Marilyn came along exactly when the world needed her. During the war, women were working outside of the home, men were taking breaks from the fighting to carouse with European women, and it seemed the world was on the verge of loosening the corset stays on sexuality. Except that didn’t happen- the men returned home and expected their women to get out of the factories and into the kitchen. Dior’s unveiling of their “new look” sealed women’s fate- they were expected to be prim and proper and ladylike. Modesty and decorum were of the utmost importance, and all the women who had risen to the occasion of self-sufficiency during wartime were now relegated back to being kitchen drudgery broodmare’s. Everything carried on in such a fashion for a few years after the war. Then a certain nude calendar started making the rounds of locker rooms and gas stations…….
When the calendar story broke, the studios went into a panic, the country was poised for the scandal of the year: that the fresh young starlet Marilyn Monroe was the naked, unashamed woman hanging on walls across the country. And then…..Marilyn was the breath of fresh air that the stale social morays needed. Instead of being ashamed, instead of performing spin control or trying to garner sympathy, she not only held her head high and admitted it….she made jokes about it, saying she had nothing on but the radio. Her candor and honesty was refreshing to the public, and with it, very subtly, the nation’s views on women’s sexuality began to change. Marilyn was a rare woman- she could seduce and entice men, yet still seem suitable to bring home to mother. She could endear herself to women without them feeling threatened. Most importantly, she showed the world that you could be a sexual being, you could be aware of and even revel in your own body without being slutty. She was that rare woman who could retain elegance while undressed, and this showed the women of America that yes, you could be sexual without being immodest, that you could be sensual without being crass, that you could seduce and please your husband at night and still be a proper society woman during the day. Without her bringing sex to the forefront of the American conscience, I don’t know that the sexual revolution that followed in the 1960’s might have occurred.
Marilyn was a feminist before there was such a word. When the studios wanted to pigeonhole her in dumb blonde roles, she not only defied them and moved to New York, she started her own production company, one of the first women to ever do so. Not only was Marilyn a pioneering woman in the movie industry, she also helped to overhaul the studio system. The studios used to tell actors what movie they’d appear in, like it or not. Marilyn fought for and won the right of script, co-star, and directorial approval-unheard of in those times. The sheer moxie of a woman in the 1950’s to demand and be granted such power and respect is a facet of Marilyn that is sadly overlooked nowadays. However, her influence is still felt- strongly. Every time a woman can direct or produce a film, she has Marilyn to thank. Any time an actor or actress can reject a script, they have Marilyn to thank. Every time a woman can stand up for herself and tell the powers that be to shove it- she has Marilyn to thank.
And every time a woman knows she doesn’t have to choose between being a Madonna or a whore, every time a woman thinks sex is playful and fun instead of shameful and dirty, every time a woman can feel at home in and not embarrassed in the body she has, her man has Marilyn to thank.
By Marijane Gray