You hear a lot these days about Republicans rolling back women’s rights all the way to the ’50s and ’60s: vowing to defund Planned Parenthood; to allow employers to decide whether or not their female employees can have their contraception covered; to put the rights of an embryo above those of a woman via the Personhood Amendment; to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, and threats to not only the health but the life of the mother. They won’t even commit to laws ensuring equal pay for women doing the same work as men!
Take the viral video recently that made the rounds in 2012, featuring the classic women’s lib anthem from 1964, “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore. After a variety of women (some famous, some not) lip sync all the lyrics (“Don’t tell me what to do…I love to be free to live my life the way that I want”), Gore says to the camera, “It’s hard for me to believe, but we’re still fighting for the same things we were [in the 60s]. Yes ladies, we’ve got to come together, get out there and vote, and protect our bodies. They’re ours. Please vote.”
Another piece of ’60s pop culture that’s scarily relevant to today’s political landscape is the 1968 classic horror film ROSEMARY’S BABY, based on the bestselling 1967 novel of the same name, which tells the tale of a young woman who’s tricked into conceiving the Devil’s spawn in late 1965. (The baby’s due in June of the next year, get it? Born 6/66!) “You Don’t Own Me” could have been its theme song.
The film is directed by Roman Polanski, who isn’t exactly the poster boy for the feminist freedom fight against injustice (he’s still wanted in the U.S. for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl when he was 43, back in 1978). And yet ROSEMARY’S BABY is a perfect expression of the growing feminist movement of the ’60s: it captures the tension between the old-school traditions of a patriarchy built on female subjugation and the new-found power and will of the modern woman who is curious, smart, and fiercely independent.
At the start of the film, Rosemary Woodhouse is actually pretty old-school herself: a naive, Catholic, country girl who’s now a homemaker in the big city, married to a D-list actor whom she dotes on. He walks in the door, and she’s got a sandwich ready for him. But when he and his newfound besties, a geriatric couple who live next door, start controlling her every move, including every aspect of her pregnancy, she starts getting suspicious — and starts fighting back.
The craziest thing about this movie — besides the Satanic orgy with all the naked AARP members — is how many scenes call to mind topical political issues of today:
ON BEAUTY: Rosemary goes to Vidal Sassoon and gets her blonde bob turned into the now-famous pixie cut. Her husband’s reaction? What did you do to your hair? Did you pay for that? Worst mistake you ever made. Later, their male neighbor jokes about how Rosemary will eventually gain more weight than she probably should during her pregnancy. All of which calls to mind our media’s never-ending obsession with judging the looks of women — including during pregnancy and mere days after giving birth. Open any tabloid today and you’ve got “Who Wore It Better?” or “Celebrity Makeovers” or “Biggest Fashion Fails” and other harsh criticisms by the fashion police. And it’s always the female politicians who are criticized for how they look, as if that somehow informs their policies or affects their performance. Remember Hillary Clinton’s make-up-gate, when she dared to make a public appearance without mascara? Or when Ashley Judd dared to get sick and puffy-faced? As Gore sang, “Don’t put me on display.”
RAPE-RAPE: Rosemary’s husband drugs and rapes her (or, actually, has Satan rape her). When she wakes up the next morning covered in scratches, he casually “admits” with a chuckle to getting drunk himself and having sex with her while she was passed out. You can imagine this is what Todd Akin and his ilk would would classify as “illegitimate rape” — after all, your husband can’t rape you; he owns you. It is your obligation as a wife to honor every sexual whim of your spouse at any time. You know, “graciously submit to the authority of your husband” and all that. Should you renege on this duty, then he has every right to make you do your marital job.
CENSORSHIP: Rosemary’s doctor, chosen by her husband and neighbors, insists that she not read books and not listen to her girlfriends. When she receives a book about witchcraft from another dear friend, her husband throws it away. Despite the fact that these days we now have the internet, there are still campaigns to limit information like this. Think abstinence-only education, fights against teaching evolution in classrooms, the conservative Board of Education in Texas editing textbooks to their liking (books that will end up in schools across the entire country!). In fact, entire media empires are dedicated to limiting information so as not to compete with their other corporate interests. We’re looking at you, Fox News and Clear Channel.
REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: Throughout the entire movie, Rosemary’s body is controlled by her husband and neighbors: they feed her, pop pills in her mouth, decide where she will go and who she will see. They literally lead her around by the arm, hold her down, and gag her. They even control the air she breathes. It’s not as melodramatic when neocons in Congress stand on the Senate and House floors in suits pushing legislation that limits women’s bodily freedoms, but it’s just as sinister. The rollbacks on reproductive freedoms — rollbacks already instituted in record numbers across the country in the past years, thanks to the Tea Party, plus those rollbacks proposed by the Romney/Ryan ticket back in 2012, and any of the Republican candidates in the 2016 election — would take us back decades. Many of these guys wouldn’t even allow a woman to get an abortion if she were raped by Satan!
Deciding when to have a baby and with whom are key to women’s personal and economic freedom. Those options were taken away from Rosemary without her consent. Let’s not give our consent by allowing Romney to become President and turning the next four years into a horror story.
ROSEMARY’S BABY was part of Sundance Channel’s SCARY POLITICS series — it aired on Election Day, November 6th, 2012. Fortunately, in that election, progressive values prevailed over Satan.