Search results for marilyn monroe

We’ve had some fun posting uses of the word “gay” before it meant what it means today. For example, the “gay nineties,” “to wake up GAY in the morning!,” and “I’ve robbed the rainbow to make you gay” (yes, really).

Here’s another fun one: a letter from Marilyn Monroe thanking the German Consulate General  for a bottle of champagne.  May we all be as gracious.

Thanks to Retronaut for the find!

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Originally posted at Shameless.

Marilyn Monroe is often held up as the antidote to the idea that only thin can be beautiful. “Marilyn was a size 10/12/14,” goes a common refrain (though sizing basically means nothing these days, so what does that even prove?). There have been a couple Marilyn Monroe memes floating around Facebook in the past couple months, and both are troubling. The focus is on Marilyn’s curves, and how her swimsuit clad body is different from what movie stars look like today (oh, the tyranny of the “Best Beach Bodies!” issue). What’s supposed to be an empowering message to women – you don’t have to be a Victoria’s Secret model to be beautiful – is completely undermined by two much older memes: divide and conquer and the male gaze.

In the first photo, Marilyn is compared to another woman in a bikini, who is much thinner. The text reads: “This [pointing to Monroe] is more attractive than this [pointing to the other woman].” While I can totally get behind the title “fuck society,” and add “and its stupid expectations” for good measure, there’s nothing anti-establishment about what’s being done here. This is a common tactic, in which women are pitted against each other, so that we lose sight of the real problem: namely, society. If women are fighting amongst ourselves about who is more “beautiful,” if we compare ourselves to other women endlessly, we don’t have time to notice that we’re trapped in a hamster-wheel of low self-esteem. Society hopes that you’ll buy things, to try and make yourself feel better. In the meantime, it’s hoped that we as women won’t critically examine what beauty is, what’s being sold to us, and most importantly, who profits from all this. Fuck Society, sure, because society tells you that if you’re not extremely thin, you’re worthless. However, extremely thin women? They’re still people. Further, bodies are just bodies. They have no intrinsic worth, no moral value, other than what we assign them. The thought behind this comparison photo is to turn the dominant paradigm on its head, but what it really does is reinforce that for one woman to be good, another must be bad. And that kind of thinking isn’t going to get us anywhere.

The second is the same photo of Marilyn, this time alone in the Motivational Poster style. The text reads: “PROOF: That you can be adored by thousands of men, even when your thighs touch.” From the start this would seem like a better message. No comparison photo, no pitting women against each other. For some reason, though, this photo troubles and angers me more than the first one does. Because here’s the thing: you are worth more than what men think of you. Marilyn Monroe was, to put it mildly, very sad, very often. She was a sex symbol, and thus, stopped existing as human being, a regular girl. Almost everything that fucked up Marilyn’s later life had to do with being “adored” by men. Men used her, or deified her (and that’s a hard come-down for those dudes when they found a human being in their bed the morning after). Political brothers purportedly passed her around like a toy. Conventional wisdom, political conspiracy aside, has it that Monroe killed herself. Being “adored by thousands of men” didn’t stop her demons from consuming her. It angers me to no end that, again, in the name of self-esteem we’re going to make a poster girl (literally) out of a woman who was notoriously down on herself.

I want very much for us to stop thinking that there is only one body type that is acceptable. I would prefer the focus be on health, rather than appearance. The Monroe Meme seems about the furthest thing from healthy. This is a woman who abused alcohol and sleeping pills later in her life, this is a woman who (probably) died due to depression. But, hey, as long as someone thinks she looks good, I guess that’s what matters.

Heather Cromarty has written for The Walrus Blog, and writes about books and bookish miscellany at In The Midst of Life, We Are in Debt, Etc. Follow her on Twitter: @la_panique.

3Thanks to a tip from Jay Livingston, I came across this quote from The Pursuit of  Loneliness by sociologist Philip Slater.  It’s long, but wow:

[I]t can’t be denied that the female ideal in America is nonaggressive and nonthreatening, to the point of caricature.  Take for example the film personality of the much-idolized Marilyn Monroe: docile, accommodating, brainless, defenseless, totally uncentered, incapable of taking up for herself or knowing what she wants or needs. A sexual encounter with such a woman in real life would border on rape – the idea of “consenting adults” wouldn’t even apply.  The term “perversion” seems more appropriate for this kind of yearning than for homosexuality or bestiality, since it isn’t directed toward a complete being.  The Marilyn Monroe image was the ideal sex object for the sexually crippled and anxious male: a bland erotic pudding that would never upset his delicate stomach.

It’s important to realize that this Playboy ideal is a sign of low, rather than high, sexual energy.  It suggests that the sexual flame is so faint and wavering that a whole person would overwhelm and extinguish it.  Only a vapid, compliant ninny-fantasy can keep it alive. It’s designed for men who don’t really like sex but need it for tension-release – men whose libido is wrapped up in achievement or dreams of glory.

Slater wrote this passage in 1970, hence the reference to Marilyn Monroe.  I would have to think hard about whether I think it still applies broadly, but I think it’s fair to say that the “bland erotic pudding” is still part of the repertoire of essentially every female celebrity who is successful in part because of her appearance.  I did a search for some of the most high-profile female actresses and singers today, looking specifically for images that might fit Slater’s description.  I invite your thoughts.

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Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.