Marilyn Monroe as feminist icon? Who knew?
The best-known sex symbol of the 20th century (’cause we all know Beyonce’s got dibs on this century) is easily dismissed as just that, but as Lois Banner’s heftily researched tome on the woman born Norma Jeane Mortensen will attest, Monroe had some radical views for her time, embracing the ideals of the Communist movement, endeavouring to expand her mind even though Hollywood would rather her stick to her dumb blonde schtick, and engaging in activities unbecoming for a woman of her time. Banner is sure that had Monroe lived long enough, she would have been a keen supporter of the feminist movement.
Personally, I have always been an advocate of Monroe as feminist, refusing to take on my mother’s, amongst many others’, dislike of her for her bombshell image. As Banner maps out Monroe’s family history, her life as a sexually abused orphan, her first marriage at 16 to Jim Dougherty, her early days in Hollywood and the way she crafted herself into a star, the reader sees Monroe not as the ditzy Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes like so many others did, but as a gifted actress merely playing up to one of the many archetypes (sexy “Marilyn”, comedienne “Lorelei” and the glamourous star of later years [from p. 237]) she was perceived as when it was called for: there was much more to Marilyn Monroe than meets the eye, as is detailed in The Passion & the Paradox.
By interviewing a myriad of sources, some of which only fellow feminist biographer of Monroe, Gloria Steinem, had interviewed before, Banner debunks some common myths about Monroe, including those surrounding her death. By doing so, she delves much further into Marilyn Monroe’s psyche than any other book about her I’ve read.
I’m probably a bit biased, as Banner pretty much reinforces ideas about her that I already held, but if you’re only going to pick up one publication on Marilyn Monroe, let it be this refreshingly modern take on her as a person, not a sexual object.
Image via These Little Words.