Marilyn Monroe's Ideology vs. The American Male Dream
In the book entitled "The Hearts of Men," Barbara Ehrenreich argues that men felt emasculated by the demands of marriage and responsibility in the 1950's. She equated the expected conformity of this era with the discontent that led men to dissatisfaction with American home life ideals. She then identifies a rebellion ensued by men tired of responsibility and pressure brought on by marriage. The first hedonistic attempt by men to be pleasure seeking individuals was brought on by the publication of "Playboy" in the late 1950's. Ehrenreich points to this magazine as a debacle of marriage and women. She highlights the flippant role of women their published articles and cartoons portray. The role of the male playboy is pleasure seeking and irresponsible. This male denotes women as mere play things. But the playboy does enjoy his role as a dominating pleasure seeking male devoid of responsibility, according to Ehrenreich. She points to this rebellion as an attempt to escape the boxed in American dream of boredom and perfunctory living. Her last analysis of male rebellion is in the form of the beatnik. Unlike the playboy, the beatniks actually thrived on a lifestyle that drained them of their masculinity. Ehrenreich argues that this subset of men get women to support them and shirk from the responsibility of husband and provider.
In this paper, I will argue a standpoint against the typical male rebellion that Ehrenreich portrays in her analyzes. To do this I will use the role reversal found in the relationship of Marilyn and Joe Dimaggio. Joe Dimaggio fulfilled part of the American dream with his legendary success as a baseball player. But he was seeking a life of family and marriage with Marilyn Monroe. I argue that he would have been satisfied and content with the lifestyle that fit the American standard of the 1950's. This was not a man to be emasculated or discontent by the conformity of marriage. This was a man who had a very strong presence of control and a confident male identity. He was already living the life of a bachelor that "The Hearts of Men" denotes as a fantasy for the married man chained in by society. But for a shy Dimaggio it was a lonely existence. "He was concealed and withdrawn. His shyness caused him considerable pain." This points to a man who craves a cocoon of privacy and comfort that a conformist marriage would bring. Unfortunately, he fell in love with a woman who desired more than the typical ideal that Ehrenreich described as a marriage trap. Marilyn was not a woman to sit home waiting for a fat paycheck from her husband secure in the knowledge that she did not have to work outside the home. Her career was a sustaining force in her life. She could not and would not trade it in for marriage alone. In the case of Dimaggio and Marilyn, the roles defined by Ehrenreich seem to be reversed. If anyone was in danger of being bored and discontent in the marriage of the 50's, it was Marilyn not Dimaggio.
Shortly after her marriage to Joe Dimaggio, there were examples of disenchantment on Marilyn's part. "She approached the dark, noisy room where Joe sat staring at the TV. The sight was painfully familiar to her by now. After eight months, this is what her marriage had come to. Joe watched TV, played golf, went to the track, and played poker. Soon after they were married, he had asked Marilyn to abandon her career." Marilyn was not about to abandon her career for this. She simply could not shelve her own aspirations to appease a person she found very different from herself.
It could be argued that in some ways their marriage did exhibit similarities to the typical discontented marriage Ehrenreich argues. But by comparing the role reversal of discontent, the differences are profound. Dimaggio has always dwelled in the "male space" of the golf course or club room that "The Hearts of Men" describe as escapism from unhappy marriages for the typical male.
But this is far from the case with Dimaggio and Marilyn. Dimaggio uses this cocoon of male familiarity to escape from the pain of not having a quiet family life and a wife to come home to every night. He is uncomfortable with the parade of people, social events and fanfare that surround Marilyn. "The phone and doorbell rang at all hours. Filled with resentment, he'd retreat behind a wall of silence. Sometimes he didn't utter a word to Marilyn for days at a time." This scene does point to an unhappy couple and a discontent marraige. But in this case it appears the wife is the one escaping the boredom and conformity of marriage instead of the husband.
Marilyn was in many ways a very independent woman who was ahead of her time. She was very much the playgirl in an era that introduced the playboy persona. This was brought on by her career aspirations being controlled by dominating men easily manipulated by sex. Her goal was not to find a husband who could provide a life of convenience. She searched for pride and respect in a gratifying career. It is true that she may have yearned for the security and love found in marriage, but she is too much like the male of the 1950's to be content with just one man and a boxed in lifestyle of conformity.