Individual Therapy, Women, Men & Marilyn Monroe
It’s very striking how the figure of Marilyn Monroe sometimes comes up in individual therapy.
Few people have gripped the imagination of popular culture as she has. An iconic and fateful figure for both women and men. A figure combining elements of both the erotic goddess and the cautionary tale. Her story is disturbing. In some important sense, she will not leave us alone.
A recent book, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli sheds light on the last period before her death at age 36 in 1962. However, a CBC network television program, The Passionate Eye last fall aired an even more informative documentary, Marilyn: The Last Sessions , which described the last sessions that Monroe had with her psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson. This psychiatrist allegedly engaged in a wide range of boundary-violating behaviour, including seeing Marilyn twice a day, and involving her in his family life. I wonder whether Greenson did not himself fall under the spell of the archetypal child-woman symbology that our culture had already imbued on Monroe.
Even today, Marilyn Monroe is an unbelievably powerful symbolic figure — for both men and women, and on all kinds of levels. In her persona and public image, Marilyn represents a female figure who is essentially conformed to the will of men. In her whole bearing, in her breathy-voiced, man-pleasing manner, she represents a very powerful manifestation of the “anima woman”, a woman who is so permeated on the unconscious level by her need to conform herself to the inner image of woman in male fantasy that it takes over her entire outer presentation. A woman who lives out her entire life in this mode is very often headed for a tragic outcome. Such seems to have been the fate of Marilyn, the fatherless girl who so deeply yearned for male approval and love.
Marilyn is clearly a powerful image of male-dominated womanhood, and is a tragic figure for women. What is not so often seen is how destructive a figure she can represent for a man, if she embodies a man’s “anima”, which is to say that receptive dimension of a man that enables him to relate to women and the feminine. How could a man dominated by such an image really have anything but contempt for his own receptive, feeling “feminine” dimension? Or anything but pity or contempt for the real women who occupy his life — if he sees them through the image of Marilyn, the child-woman?
Is the Marilyn Monroe type of feminity the only way in which our society or individuals in it can access the feminine? If it is through “Marilyn lenses” that we view the world, how can we have any feeling connection to the feminine parts of reality — nature, the earth, our own feeling and relational dimensions, even those parts of ourselves that are receptive, gentle and creative? If feminity can only be imaged as an absence of the masculine and its strength, then we are doomed to perceive only half of the world.
Our culture is desperately yearning for the healing that the feminine can bring, but that healing is nowhere to be found in the tragic symbology of the female pushed into a mold created by the male. In his 1975 film based on the “rock opera” Tommy by The Who, avant-garde film director Ken Russell captured our dilemma with a certain bizarre eloquence…”You talk about your woman…”
I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections on Marilyn Monroe specifically, and, more generally on the place of femininity in our culture. How has the way our culture treats the feminine impacted you? I think that this is a very important matter, and I’d very much like to share with you about your views.
My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca
© 2010 Brian Collinson