Marilyn Monroe not a positive role model for today’s women

Opinion graphic

More than 50 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe is still hailed as a positive role model by many women today. Monroe’s seductive eyes, half-open lips and famous “quotes” clutter Twitter, Pinterest and even people’s bodies. In today’s world of stick-thin models, Monroe is hailed as a “real” woman with real curves.

But what isn’t acknowledged is her life of drug abuse, submission and unfaithfulness. She was described by people she worked with as “shallow,” “ditzy” and “stupid.” She died of an alleged drug overdose at the age of 36. She reportedly had affairs with famous married men. In a world with strong, intelligent women leaders, Monroe should not be deemed a suitable role model.

She survived in the industry by relying almost exclusively on her sexuality. She wore extremely tight clothing, posed erotically, sent nude pictures to get media attention and constantly pursued male attention. She reduced herself to an object, chipping away at women’s image as intelligent, self-sufficient members of society.

The first time I watched a Marilyn Monroe movie, “The Seven Year Itch,” I was completely underwhelmed. After hearing all the hype about her, I was expecting an actual theatrical performance. Instead, she played a ditzy, shallow, submissive women who’s only desire was male attention.

According to Leo McKinstry in a Aug. 29, 2013 article published in the British Newspaper The Daily Mail, Monroe ” … almost always played the same shallow role, the ditzy helpless blonde craving masculine attention and protection. She had none of the impressive authority of other Hollywood actresses.”

That is not who women should desire to emulate in life.

According to accounts from people she worked with, Monroe was also highly emotionally unstable and self-centered. She frequently abused drugs and alcohol. She reportedly had an affair with President John F. Kennedy. None of these attributes are things women should be purposefully pursuing today.

Monroe’s weight and “real” woman curves are partially what has kept her relevant today. Her exact body size is debatable, but according to the official Marilyn Monroe website, she measurements were 37-23-36. She was 5 feet 5.5 inches tall, and weighed between 115-120 pounds. That puts her comfortably in the “normal” body mass category, and in a women’s size six or eight by today’s standards.

When compared to other famous actresses in the 1940s and 1950s, she wasn’t so different. She worked in a world where actresses weren’t stick thin. Famous actresses such as Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman and Rita Hayworth graced the silver screen weighing considerably more than the actresses of today. Monroe’s ability to thrive in the industry as a curvy woman is more indicative of the industry in the 1950s and 1960s, and less of her ability to stand as a testament against stick-thin actresses.

Monroe did face many challenges in life, from growing up in an orphanage to getting married and divorced by her 20th birthday. She faced challenges, and overcame them to some degree to reap wealth, fame and sex-symbol status. But she continued to be plagued by drug abuse, insecurities and unfaithfulness. There are many women today who have overcome great life challenges to become excellent leaders devoid of drug and alcohol use, unfaithfulness and promiscuity, like the 16-year-old education activist in Pakistan Malala Yousafzai.

Marilyn lived her life the way she did, with some admirable characteristics and many shortfalls. She should be respected as an individual, but not put on a pedestal as a role model for women today. Instead, women should look toward strong, independent, educated female leaders who stand for what they believe in. We’ve moved past being seen only as objects, and can make real, lasting contributions in the world.

  • D Merritt

    The “shallow” woman also became the first woman of her generation to run her own production company in a industry of only men in power. This “ditsy” woman also made one of the exclusive but racially restrictive night clubs of the day feature her black friend, Ella Fitzgerald, when no one else would. Ella herself described Marilyn as “ahead of her times.” What’s particularly galling is that this mean spirited & misguided article is written by another woman. That Marilyn accomplished what she did with the hand she was dealt is impressive. There are many women today who have accomplished much without one half of the obsticles she did. If you were “underwhelmed” by her films it probably was because you were blinded by the pretend woman, and not the real woman behind the image. Nothing or no one is always what they seem. Perhaps a lack of support and understanding from her sisterhood contributed to her demise. Ya think?

    • Jamie Parsons

      The real woman who decided to betray her first husband, change her name, appearance and personality all for the pursuit of fame is not progressive, it is conforming to men’s ridiculous standards of beauty.

      • Jackie

        I think you are confusing personality with public persona. Those are two different things. Jean Harlow wasn’t a platinum blonde and Lucy wasn’t a redhead but I don’t see people slagging them off for it. As far as Norma Jeane betraying her first husband we only have Andre de Dienes’ word for that and Marilyn was no longer here to refute his version of their story.
        As far as changing her name it was common practice back then. I fail to see how that is a negative. Do you think Tom Cruise would have made it if he had continued calling himself Thomas Mapother IV ? Or any of these people if they had stuck to their “real” names?

        Archie Leach
        Gladys Smith
        Bernard Schwartz
        Betty Joan Perske
        Julia Wells
        Allen Konigsberg
        Francis Timony Durgin

        Doris von Kappelhoff

        • Jamie Parsons

          lol no, I’m not confusing anything.

      • Deneice Holbert

        Which women did in the 50’s. YOU NO FRICKING CLUE???? what it was like for women during that time. Read a book and educate yourself.

        • Jamie Parsons

          hahaha you serious? It was hard for women in that time so betraying their loved ones and changing their name, appearance and personality is just ‘what they did’? God damn, you might have to read a book – find out that 99.9999% of women back then did not do that.

    • Jackie

      Not to take away any of Marilyn’s achievements because she was a remarkable woman but Mary Pickford was the first actress to have her own production company. She was a woman way ahead of her time!

      • Incorrect. “United Artists” was founded in 1919 by D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks, with the intention of controlling their own interests rather than depending upon the powerful commercial studios. This is a generally known fact.

        • Jackie

          From the Mary Pickford Foundation website:

          January 15, 1919: Seeking total financial and artistic control of the production and distribution of their films, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and William S. Hart draw up a letter of intention to form United Artists.

          1919: Mary forms The Mary Pickford Company, devoted exclusively to producing films distributed by United Artists.

          Two completely separate things.

        • Guest

          Aww. Well done.

    • Alyssa

      Women don’t have to inherently support every single action and behavior of every woman out there simply because they’re both women, that’s just absurd. No one claimed she was a horrible, heartless person but she should not be admired the way she is. And the businesses you mention her “starting” may have been her ideas but she likely had very little to do with any of the actual business aspects or their success.

  • fishboy_22

    who ever wrote this dis-tribe does not get it. the world was a different place in from 1940-1962.
    women had no rights, no say, especially in public. do your homework and learn the times and her obstacles held in perspective to the society of the day. look and see what decisions she had to make to become who she became. do you think you would of done as well. no freedoms of today which we take for granted and no betty ford clinics to teach us how to cope with our demons. your all wrong…

    • Robert Brown

      I doubt that it was written by a person who either was alive in that era, or who is capable of putting themselves back in time and getting the perspective of a woman trying to make it in the film industry in that era.

  • Marijane Gray

    The author of this clearly knows absolutely nothing about Marilyn Monroe. Let’s do some fact checking, shall we?

    ” her life of drug abuse”—Marilyn never took recreational drugs. Ever. She only took doctor prescribed pills for her very real afflictions of insomnia, endometriosis, and anxiety. This was in an era when doctor knew best and patients unquestioningly took what was handed to them. Had a patient been treated today as Marilyn was, the doctor would lose their license and likely be in jail.

    “submission”—Submission? Marilyn became one of the first women in history to start her own film production company, and the first person to start an independent film company. She did this as a result of of being fed up with being forced to star in dumb blonde roles under the studio system that insisted actors have slave contracts and make whatever movie they were told to make. She walked out on her contract, stood up for herself, and began her own business. Eventually the studio capitulated to her demands and gave her the right to approve her script, director, costars and cinematographers. One can not underestimate how significant this was for a woman in the 1950s to accomplish.

    “She reportedly had affairs with famous married men”—REPORTEDLY. As in, tabloid nonsense that isn’t actually true. Marilyn had a series of long term monogamous relationships with casual dating in between. Just like everyone else. If you are referring to Kennedy, there was no affair with either of them. That rumor was started in 1974 by known liar and conman Robert Slatzer and the media has run with it ever since.

    “She wore extremely tight clothing,”–She wore what the studio wardrobe department told her to wear. In her private life, she wore casual sportswear, usually a loose fitting top and her favorite pair of checked pants.

    “posed erotically”–She worked as a pinup model, how do you expect her to pose?

    “sent nude pictures to get media attention”–She did no such thing. She posed nude in 1949, when she was broke. She signed the release form with a false name and made sure her face was turned so she wouldn’t be recognized. In 1952 when it was discovered it was her, she was horrified and found herself in the middle of a public relations disaster. Her honesty and candor about why she did it won over people’s hearts.

    “She reduced herself to an object”—No, she was treated as an object which is much different. Marilyn constantly begged to be taken seriously as an actress, pleaded to be given more serious dramatic roles. She studied under Chekhov and Strasberg, she would shock journalists by going on 20 minute dissertations about Stanislavsky, she wanted to act in Macbeth and The Brothers Karamazov. It was the studios and the public that reduced her to an object, not her.

    “She was described by people she worked with as “shallow,” “ditzy” and “stupid.”—She was also described by people she worked with as a genius, a gifted comedienne, brilliant, and the most talented actor along with Marlon Brando.

    “She reportedly had an affair with President John F. Kennedy.”—Actually, considering MM and JFK were the most well documented people of their era, we can pinpoint where either of them were on almost any given day. And the fact is that by carefully comparing their schedules, one can see that they were only in the same place at the same time on four occasions. One of those was attended by both their spouses, one she was escorted all evening by her father in law. Four meetings does not an affair make.

    Strong, independent and educated? Marilyn was one of the first women to start her own production company. She led to the overhaul of the entire studio system. She was the very first celebrity to ever speak openly about childhood sexual abuse in a time when the victim was blamed for it. She was an early advocate of civil rights in an era when that was taboo. She constantly strove to improve and educate herself, having a library of over 400 books and studying everything from art and literature to philosophy and attended classes at UCLA. She won numerous acting awards, including three Golden Globes and both France and Italy’s equivalent of the Oscar. She overcame a horrific childhood to become the biggest star of her lifetime and the biggest icon of ours. These are all things that yes, in fact, DO make her an excellent role model.

    Marilyn begged to be taken seriously, and the real tragedy of her life is that catty women who know absolutely nothing about her like to trot out their superiority complexes so they can look down on a beautiful and successful woman who accomplished more in her short life than they can ever hope to. Try actually learning something about this remarkable woman from a source more credible than the National Enquirer before feeling you have any ability to write anything about her.

    • NOCY

      Thank you the beautiful words l get so annoyed each time l come across negative bulshit about marilyn monroe she’s forever my role model

    • Kathleen Lowy

      sounds like a Marilyn cultist.

      • Seraphime Angelis

        So…intelligent, well-informed, well written posts sound like the mindless, repetitive iterations of cult followers to you? What’s the New York Times and The Washinton Post? Do they strike you as on par with the National Enquirer? Are they “fake news?”

        • Mary Ann

          I like Marilyn Monroe but a lot of the things she said were very one sided, maybe that’s why she said that, and lool why are you taking it so seriously it was done in a humorous way XD

    • Noel Zeigler

      Mary Pickford was the first woman in history to start her own production company — thirty years before Marilyn Monroe was famous. And unlike Marilyn’s company, it was a smashing success and made great films. That’s just one example among many of the historical inaccuracies in this post. Some of your defense of Marilyn is absolutely true, particularly that she didn’t choose to be type-casted as the ditzy blonde bombshell and wanted serious acting parts. However, learn your history and understand that great women like Pickford paved the way long before Marilyn was even born.

      • Marijane Gray

        “ONE OF” the first women to start a production company, not “THE FIRST” woman to start a production company. Try rereading what I stated.

        By all means, please point out the rest of the “”many”” historical inaccuracies you’re claiming, so I can provide the proof and documentation that everything I have stated is factual.

        • Noel Zeigler

          Wow. Great job editing your comment to save face there. Unfortunately you forgot to edit the part directly after where you said she was the “first person to start an independent film company.” That kind of proves the original context of your statement. What a blunder.

          Also, your claim conveniently omits the fact that Marilyn Monroe Productions was a failure. Monroe, although holding 51% of the shares, didn’t actually run the company. Her photographer Milton Greene did, and Marilyn was just going to star in whatever films the company selected for her. Greene had to pay all of Monroe’s expenses because she couldn’t find work without Fox and was in desperate need of money, requiring Greene to mortgage his own home just to support her. The company never made any films, and Monroe ended up going back to Fox anyway. So using Marilyn Monroe Productions as an example of Monroe being an “independent woman” when Greene literally had to take care of her with his own money and she ended up giving up on the company anyway is a complete joke.

          • Marijane Gray

            I edited my comment to add the sentence ”Try rereading what I stated”. You can check the edit history for verification that was the only thing changed.

            She was the first person to start an independent film company. United Artists (of the aforementioned Mary Pickford) was a STUDIO, not a production company. They are different things.

            Saying that Marilyn Monroe Productions never made any films is completely false. Bus Stop? The Prince and the Showgirl? Ever heard of them?

            She obtained the rights to several manuscripts and screenplays under the company, and if you go over company documents (as I have) she was intricately involved in everything. She selected the properties obtained herself, she wasn’t just handed a script and said ‘here, act in this’ as that was exactly what she fled Fox for doing to her.

            Greene didn’t pay her expenses because ”she couldn’t find work without Fox”, he paid her expenses because for the year that she left Fox, she was under a contract that forbid her from doing any other acting work. She could have been sued, and for a very large amount, if she had taken any work while she was fighting the studio. She was legally barred from doing any acting during that time.

            Marilyn Monroe Productions fell apart because of Arthur Miller, who resented Greene, came between them, and pushed Milton out. This has been recently confirmed to me by Amy Greene, Milton’s wife.

            I’d hardly call a company that produced films nominated for Golden Globes, Baftas, David di Donatello, Laurel, National Board of Review, and an Oscar a “failure”.

          • Jason

            You are correct! Milton Greene was the driving force behind Marilyn Monroe Productions! Then, there was the rest of the gang!

          • Seraphime Angelis

            Typical mysogynistic attempt to devalue female contribution and courage. And Steve Wosniak was the brains behind Apple, but it won’t stop any of you circle jerking Steve Jobs. And Leonardo da Vinci seldom put his own hand to the pieces attributed to his workshop. Same with Shakespeare and Walt Disney. This model of having someone act as the public face of a company or intellectual/creative enterprise, setting its tone and overall direction
            while others participate more readily in managing daily affairs is common. Your point is moot and misplaced.

          • disqus_TpUsMS3qtf

            oh no…. this has nothing to do with what you just stated. MMP was put together as a front for Milton Greene, Lee Strasberg, and the Freudians. MMP was how they sold the “new” Marilyn to the public. They classified Marilyn as the hotshot business woman to sell her image. However, behind-the-scenes they exerted coercion to control Marilyn- to rip her off! How do we know? They admitted it publicly in 1956 in an article written in defense of what they were doing. And guess what? In that article that descibed a Marilyn who was NOT in control of her situation. I have documented exactly what the gang was doing to her going back to 1955. Then they murder her by 1962. And they gotbwhat they wanted. They were after her estate as soon as they met her. Again, how do we know? Marilyn wrote what they did to her and what they wanted in 1955. google me… MarilynMonroeFamily

      • Oct

        Marilyn was the first to start her company during an era when the studio system was supreme. And Marilyn was described as intelligent and outside of her image, in her life many described her as innocent and almost non sexual. Many directors like Billy Wilder, Lee Strasbourg, Laurence Olivier, Joshua Logan and others talk about how extremely talented she was and how her understanding of comedic dialogue was second to none. Billy Wilder even said he turned away certain projects because there was no actress left that was so good in his witty comedies. He described her as a genius comedienne, the best he ever worked with. Olivier said she was a brilliant comedienne, and Strasbourg said that out of the hundreds of actresses he had ever worked with, only Brando and Monroe stand out from all the rest. Also in her drama Bus Stop, Joshua Logan said she was possibly the greatest actress that he had the pleasure of working with. Many co stars like Jane Russell, Robert Mitchum, even Bette Davis talk about how charming, intelligent, and warm she was.

  • Jackie

    Upon hearing that Hollywood’s most notorious blonde would star in Bus Stop, director Joshua Logan’s initial reaction was, “Oh, no — Marilyn Monroe can’t bring off Bus Stop. She can’t act.” In a later interview, Logan ate his own words, lamenting, “I could gargle with salt and vinegar even now as I say that, because I found her to be one of the greatest talents of all time.”

    Marilyn’s performance in Bus Stop garnered some of the best reviews of her career. The well-respected Bosley Crowther of The New York Times opened his commentary on the film with: “Hold onto your chairs, everybody, and get set for a rattling surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress in Bus Stop. She and the picture are swell.”

    Arthur Knight, noted film historian and critic, raved, “. . . in Bus Stop, Marilyn Monroe effectively dispels once and for all the notion that she is merely a glamor personality, a shapely body with tremulous lips and come-hither blue eyes.”

    • Jamie Parsons

      Oh wow, one good performance. Wow.
      Maybe you should check out what Billy Wilder said about her. You know, how she took 50 takes to say ‘Wheres the bourbon? And needed the lines taped to the drawers.

      • Jackie

        Thank you for your input Jamie. I don’t need schooling on Marilyn. I know exactly what Billy Wilder said about her. I also know that he said she was a genius in front of the camera and that there would never be another like her. Also that he would contemplate scripts and movies and discard them because he felt that they needed Marilyn and wouldn’t work without her.

      • Jackie

        And I posted the Josh Logan quotes as an example. Marilyn gave many fine performances throughout her career. The Asphalt Jungle, All About Eve, Don’t Bother to Knock, Niagara, Gentlement Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, The Prince and the Showgirl, SLIH and The Misfits.

    • Robert Brown

      And are people still jealous of her, even after she has died? Me thinks so.

  • Jackie

    “Instead, women should look toward strong, independent, educated female leaders who stand for what they believe in. We’ve moved past being seen only as objects, and can make real, lasting contributions in the world.”
    Who do you suggest – Sarah Palin?

    • Jamie Parsons

      How about Marie Curie? Or any damn female doctors.

  • Dwane

    I do not, nor does anyone else, appreciate this incredibly poorly written and extremely, extremely disrespectful article. Clearly you have done no research on Marilyn Monroe whatsoever as it reflects in your clear lack of knowledge on the subject. I have an extensive knowledge of Monroe’s life having read many reputable scholarly written books and articles on her life and career and I’d rather not even waste my time trying to relay that information to a complete idiot such as Ms. Sauber who wrote this monstrosity of an article. I suggest that the imbecile who wrote this article not quit her day job.

    • Kathleen Lowy

      For Pete’s sake she was simply an actress…I am through with worshipping entertainment stars who become part of the 1%, and later find out that they weren’t anything like their public image…All they do is make movies. & they are not entirely responsible for the artistic achievement of the film…there are directors, editors, cinematographers, composers, screenwriters, etc….Give me a break

  • Emeline

    “Instead, women should look toward strong, independent, educated female leaders who stand for what they believe in. We’ve moved past being seen only as objects, and can make real, lasting contributions in the world.”
    Just, wow… you’ve described what Monroe was actually like (NOT the newspaper character they created) and yet you appear to think she was the opposite! Congrats, you’re a very confused woman. Research a little deeper into the people you write about – this makes you no better than those money-grabbers who started all of this bullshit in Marilyn’s name. Marilyn was absolutely a proto-feminist; you don’t realise it today, but there are different waves of feminism that you can see Marilyn fits and her achievements completely and utterly destroy your argument. Don’t worry next time, because the truth is out there if you stop being brainwashed by the media and hearsay 🙂

  • Jess Maher

    I don’t necessarily think that people consciously think of her as a role model its more likely to be well deserved and appreciated respect and awestruck admiration for a woman to be in a mans world that had nothing really but her body and soul, and so she went out and did what the majority of us would do now, use everything she had to get where she wanted to go. It obviously and certainly worked but she had no family, no real friends to fall back on when things got tough. So it must have been so hard for her to face the dramas and realities of being famous.

  • Common Sense

    Um, Monroe was a size 2 at best- even then her white dress couldn’t fit a modern size 2 mannequin. Everyone has ‘curves’. All those women including Marilyn WERE, as you say, rail thin. And speaking of which, please drop that ugly body shaming. Having small breasts is not being “rail thin” or lacking curves. Please learn the difference between shapes and sizes.

    • Chris

      Watch The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot, she was a big woman compared to models and actresses of today because back then people were not obsessed with weight as they are today.

  • Deneice Holbert

    Wow I am not even going to read this article, because just by writing it, it is OBVIOUS the author is an ignorant moron who did absolutely no research. She was a strong successful actress and businesswoman. That was unheard of in the 40’s and 50’s.

  • Tonya

    What a shock a woman tearing down, nitpicking, & criticizing another woman! Why worry about men keeping us down when we have women who behave this way towards each other.

  • Chris

    Thanks for standing up to this hack Marijane!

  • Rico Jamon

    I’m enjoying the comments more than the article.

  • shanika

    Wow. I guess anyone can write an article. Please do some fact checking first though, please, so that you don’t look ignorant to people who actually are well researched on the subject you’re writing about. Bless your heart.

  • Lily-Rose Amber

    This is absolutely load of absolute f**KING GARBAGE!! Just More and More of millions, of billions, of trillions of false untrue facts, lies and nasty rumours spread about the QUEEN MARILYN MONROE.

    Which were all purely created by racist, sexist and misogynistic pig men who literally can’t stand seeing a WOMAN succeed and achieving such phenomenal power, love, status, wealth by all who truly loved her!! in a men’s sexist, racist and misogynistic society where they all have failed extremely miserably and she didn’t!!! no wonder all these nasty rumours are constantly spread about her in order to de-fame her, dis-credit her, to eliminate any links of peoples love and support for her and her of them and always cutting her down for being a fantastic women in a strong extreme sexist and misogynistic pig society!!!

    Women like our QUEEN MARILYN MONROE you should be bowing down and kissing her feet and the ground she walks on you ungrateful sexist misogynistic pig women!!!How dare who support men hatred of women and of herself!! you ignorant, uneducated, zero level of intelligence, stupid and extremely brainwashed fool Jena Sauber you truly are!! I hope the money and bribe you excepted in supporting murder and hatred to all women world wide and to yourself was worth it you ungrateful ignorant sexist pig women!!!! If it wasn’t for women like our QUEEN MARILYN MONROE breaking through the sexist, racist and misogynistic glass ceilings you would still be stuck in kitchen, looked down on, spat on by men who hate you f**king guts all because you were born with boobs and a vagina, who would rather murder you, then ever in a million years give you your freedom and independence that they have brainwashed you into believing that they would have, when in reality they never would have!!!!

    Marilyn Monroe was truly loved by all and truly supported by all actors and actress. Even today she is still not given her CREDITS, her ACKKNOWLEDGEMENTS, her STATUS, her FAME, her POWER and the tremendous phenomenal WEALTH she rightly and truly achieved and earned it all. She was truly a Star of Hollywood because the people truly loved her!!!!

    Marilyn Monroe will forever be the TRUEST QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD AND OF THE PEOPLE’S HEARTS!!! She is the greatest ROLE MODEL FOR ALL WOMEN especially in the face of STRONG EXTREME DOUBLE STANDARDS, SEXISM and MISOGYNISTIC SOCIETY that still exist and that we still currently live in 2017!!!

  • Seraphime Angelis

    Have you researched this topic at all? Because your rendering of it is shallow and doesn’t offer much contextual perspective. For example, you start by describing her persona, not the woman herself. It’s been well documented that many of her contemporaries knew she was far from ditzy, stupid or self-centered and those who claimed otherwise were likely sucumbing to the misogynistic bias of the age or the manipulations of 20th Century Fox who spent considerable resources toward propaganda against her as she grappled with them for creative control of her career. This essay is far from insightful, informed or thought provoking. Instead, it just rehashes the same superficial conservative bilge of half-truths and incomplete observations that floated around in Marilyn’s time. The same bilge that sunk her. Also, ironically, it then turns around and perpetuates the logical fallacy of holding a woman from the 1950s to a standard of behavior applicable to women today, insisting that she somehow be held accountable to our level of personal responsibility, courage and hindsight. How admirable you are sitting here in the 21st century so clear on what an independent and respectable woman should have been half a century ago at the height of white male oppression. Deplorable and a wasted read.