Andrew Dominik’s new film Blonde, based on an adaptation of a Joyce Carol Oates novel, has been the subject of much divisive discourse lately. Caren Spruch of Planned Parenthood told the Hollywood Reporter that she sees the film as “anti-abortion propaganda.” A tweet that went viral said filmmaker “Andrew Dominik didn’t even try to conceal his anti-choice views and hatred for Marilyn.”

While the divisiveness of the film comes from the depiction of Marilyn Monroe as being either coerced or actively forced into having abortions against her will, the film’s critique is deeper than a simple...

Andrew Dominik’s new film Blonde, based on an adaptation of a Joyce Carol Oates novel, has been the subject of much divisive discourse lately. Caren Spruch of Planned Parenthood told the Hollywood Reporter that she sees the film as “anti-abortion propaganda.” A tweet that went viral said filmmaker “Andrew Dominik didn’t even try to conceal his anti-choice views and hatred for Marilyn.”

While the divisiveness of the film comes from the depiction of Marilyn Monroe as being either coerced or actively forced into having abortions against her will, the film’s critique is deeper than a simple pro-choice or pro-life argument. Dominik depicts a woman whose body is stuck in constant maidenhood, exploited by Hollywood and lustful men at her expense. Marilyn is a woman perpetually seeking to be the Madonna, and kept against her will as the whore.

In a scene toward the beginning of her film career, Marilyn falls pregnant after an affair with two men, one of whom is Charlie Chaplin’s son, just as she is set to star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Weighing her pregnancy vis-a-vis her role, she speaks with her agent and asks what she will make as the title character. Her agent responds that she will earn scale: about $5,000 for the picture. She then asks what Jane Russell, her costar, would earn: her agent reluctantly reveals that she will likely make $100,000.

Monroe decides to go through with the film and calls her agent to arrange an abortion. She is shown to have a change of heart in the hospital room, but the doctors proceed despite her last-minute protests. At the film’s premiere, Monroe is ambivalent and crying. The movie results in meager earnings, which leaves her with only the adoration of fans and a vicious cycle in which the only prize is more exploitation.

Blonde is a film that depicts a woman in a double bind of being used. On the one hand, she is a wage slave, a worker whose body cannot be pregnant to complete her work. On the other, she is a sex symbol: Hollywood executives use her sexual glamor to trade on the male gaze and sell seats.

Throughout the film, you see Marilyn longing for motherhood, only to be thwarted at every turn by the circumstances of her life. The best possible circumstances for motherhood require a delicate balance of both financial security and enough freedom from work to care for oneself in pregnancy and the baby’s infancy. To become mothers, women need to be able to embrace the transformation that happens to all of us in our transition from maiden to mother, which includes a necessary interdependence with others. This is possible only through a social contract that tells women they and their children will be safe in the care of others. In return, society gets to reproduce and further itself.

In the case of Marilyn, at least as depicted in the film, she is more profitable as a maiden than she is as a mother, and so she is robbed of that transformation by countless men — those who lust for her and those who earn from her alike. Blonde shows a deeply tragic woman who does not gain freedom to work through abortion but whose freedom is robbed from her long before she enters the surgical room.

Ashley Colby is an environmental scientist and co-founder of the Rizoma Field School.