Lee Siegel: Unsexing Marilyn

Marilyn by Milton Greene, 1956

On the New York Review of Books blog, the critic Lee Siegel argues that while Marilyn is America’s most famous sex symbol, her sexuality is often swept under the carpet. While Siegel makes some interesting points, this ‘oversexed’ portrayal of Marilyn is ultimately as limiting as the sanitised representations he criticises, and adds little to our understanding of her true sexual identity.

“She was in thrall to her sexual nature. As she once said: ‘We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift. Art, real art, comes from it. Everything.’ Yet this ‘gift’ had another, punitive dimension. Her preternaturally powerful sexual instincts were her first, her primal addiction. She turned to drugs—just about every imaginable type of drug—and to alcohol in hopes of replacing one type of dependency with another. But the orphan’s need for love seemed too powerful, and sexual gratification was perhaps the only way it could—fleetingly—be appeased.’