.
Are other tragic female celebrities who suffered sudden, premature deaths destined to be that legendary? I highly doubt girls everywhere will one day be putting up posters of Brittany Murphy and Anna Nicole Smith in their bedrooms, quoting them, or trying to look like them. So what sets Marilyn apart? I honestly don’t know.
Really? Millions of people seem to know. Perhaps the author should ask them.
Charlotte Green implores Young women stop idolizing Marilyn Monroe in the blog Thought Catalog:
I don’t know if she is a “good” or “bad” person, only that she is someone we have chosen to idolize for deeply wrong reasons. Her world was one built on fantasy and elaborate, Photoshop-esque makeup routines. ….Young women deserve more than Marilyn Monroe. We deserve to be whole, and flawed, and not transformed (through both surgery and extensive makeup routines) into something we are not. We deserve more than tumultuous relationships that we believe are magical because they are complicated. We deserve to be seen for who we are, not what the world wants us to be.
There are some truths to this blog entry. It’s not wise to idolize a woman based solely on her beauty and certainly not on the tragedy that was her life.
Rosjke Hasseldine wrote in her entry Why are women so critical of each other?
Women’s misogynist behaviour towards each other exposes something deep and dark within women’s relationships. Underneath the popular image of women being good at relationships lies a reality that blocks our ability to support, protect and fight for each other. Something is causing women to hate each other, to feel jealous of each other and to tear each other down. Something is teaching women to use the language and weapons of patriarchy against each other…..It makes sense that women would internalise the language and gender beliefs that taught our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers what ‘good’, ‘nice’ and ‘acceptable’ women look like and behave like. It is very hard not to internalise this sexism because the consequences of rejecting it, especially in our mothers’ and grandmothers’ days, was to be ignored, criticised or rejected as a ‘bad’ woman. For many, internalising the language and beliefs of patriarchy was an economic necessity.
It wasn’t only that women’s need to fill the patriarchal roles of “good girl” or “bad girl” were an economic necessity. They were a religious necessity too. The early 20th century was still a time of huge religious influence, and the Madonna-whore syndrome was very real. It was indeed instilled in girls at a very early, impressionable age and that is understandable. Perhaps it still is in many families, and certainly it is in many cultures.
Yet for all that, the beauty and sexuality of Marilyn has its enduring, unending appeal, including to women and men who publicly reject it, yet privately desire to covet it.