Last night I went to see a fantastic talk at the Arts Centre, as part of Swindon Festival of Literature.
Jacqueline Rose is a professor of Humanities at Birbeck University of London, and she has written a book called Women of Dark Times. The book is about women such as Rosa Luxembourg and Marilyn Monroe, and how history has done them a disservice by remembering them for events such as their untimely deaths, and not who they truly were.
Both these women were strong figures, completely embodying their times in history. Rosa Luxembourg was a political leader, who rose in influence despite being female, being a Polish-Jewish German citizen, and having a limp. She was influential after World War I in her love of social democracy and communism. She brought a human element to it, showing that politics does not have to only be in the minds of men, but can also come from inside, from the heart. In 1919 the Sparticist uprising began, Rosa believed it was a mistake but supported it. She was captured and shot by the Freikorps- right wing WWI veterans. Rosa's legacy was that of a great orator, a true warrior for what she believed in.
Marilyn Monroe can be seen as a tool of post WWII America- a symbol of beauty and purity, that America wants to portray to the world as America itself. One of the most poignant parts of the story is when Marilyn sings to the American troops in Korea- reminding them of the beauty of America, what they are fighting for. Monroe was an avid reader of books, thinker about politics, and frequently voiced her opinions. She is known to have said ''I do not trust us''- a politically genius statement. Then of course is the mystery surrounding her death- was it politically motivated, as an argument happened the day before between her and JFKs brother Robert Kennedy. She was about to hold a press conference admitting her relationship with the Kennedy brothers and denouncing them.
The conclusion that Jacqueline Rose draws is that these women should be viewed as having something to teach us about what is happening in the world today. Politically, but also about feminism. One point she stresses, which Rosa and Marilyn both readily admitted- we may be women, but we are not innocent. We can be held to account as much as men, we can speak up as much as men, we do not have to do disservice to strong women that came before us. Let's remember them for who they really were; not the way the world has previously portrayed them. Let's learn from them.