In this American Masters clip from a 2006 segment called “Marilyn: Still Life,” Gloria Steinem talks about the doomed Marilyn Monroe and how she might have been saved by the women’s movement if she’d somehow lasted until the late ’60s or better yet the early ’70s. I can’t find the URL but I wrote something similar two or three years ago, about how Monroe might have felt less trapped or certainly more understood if she’d managed to stay afloat until the arrival of ’60s freak culture and everything that followed. Or maybe not. Monroe was so brutally abused by her mentally-unstable mother that she might never have found stability under any condition.
But living with feelings of vulnerability and putting yourself through contortions to live up to expectations of the opposite gender has never been a women-only thing. I went through a lot of this in my 20s and especially my 30s — job anxiety, creative failure, crash-and-burn love affairs, being found wanting for fickle or substantial reasons, heartbreak and anger over the constant ‘no, no, no, no, no’ of things — and a lot of it was truly hellish. The Steinem narrative is that women of her generation (reared in the ’40s and’50s, early adulthood in the ’60s and ’70s) had it much tougher than guys of that era. Maybe they did but life is never a picnic for anyone. It haunts from all sides, cradle to grave.