One of my main bones to pick (and trust me when I say there are many) with the Marilyn Monroe community is this undying need to showcase her as a strong, independent woman in one breath while infantilizing her in another. The most common instance of this phenomenon happens when people discuss her marriage to Arthur Miller, painting Miller and Monroe as being involved in a relationship where he parasitically leeched all her money while treating her like a child.
People seem to casually forget that her marriage to Miller was longer than both of her previous marriages combined (she separated from Jim Doughtery in late 1945, although their divorce wasn’t filed and finalized until the following year while she married and divorced Joe DiMaggio in 1954 after 9 months). Monroe didn’t actively attempt to have children with either of her first two husbands, minus a conversation with Doughtery shortly before he was shipped off in the service, yet tried with Miller, resulting in an ectopic pregnancy in 1957 and a miscarriage in 1958.
Monroe fans also act like he was her Svengali, making him out as a monster who split up her relationship with Milton Greene, ignoring the grievances Monroe shared both privately and publicly about why she wanted to let Greene go from Marilyn Monroe Productions (click here for more on that). Contrary to what has been claimed over the years, the split between Monroe and Greene was not entirely harmonious, with the duo fighting over everything from a toaster to salad tongs, although it must be noted Greene walked away from MMP without demanding he receive any percentage of the corporation (Monroe would end up setting up Greene’s part of MMP in a trust for her mother). While the ending of Monroe’s partnership with Greene may have been hastened by the mutual disdain he and Miller possessed for one another, it seems likely it would have happened eventually (Miller was well-known not to get along with the Strasbergs, yet she kept them in her life) due to Monroe’s grievances with Greene’s behavior.
People also like to claim Miller lived off-of Monroe, bringing no income into the relationship. This is categorically false. In 1959 alone, Arthur brought in just under a third of the couple’s $323,000 income (the forms can be found on Scott Fortner’s website), or 20x what the average American family brought in a year. Miller couldn’t support Monroe’s lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean he was living off her either.
Making Monroe out to be helpless and incapable of making her own decisions isn’t limited to Arthur Miller either. We see it in every aspect of her fandom, including the Happy Birthday Mr. President dress fiasco.
There is a very weird connotation with that dress which is one of the reasons it’s my least favorite garment of hers. People love the mystery and intrigue that comes with it, and the dress has taken on a life of its own as the ultimate “Fuck You” to Jackie Kennedy so Monroe could appear on stage for her lover, John F. Kennedy. I’m not going to get into the Kennedy stuff, but it is worth noting that tying Monroe’s sexuality to a garment is yet another way of reducing her to a caricature of herself.
Made by Jean Louis at Western Costume Co., the dress was Monroe’s final costume, allowing her to showcase Marilyn Monroe-Movie Star in what would end up being her penultimate appearance at a public event. She wasn’t wearing the gown as a non discreet secret message to Jackie Kennedy, who wasn’t even attending the event, and newspapers from the time really didn’t make a huge deal out of Monroe’s appearance. Instead, most reporters took it as an opportunity to ask Monroe if she should consider retirement and comparing her outfit to a burlesque show.
Although I understand how people may look at this as a proud declaration of her sexuality, which in some ways it was, saying she was using the gown in the same way a five year old would wave a shiny toy in another child’s face to make them jealous is yet another way of framing Monroe as a precarious victim who was in above her head when it came to the Kennedy clan. By all accounts, Monroe considered it an honor to perform. She wanted to give a memorable performance in a dress that “only Marilyn Monroe could wear,” and she did just that. By latching onto affair rumors, people aren’t celebrating her accomplishments. Instead, they’re reducing her to a woman so desperate to get male attention that she’s going to behave like a petulant child.
This infantilization is never-ending when it comes to Monroe. I understand the appeal of wanting to separate stars from their poor decisions (we see Kardashian fans doing it over the dress right now), which is actually a very common practice in fandoms, but it’s time to let Monroe grow up and realize how she made her own decisions as an adult.