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Marilyn Monroe's Shoes

Much of what the media portray as women's sexuality looks suspiciously like dissociative identity disorder. Marilyn Monroe's seductive behaviors, for example, bear more resemblance to those of a captive child appeasing an adult perpetrator than those of a grown woman engaging in an empowering and mutually satisfying sexual interaction. And, indeed, why wouldn't they?

The pop cultural icon for female heterosexuality spent her childhood in eleven foster homes and one orphanage. Eleven foster homes. One orphanage. By her own account, she was a survivor of multiple episodes of child sexual abuse. Her mother? Mentally ill and committed to an asylum. Shortly after Marilyn's fifteenth birthday, her legal guardian Grace McKee brokered a so-called marriage for her. In other words, Marilyn Monroe was legally prostituted as a teenager. Before she was twenty-five, she had already made three attempts at suicide; by thirty-six, she was dead. Marilyn called her first husband "Daddy," her second husband (Joe DiMaggio) "Pa," and her third husband (Arthur Miller) "Pops." Apparently it wasn't just her heart that belonged to daddy.

But this profoundly traumatized woman who died such a tragic, early death has become, not a symbol for a movement against child sexual abuse, but an icon of female sexuality. What does it say about popular culture that its sex goddess was a desperately unhappy, suicidal, incest survivor with dissociative identity disorders — a woman who was raised homeless, abandoned by one female guardian and prostituted by another? Can anyone really believe that Marilyn Monroe's sexuality existed independent of her personal history — that it was not intimately connected with behaviors learned during a childhood in which she was perpetually at the mercy of strangers, and that, rather than being an attribute of empowerment, it was more the strategy of impotence?

What have been described as "seductive behaviors," were, in fact, an aggregate of cues developed in a perpetrator-victim scenario, and it is instructive for women to note the universality of this code among males who choose to read them at face value. Ask these same men to imitate Marilyn Monroe's facial expressions, postures, or speech patterns, and they will be quick to tell you how ridiculous, how childish, how undignified they feel. Apparently behaviors that are seen as natural and even desirable for women are read as degrading and absurd for men. The mystique of femininity or the bald facts of dominance? The sexual behavior for women that patriarchy wants to idealize is identical to that of an enslaved child.

At a recent auction of her personal belongings, a pair of Marilyn's rhinestone-encrusted, stiletto-heel pumps was sold for $48,000. A high price to pay for shoes, but cheap compared to the cost of walking in them.

Graphics Credits

  • Marilyn Monroe's auctioned shoe, sketch.© 2006, Sage Starwalker.
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