Marilyn Monroe is an icon. We know her for her blond hair, her hourglass figure, and the iconic image of her in the white dress, valiantly holding her skirt in place as a gust of air from a subway grate blasts it straight up. Michelle Morgan’s The Girl presents us with a well-deserved, very much overdue addition to Marilyn Monroe’s legacy: a portrait of the woman as a feminist icon.
The Girl covers Monroe’s career at its peak, detailing how the actor often had to fight against the blond bombshell stereotype in order to assert her right to determine her own career. Morgan paints an image of Monroe too rarely seen in the media — that of a woman who loved to read classic literature and wanted to adapt Dostoyevsky for the screen. She was a feminist, advocating for her right to take on more complex roles even as reviewers patronizingly advised her to focus on just looking pretty. She started her own production company, so she could produce works that she was passionate about, and was a shrewd businessperson in her own right. She even spoke out against sexual harassment, and as we know with the #MeToo movement, that was seen as par for the course until long after Monroe died.
Morgan does a good job of contextualizing Marilyn Monroe’s feminism, by pointing out how the attitudes and barriers she faced were very much the norm, and were espoused even by women. It’s disheartening to see how many of the issues Monroe faced are still being battled by women today, but at the same time also gratifying to see some of these issues being discussed more openly, as with the #MeToo movement.
The Girl is both an entertaining glimpse into 1950s Hollywood and a timely tribute to a woman who was much more than the stereotypes history has accorded her.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.