Rosemary's Baby, Reproductive Rights & Every Day Female Horrors
Remember how in our last joint post, I said that I’d be making a more conscious effort to not consume media by dickheads? Yeah sorry, today we’re going to be talking about Rosemary’s Baby, directed by certified rapist Roman Polanski. Sorry guys. Spoilers ahoy! (But it was released in 1968 and is one of the most famous movies ever. Get with it.) Rosemary’s Baby is one of the most chilling horror movies of the 20th Century. Mia Farrow excels as Rosemary, a young woman who moves into a swish New York apartment with her husband Guy (John Cassavetes). As nice as the apartment is, their new neighbours are a little too kooky for Rosemary to deal with. Luckily, Guy gets on with them wonderfully, and what ensues is a classic boy-gets-the-girl-impregnated-by-the-devil-to-further-his-acting-career-on-the-advice-of-Satanists. Classic. The majority of the movie is deals with Rosemary’s increasingly fragile state and sense of isolation as she looses control of this thing that’s happening to her own body.
Flashback to the culture of the late 60s when the film was released and the source material by Ira Levin was published. The Beatles had stopped touring, The Summer of Love was happening, The Feminine Mystique was a worldwide phenomenon, The Civil Rights Act become law (not like that stopped any discrimination but hey), abortion had been made legal in the UK, Pope Paul VI was speaking out against the pill, and in a few years Roe v Wade would make history for female reproductive rights. Rosemary’s Baby came at a time when female autonomy and reproductive rights was a hot button topic, and Levin and Polanski create an atmosphere that managed to eerily depict a women’s worst nightmare.
Apparently It’s Fine Because We’re Married?
We first meet Rosemary and Guy as the perfect mid-century couple; they’re young, they’re in love, and my god they look so glamorous together. Betty & Don a few years later. And like every good mid-century couple, Rosemary is the perfect accessory to her man – she bigs up his acting career to strangers, she serves him food and booze practically as soon as he gets home, she helps out with the decorating, she even appears to match his sexual appetite! And when they head for dinner with their kooky yet crazy neighbours, Minnie & Roman Castavet, he discusses careers and aspirations while she dutifully helps with the dishes. Polanski has created the perfect vision of the “ideal,” mid-century couple, gender roles and all. At times their outfits even appear to match. Too adorable.
They become much less adorable halfway through the first act when Guy drugs her and schemes with the Castavet’s to let Satan rape her in one of the more disturbing sequences. Even more disturbing is his behaviour the next day. He mocks how much she drank before casually telling her he fucked and injured her unconscious body (to cover for Satan, as one does). He then jokes that is was fun in a “necrophile” manner, whilst remaining completely unapologetic about the whole thing despite Rosemary’s obvious discomfort. Marital rape became much more of an issue in the 60s since work to criminalise it began thanks to Second Wave Feminism. In 1962, the Model Penal Code stated that “A man who has sexual intercourse with a female not is wife is guilty of rape if…,” strongly implying that it doesn’t count as rape if you’re married. I mean, please tell me I don’t have to explain how horrifying this is. Just because Guy has married Rosemary, he somehow believes that he has total control of her body, whether she’s conscious or not.
Fucks sakes guys, do better.
It’s Just a Haircut! She's Lost Control
Even early in the film, there are some visible control issues with Guy and Rosemary; when Minnie Castavet gives her a smelly, ugly, probably cursed necklace, as she puts it away he comments “If you took it, you should wear it!” Rosemary calls his behaviour self-centred, preoccupied and vain to her friend and confidant, and he offers a shallow apology with flowers and the promise of starting a family. Of course that family soon goes to shit, (thanks Satan) but control continues to be an issue for the young couple.
Rosemary’s forced isolation and lack of control begins early in the pregnancy when Guy & the Castavet’s refuse to let her choose her own OBGYN. Instead, she’s taken to a Satanist doctor (not that she knows) and is immediately told not to read any pregnancy books or discuss it with any of her friends. Soon, her one friend who dares to question the unnatural shenanigans clearly going on goes into an oh so suspicious coma. By denying her information about things that are happening to her own damn body, she’s being disempowered and therefore becomes reliant on the people who have isolated her in the first place.
When Rosemary starts suffering from chronic satan-pregnancy related pain, she’s constantly told by her gaslighters that it’s normal and that it’s no big deal. When she suggests getting a second opinion, she’s chastised for it, and even told that it wouldn’t be fair for her doctor. Not fair for the doctor. It really shows that Rosemary’s feelings and concerns really don’t matter – she’s basically just a Satan-spawn vestibule! It becomes clear that the only thing they’re concerned about is the foetus – not her, the foetus. Women only exist to be pregnant, and once they’re pregnant they become downgraded to second class citizens.
At a certain point in the film, Rosemary gets a haircut. Her bob turns into a pixie, and Mia Farrow’s stunning bone structure is highlighted. It’s become one of the most famous haircuts of recent history (HAIRstory. Get it?). She’s already lost control of her body, she can’t even discuss it with people or read a book about it. Fuck, she can’t even chose her OBGYN. In fact, one of the few choices she’s made so far is about the haircut. Guy hates it. He calls it the worst mistake she’s ever made. Of course he does. He’s probably pissy that she actually made a choice! It could be argued that the haircut not only shows lack of control, but also a warped version of the pregnancy. Pregnancy is thought to be the highest act of femininity, and utterly natural and beautiful, yet here’s Rosemary, looking thin, pale, in pain, waifish, androgynous and utterly repulsive to her chauvinist husband.
For women, the real horror isn’t monsters and things that go bump in the night. As scary as spiders and clowns are, the fear of confinement and loss of control is one that’s all too real, especially in relation to reproductive rights and sexual abuse. Rosemary’s Baby isn’t so terrifying because of Satanists and The Devil; it’s terrifying because it’s created an environment so familiar to hundreds of women. Reproductive rights continue to be a hot topic issue in the upcoming elections (no Donald, you can’t rip out a baby at 9 months and abort it you fucking idiot.) Women still have to deal with the ever so real threat of sexual assault, and somehow haircuts and women’s appearance manage to be a big deal.
It’s a shame that one of the most accidentally feminist and subversive films in the horror genre was made by such a deplorable human being. It’s even more of a shame that the themes still hold up.