Isn’t it funny that Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe had eerily similar paths in terms of marriage and affairs, but one is still consistently painted as an angel and the other, a whore? Audrey and Marilyn’s public personas were not really a reflection of truth, but rather, images concocted by the studios and media.
Today, the two have almost become looked at as representations of their respective images – angelic and innocent versus sultry and sexy – rather than being viewed as complex women. It doesn’t help that they are frequently used as spokespeople for messages across modern social media platforms (how many of you have seen that image of Marilyn Monroe referencing that she was a size 14?).
Despite her persona, Marilyn wasn’t a dumb blonde. (Which I wrote a little about before, too.) It was common knowledge she got fired because she wouldn’t put out for studio executives when it was expected for young actresses to do so. She didn’t care how much a man, famous or not, wined and dined her; she still didn’t get on her knees because she didn’t want to (Harpo Marx is one of the famous).
Yet she was painted as a sex symbol for the masses by studios and photographers, not because of her actions, but because they thought it was what would sell. And it did – so much so, that she struggled to get good, serious roles, even after she trained with the best teachers of actors at the time and received a then-unheard of standing ovation at the Actors’ Studio.
The truth is, Audrey and Marilyn, as people, both had affairs and multiple marriages. They led similar lives. However, due to how studios cast and contracted them, they are remembered very differently.
While Audrey is thought of as the peak of elegance, class, and grace, rumors about Marilyn sleeping around and only being famous for her body are still prevalent today. (Aside from the fact that she didn’t get famous from sleeping around, even if she had, no one deserves to be vilified for choosing to have sex.)
I wish this was a thing of the past, but the truth is, the media and the studios are still doing this to women in the public eye today.
Look at any given popular actress and they are usually painted as the embodiment of one attribute. A woman can’t be well rounded and be a celebrity. Case in point: Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Stewart, who are friends, have both jokingly flipped off cameras at awards ceremonies.
Jennifer Lawrence is regularly painted as a quirky, loveable, girl-next-door (despite some offensive things she’s said), while Kristen has been consistently colored as a snobby girl with a bad attitude (despite the fact that she’s coping with anxiety in the public eye). The public response to Jennifer’s decision to flip off the camera was mostly, “Oh my god, she’s so funny!” whereas the reaction to Kristen was outrage and annoyance.
It gets even worse when the sexual history of these women become tabloid fodder. We, the audience of celebrities, are horribly obsessed with celebrity sex lives, as well as the sex lives of our peers – something that’s really none of our business. It’s a phenomenon that pertains only to women, sadly. When was the last time you heard a man call another man a whore? When was the last time you heard anyone discussing some random male celebrity’s love life?
Kim Kardashian has been asked why she was okay with being recorded during her non-infamous sex tape, and she simply said, “Because I was horny and I wanted to.” She was betrayed by the person she was in a relationship with and the tape was released without her permission (some argue otherwise, but I’m basing this off of Kim’s claims). She made the most of a terrible situation, used it to her advantage, and now is a wildly successful businesswoman. Her perfumes, clothing, makeup, and other product lines are proof of that. And yet she’s still vilified for the sex tape – something she did with her boyfriend, on her own time, in the privacy of her bedroom.
There is often a reason these women seemingly only have one attribute. It’s to gain a certain type of audience, it’s to garner a certain type of stardom, and it’s to perpetuate a certain type of scandal. Each and every time, this is how studios and media get money. It’s how we simplify actress to either justify our adoration or hatred for said celebrity.
But this isn’t the only issue with it; this attitude filters down to everyday women who aren’t celebrities. We are meant to be either sexy or innocent, a bad girl or an angel. If we have more than one emotion a day, we are made out to be “crazy” or such an enigmatic creature.
All at once, we are over-simplified, while the claim is being made that we are so, so, so, so hard to figure out. These generalizations are detrimental to you, other women, and all of society. Everyone has more than one attribute, more than one emotion, and even celebrities are human beings. Refuting claims over any given person only being x, y, or z can really help how you see all women.
Something John Green (one of my favorite authors) says in the book “Paper Towns” rings true for this: “Imagine others complexly.” Seeing everyone with more depth, knowing everyone has their own dreams, desires, attitudes, and ways of living can help you connect. Simplify tasks, not humans.
Photo credit timothytsuihini on Flickr.