Rosemary's Baby is a classic horror film with a large impact on the genre. But does it do more harm than good? This film tells the story of a world without hope or feminism. Gabe discusses how we can't separate art from the artist. Kat explains the need for intersectional feminism.
Sources in this Episode:
Media from this week's episode:
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
A young couple trying for a baby moves into an aging, ornate apartment building on Central Park West, where they find themselves surrounded by peculiar neighbors.
Director: Roman Polanski (ew.)
Rosemary's Baby: A Patriarchal Hellscape by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Rosemary’s Baby follows Rosemary Woodhouse, a young woman who moves into a new apartment with her actor husband, Guy Woodhouse. In this apartment complex, Rosemary meets her neighbors. A nosey, rude, and loud older couple, the Castevets and a ward of theirs, Terry who befriends Rosemary before her untimely fall out a window. A supposed suicide that Rosemary doesn’t quite buy.
The Castevets bully their way into Rosemary’s life. Her actor husband, Guy has been down on his luck until a freak accident allows him to land a lead part. This inspires Guy to want to finally start a family with Rosemary. Something she has mentioned numerous times, “3 or 4 would be nice.” she purrs at Mrs. Castevet. They determine the day when Rosemary will be most fertile and mark their calendars. However, when the night arrives, Rosemary becomes intoxicated (alarmingly so) and passes out. Her night is filled with a horrific nightmare sequence where she is r*ped by a demon, perhaps the devil himself. Guy explains in the morning when Rosemary awakens to find terrible scratches on her violated body, that he had gone ahead and had sex with her despite her being unconscious. He jokes about it, saying he felt like a necrophiliac.
Rosemary becomes pregnant and is immediately ill. Not the morning sickness you’d imagine with pregnancy. Rosemary is completely devoid of that pregnant glow and instead looks near to death. She is in constant pain. And although she is suspicious of her husband and his new friends, she doesn’t advocate for her health. One of the few moments of feminine solidarity, Rosemary’s friends (otherwise absent - isolation from friends is a form of abuse, btw) urge her to see a different physician. They explain that her pain is not normal and she looks incredibly unwell. They are worried for her safety and it is clear from Guy’s behavior at this party that something isn’t right. He has been lurking around and is desperate to have his eyes and ears on Rosemary at all times, lest she reveal her struggles to someone not involved in the scheme. Rosemary responds in a panic, “I won’t get an abortion!” to which her friends politely remind her had never been mentioned.
When Rosemary is finally at the end of her rope and desperate enough to finally stand up for herself, the pain miraculously vanishes. Dr. Sapirstein was right! No need to worry. We timejump to a round and bright Rosemary, happily preparing for the arrival of her baby. As the birth becomes more imminent, things begin to further unravel. She attempts to escape but the conspiracy runs deeper than she could have imagined. Resulting in her having the baby. She is told the baby died and while (being the only one) mourning this child, she hears the cries of a child. She investigates the apartment next door and stumbles upon the cult. A black crib holding her monstrous son, Adrian. Her and Satan’s son will bring about the end of the world. But she is a mother at the end of the day, her instincts kicking in and resulting in her taking on her role happily. Thus, ushering in the end of the world.
Can’t Separate Art from the Artist
“All that you touch. You Change. All that you Change Changes you.” Octavia Butler
We’ve discussed previously on the Ghouls, in some form or another, this idea about separating an artist from their art. It has been a popular topic within “cancel culture.” Can we still love and appreciate a piece of media or art that has impacted our lives individually when the creator is a POS? Think of all the people who made Harry Potter their entire identity, what is left for them in the ashes of their beloved franchise? (It's still hella profiting and that TERF is beyond wealthy - when we say eat the rich, we mean her too).
While we can’t help or change the impact media had on us as growing people we can’t erase the thread between artist and art. When we create, we take pieces of ourselves and input that into the work. Our lived experiences, our identity, and our worldviews influence our art. As someone who works closely with creatives every day, one of the biggest lessons I teach is that who you are as a creator is just as important to the piece of media as the plot, the characters, etc.
I say all this to highlight an issue we have within this Ghoul’s series, F*ck the Patriarchy. Only two of the films we’re covering are made by women or femme folx. We chose these films for a variety of reasons. One is the subject matter but also to discuss the influences of film and how it is so much of you and also can so easily transcend your original intentions (if you have any intentions at all, Alex Garland). I want to be very clear that the director of today’s film is a disgusting, terrible human being and we do not endorse him in any way. We cannot separate the art from the artist in this film. Even though this film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ira Levins. Both of these men have affected the work in a very specific way.
No Feminism in a Patriarchal World
This story is a Patriarchal hellscape. The ending leaves us to believe the end is upon us. We watch as Rosemary continues to put others lives before her very own, just as she has been conditioned to do in this world. In an article on Tor.com, I found the answer I was looking for, to why I felt this film though dubbed feminist is incredibly lacking in any feminism. Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby: Patriarchy Without Feminism Is Hell by Noah Berlatsky, they explain that these men paint a world that is dark, grim, and utterly hopeless. It’s a defeatist approach that only exists because these men can’t understand a world in which feminism exists, and therefore, cannot see a way out of Hell.
In Rosemary’s Baby, feminist consciousness is notably absence, which is part of why the novel is so bleak and terrifying. The narrative recognizes that Rosemary’s fate is diabolically unjust. But it offers no way out, narratively or theoretically. The devil’s victory is total not because he defeats feminism, but because he rules over a world in which feminist possibilities don’t exist.
In our Don’t Look Up episode, Kat had a really great explanation about the defeatist attitude of that film that ignored the indigenous climate change activists who were actively putting in the work to stop the end of the world. By painting such a bleak picture of the world it diminished the hard work of those working to save the world every day.
In the book, Rosemary is so much affected by this patriarchal world that she is written even more hopeless than the film. Noah Berlatsky goes on to say that in the book, Rosemary’s colonization by patriarchy goes even beyond verbal acquiescence. Levin frames her self-betrayal as biological. Only partly conscious, she enjoys the devil’s rape of her; describing the demon inside her as “painfully, wonderfully big,” before she orgasms.
Ira Levins and Roman Polanski (vomit sounds) succeeded in creating a horrifying, hopeless world. Rosemary is broken and a clear representation of the effects of the patriarchy. But it, like some of the other films we covered (such as Men), sits unwell with us when the tale is told by a man. It feels exploitative, putting women’s pains on display like its news, ignorant to its impact on femme audiences, and then profiting off the story. Roman Polanski is no stranger to abusing femme bodies for his own pleasures so it’s no surprise.
No Help for the Un-Wicked
Guy, the neighbors, and others around Rosemary (such as the doctor) are clearly the villains of the story. But Rosemary is also a villain to herself. Rosemary prioritizes everyone else’s life over her own. She tries so desperately to please others and throughout the film constantly hides or dimisses her own feelings so as to not impose on others. She is uncomfortable with the Castevets, immediately disliking them but she goes along with being cordial because it is expected. She is performing her duties as a woman. Whenever she hints at her own opinion, Guy questions her and she quickly pushes it away. “No no, it’s okay. Everything is okay.”
Her only true selfish act was her haircut. A rebellious, short cut that Guy insults her for immediately, “You didn’t pay for that did you?” Otherwise she is as amenable woman who does as expected. She wears the necklace that smells terrible and does not go with her outfits. She socializes with the toxic neighbors. She makes excuses for her husband literally raping her. The idea of your husband being held accountable for such a thing was very fresh.
Rosemary has no one to turn to. Guy doesn’t love her. Her neighbors spy and tattle. Her doctor disregards her concerns. In Boshemia Magazine, Rosemary's Baby, Reproductive Rights & Every Day Female Horrors, the writer explains, 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 saw an article that tried to name Rosemary Woodhouse a feminist icon. But in the end, she allowed the end of the world to happen. It’s not her fault, of course. The cult brought about the end. It was society and the patriarchal ideologies that allowed Rosemary to get in as deep as she did. To be isolated and manipulated to bring about the end. But this film never offers an alternative. Rosemary is not a “final girl” by any means. In the end, she will not survive. She has been reduced to a vessel for this creature, which many states are so eager to reduce women to, vessels. When that baby no longer needs her milk or care, she will be dispensed of. Levins and Polanski cannot conceive of a world where women fight back and win. They find us already in too deep. They ignore and dismiss the work of feminists and activists everywhere.
Patriarchy without Feminism truly is Hell.
Intersectional Feminism: Support & Resource Share by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Lots of pretty stressful things happen in this film, both in who created it, as well as what took place on screen. It does ultimately tie back to horror's overarching issue of using womens’ bodies and minds as a staging ground to enact their f’d up fantasies of violence, gore and torture on screen. There are countless issues showcased in this film, including SA, DV, patriarchal oppression and more. A big piece of what was really stressful about this film, other than the overt violence against Rosemary, was the consistent gaslighting she received throughout. An additional point of stress was the film’s decision to thoroughly embrace the “not all men” narrative in the character of Hutch, taking the additional stance that good men will be “weeded out” by murdering him, and that for survival, “good men” should instead be like Dr. Hill, masquerading as a safe person until it is no longer convenient for them. These men, and women who benefit from Rosemary’s subjugation in the film see Rosemary as a vessel to their future goals, and not as an actual person. This is largely a reflection of how society, during this time period and arguably currently view women, and their bodies.
Where Guy views his wife as a vessel for his success, the other characters see Rosemary as a vessel for the spawn of satan, a vessel for a child. Her personhood, to the larger group, is determined by whether or not she decides to embrace being a mother, and her life, only of value if she chooses to stay in that role. This is very much how society currently views women, and can be seen in the laws being passed, in reference to the attacks on Roe v. Wade, and other legislation aiming to disenfranchise and subjugate women. Rosemary’s personhood to Guy… doesn’t exist at all. To Guy, Rosemary is his idea of her, and who she actually is does not matter to him. Guy and men like him are part of why the divorce rate is so high in heteronormative relationships…because no one wants to be with someone who doesn’t recognize their personhood, and because of patriarchal oppression, men often fulfil that role. The reason a relationship like Guy and Rosemary’s, and those like it even exist/existed, have only done so because there was no other option, because they didn’t have a choice.
For context, The Marital Property Act of 1967, which gave married women the same property rights as their husbands, went into effect on January 1, 1968..the same year this film came out. Descrimination was openly acceptable and not illegal until 1967.. Roe v Wade didn’t take place until 1973. Women couldn’t get credit cards in their own name until 1974..Spousal rape was not criminalized in all 50 states until 1993…Sex discrimination was not outlawed in health insurance until 2010... Women weren’t allowed to serve in combat positions in the military until 2013..We still haven’t ever had a woman president.
In this episode, my resource section will be centered on a little bit of everything, including additional abortion resources, as well as SA and DV resources, with an added share out of resources for women in general. A lot of my resources specifically speak on intersectional feminism, and feature BIPOC and LGBTQIA led feminist perspectives, because there is no freedom without all of us being free, so leading with those perspectives is essential. Roxane Gay says it best in their TED talk linked below: “I reject the mainstream feminism that has historically ignored or deflected the needs of women of color, working-class women, queer women, and transgender women, in favor or supporting white, middle- and upper-class straight cisgendered women, Listen if that’s good feminism - I am a very bad feminist”. The Ghouls reject any feminism that doesn’t include BIPOC and LGBTQIA women and gender non-conforming communities, and we think you should too. Racists, homophobes and TERFs aren’t welcome here.
In taking in the resources in this blog, I recommend the following be considered. If you are a white person, like myself, I implore you to recognize that the BIPOC emotional and physical labor that went into creating many of the resources that I’ve listed in this blog should be financially compensated, if you have the means. I’ll do my best to organize ways to provide compensation in the blog as I find them, as well as places you can donate to support causes that support BIPOC communities. This includes buying the books listed digitally, supporting Kofi's, patreons, venmos, go-fund-mes, etc. If you read through this blog, and notice a source you personally utilize is not listed, or if you know a person who created any of the resources below but notice there isn’t a link to provide financial compensation to its creator, definitely send us an email at email@example.com. As I’ve said in previous episodes, I’ll be updating these resources over time, so if you know of any resources that you think would be of use, to be included in our blogs, comment, email, tag us and I'll do my best to update. Additionally, I have done my best to vet each resource as much as possible, but if you catch something I didn’t please don’t hesitate to let us know so it can be removed if necessary! As someone who works in an industry that quality checks content before it goes out, it’s happened many times where things pass through publishers, graphic designers and authors before they even hit my desk and mistakes still pop up even after being quality checked by like 5 additional people on my team. For ghouls, it’s just me and Gabe, so if you notice something we missed, please tell us and know we are genuinely doing the best we can with the current resources we have available!
How to recognize and stand up to Gaslighting:
Resources on SA and Abortion Access created by the Ghouls in previous episode: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QYKIXMkMRMY5YTViIqVn08FnuwWspfkRcIMOfxjDLbU/edit?usp=sharing
Add to your Reading List (some books repeat from various lists):
Blogs and News sources to Follow:
My Body is Not an Apology: https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/
POC Online Classroom - Intersectional Feminism (This resource provides free access to reading material - please provide financial compensation to the authors listed in this resources if you have the means to do so): http://www.poconlineclassroom.com/intersectional-feminism
Black Girl Dangerous:http://www.bgdblog.org/
Women's Major Group:
Center for Constitutional Rights: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/issues/sexual-and-gender-based-violence
Center for Constitutional Rights: Women’s History Month Resources: https://ccrjustice.org/womens-history-month-2022-list-resources
Black and Pink Blog: https://www.blackandpink.org/blog/
Trans Day of Resilience: https://tdor.co/
It’s 2022…Is your Feminism Intersectional?: https://www.genderavenger.com/blog/action-alert-its-2022-is-your-feminism-intersectional
Gender Avenger Blog: https://www.genderavenger.com/blog
Disorient is a new resource for intersectional feminist thought, education, and activism: https://disorient.co/category/activism/
Point Foundation (Point) empowers promising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential – despite the obstacles often put before them: https://pointfoundation.org/connect/blog/
African American Policy Forum: https://www.aapf.org/
Things to watch/listen to (I was not able to screen every one of these):
Until All of Us Are Free: LGBTQI+ communities' rights:
Black Feminist Left Internationalism: https://bcrw.barnard.edu/videos/black-feminist-left-internationalism/
Kimberlé Crenshaw, "Race, Gender, Inequality and Intersectionality", Brown University:
Kimberlé Crenshaw: The urgency of intersectionality TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality
Black Feminist Theory, Cultural Work, and Disrespectability, Brown University: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbNxfiWhbqw
An ‘unapologetic’ Black Feminist PBSNewsHour: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/brief/294191/brittney-cooper
Roxane Gay: Confessions of a Bad Feminist TED talks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fxt_MZKMdes
Talks on Modern Feminism: https://www.ted.com/playlists/338/talks_on_feminism
Janelle Monae - Say Her Name: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQbeUN-IfyQ
Intersectionality Matters with Kimberlé Crenshaw Podcast: https://twitter.com/IMKC_podcast
BIPOC Women’s Health Network Resources for Patients: https://bipocwomenshealth.com/for-patients/
BIPOC Pride - Below is a compiled, ongoing list of resources related to being inclusive and equitable, especially during critical times of change:
10 Questions to ask yourself before calling the police on Black and Brown bodies: https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/10-questions-to-ask-yourself-before-you-call-the-police-on-black-brown-bodies/
POINT BIPOC SCHOLARSHIP FOR LGBTQ STUDENTS PROGRAM: https://pointfoundation.org/point-apply/bipoc-scholarship/
Resources for transgender (FTM, genderqueer, non-binary, genderfluid, gender non-conforming, and every other non-cis identity within the trans umbrella.):
Apply for surgery funds: https://www.pointofpride.org/annual-transgender-surgery-fund
Hormone replacement therapy funds: https://www.pointofpride.org/hrt-access-fund
Electrolysis Support Fund: https://www.pointofpride.org/electrolysis-support-fund
Free Chest Binders: https://www.pointofpride.org/free-chest-binders
Free Femme Shapewear: https://www.pointofpride.org/free-femme-shapewear
Organizations you can Donate to:
Trans Housing Coalition Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/trans-housing-coalition-fund
Fund crucial, affirming, life-saving programming and support for people impacted by incarceration and oppressive systems: https://www.blackandpink.org/DONATE/
Invest in the radical imaginations of trans people of color!: https://tdor.co/donate/
The African American Policy Forum: https://www.aapf.org/donate
Ways to support creators of the resources in this blog:
Buy Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250112576/eloquentrage
Go to Roxanne Gay’s website and support their content: https://roxanegay.com/books/
Support Sonya Renee Taylor’s Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/Sonyareneetaylor
Buy a digital version of My Body is not an apology: the power of radical self love: https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/shop/e-books/the-body-is-not-an-apology-the-power-of-radical-self-love/
Amplify Black women disabled voices: https://disabilityhorizons.com/2020/06/8-influential-black-women-with-disabilities/
Follow and Support Kimberlé Crenshaw: https://twitter.com/sandylocks
Resources for Health Care Professionals serving intersectional women, and gender non-conforming communities: