In contrast to catwalk androgyny, the charisma and behavioral versatility of Britney Spears and Marilyn Monroe provide real-life symbolism of androgyny. A reading of Marilyn and Britney’s journey can be illuminating in exploring the genetic and social sculpturing of individuals. The imagery of these 20th and 21st century doyennes is very relevant today.
Sarah Churchwell suggests Marilyn was a hyper-mediated product, invented for the gratification of the 1950s male. Marilyn’s life has been variously documented as one of gender-role acceptance, gender-role ambivalence, and one of anger. However, a contradictory view of Marilyn as an inspiring role model is also possible. Churchwell suggests Marilyn was either the last gasp of conventional mid-nineteenth century femininity or instrumental in dismantling the then starchy standards of female decorum. Others refer to Marilyn as an enthusiastic and modern genius who was both introverted and extroverted. Churchwell states that Marilyn’s death enshrined her and asks was she innocent or powerful. Did she anticipate the future rights of women in some implicit manner? The mystery of whether Marilyn committed suicide or was murdered remains unresolved. Marilyn had well-documented difficulties on the set of her last film, Something’s Gotta Give, which was reportedly due to drugs, narcissism, miscarriages, or hysteria.
Nevertheless, such criticism of Marilyn’s and Britney’s extreme sensitivities is a backhanded way of acknowledging their powerful and inspirational personae. In her concluding chapter, Churchwell wrote that Marilyn’s life represented what Marilyn valued — strength, intelligence, and success. Marilyn and Britney as a role models may seem absurdly hyper-feminine, considering the claim that without a father role model or with a defective father model, their masculine sides were/are sorely missing. Yet, we may also regard them as a highly androgynous woman.
As androgynes, Marilyn and Britney represent neither conventional mid-twentieth and twenty-first century femininity nor a passive instruments of men. We may regard their personalities as a pro-social and anti-social androgynous mix in that they both love and hate with equal intensity. Marilyn is perhaps a classic example of how one woman entered the world of men and managed to reposition herself as a proactive, down to earth businesswoman. A movie star, sex goddess, and a female icon who was alluring, warm, sensible, and courageous in her dealings within a male-dominated industry. In the 1960s and ironically and humorously, Marilyn’s psychoanalyst Dr. Ralph Greenson had become a friend of Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud.
Behaviors considered normal by one social group may be regarded as signs of a disorder by another. For example, male groups may see normal female behaviors, such as crying and sadness, as maladjustment symptoms. The medical profession and media had previously accused Britney Spears, as possibly pregnant, bipolar, post-partum depression, clinically depressed, having a multiple personality disorder, and being schizophrenic. In the face of the fact that they and we are all distant from her situation, this treatment is arguably prejudicial. Fair treatment of both Marilyn’s and Britney’s conduct would require a more critical explanation. It is entirely plausible their celebrity status makes them the target for diagnosis from a distance, as it does for anybody else of fame or infamy.
Marylin’s and Britney’s volatility and unpredictability may be seen more androgynously and without prejudicial judgment, as merely the expression of their innate proactive female selves under duress. Their experiences are, of course, those of many women, without all the fame. Sigmund Freud’s astute analysis of patriarchal structures is evident in his recognition that femininity’s repression results in its contempt. Indeed, many of us feel that a man acting like a woman is depraved, while a woman acting like a man deactivates the feminine.
There is blatant exploitation of an ideological bias in patriarchal frames of reference, one of how well women measure up to male norms and especially in relation to conservatorships. Patriarchal frames of reference for conservators provides maintenance for stereotypes and the status quo by encouraging disadvantaged groups (such as women and girls) to find solutions within themselves rather than look elsewhere. The handmade Mexican cardigan Marilyn once wore sold at auction late last century for US $167,500. From this, one could ask whether postmodern attitudes towards women are really any more variable than in Marilyn’s time.
Androgyny bridges many gaps, and the sexual sports ground may benefit from a more androgynous perspective. We may even claim such practices as permissiveness, gold-digging, a search for sugar-daddies, and prostitution are quite normative and acceptable behaviors under an androgynous model for society. Because societies entrust women with hyper-sexuality, hyper-mediation, and hyper-commodification, some women choose to engage in prostitution as a means of exploiting this circumstance in a sensible, courageous way and as a powerful assertion of independence.
An androgynous perspective would say that many instances of prostitution could be interpreted as women exploiting men, who exploit women. This perspective sees some prostitution as freely chosen and liberating work for many women and is counter to a more feminist perspective that may claim prostitutes are either exploited by patriarchal societies or by those who manage them. However, the term ‘free’ choice is dubious because it is exercised within structures that are already situated within a hierarchical sexed framework. We may take Freud’s perspective for legitimizing prostitution as a need for society to un-tether sex and reproduction or face being doomed to the bare existences of life from overpopulation [those of shelter, food, safety, and health].
Coming to terms with identity can mean, for women, a coming to terms with the likes of ‘the beauty myth,’ when to begin having sex, when to become pregnant, how many children to conceive, and how to behave after menopause. All more easily reconciled through a new-age androgynous ideology.