My 16-year-old self: Here to tell you all about the gender roles in Rosemary’s Baby

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I was going through some stuff in my flat the other day, and I found a folder of assignments from my high school English class. One of them was an essay that we had been assigned to do on the novel Rosemary’s Baby which we had read in class. We were free to pick our own angle on the novel, and I had decided to go with the subject of the gender roles displayed in the novel. 

Pop culture, gender roles and all, it reads sort of like a blog entry from a time when I had no idea what a blog was and had only just discovered the internet (which I mainly used to surf fan sites about David Duchovny. They were almost exclusively set in Times New Roman or Comic Sans and they had lots of clip art and pixelled animation and glitter. Oh, the nineties!).  So I thought it would be fun to publish it here on the blog for you guys to see.

I should warn you, however, that it is in no way a groundbreaking, let alone good, piece of writing. It’s a perfectly average high school essay. English is not my first language and was even less so at the time, and I use the word “very” about 1.003 times, being the eloquent, versatile, sexy 16-year-old that I was.

 I actually got an A, though, if anyone’s interested. I also remember that my teacher also told me to read it aloud to the rest of the class, which I willingly, proudly did. Unrelated: I had very few dates in high school. This was a cause of much distress to me at the time, although it did leave me with much more time to go through David Duchovny fan sites online.

My English teacher was really awesome though, and in addition to my essay I will include a note she wrote in comment to some very naïve statements I made in the essay about the equalization of the sexes, setting me straight.

Here we go:

Rosemary’s Baby

by Marie [Mylastname], grade 2.c

As I read Rosemary’s Baby, I found that apart from being a horror story about Satanism and witchcraft, Rosemary’s Baby deals with gender roles and the liberation of women. This aspect of the story is very important, I think. It creates an image of the time in which it was written and takes place. It is of course up to the individual reader how much he [or she, gender-aware Marie of 1999! OR SHE!] wants to focuse [SIC] on this, but I do think that the gender roles play a crucial part in the story.

The gender roles in Rosemary’s Baby are terribly traditional. Rosemary is the sweet and sensitive hausfrau while Guy is the strong, rational man who goes to work in order to provide for his wife and family. Rosemary is also a very emotional person in comparison to the more cynical Guy. This is made clear by the fact that Rosemary – in her heart – is a Catholic and that Guy is an agnostic. But the traditional gender roles also have their effect on Guy and Rosemary’s every-day life. An example of this is the scene in which Rosemary and Guy are introduced to the Bramford:

‘It’s a marvelous apartment!’ Rosemary said back in the living-room. She spun about with opened arms as if to embrace it. ‘I love it!’
‘What’s she’s trying to do,’ Guy said ‘is to get you to lower the rent’.

Apart from acting in this little girl like manner, Rosemary also lives up to the old-fashioned ideal of a woman by being remarkably dependent on Guy, both financially, because she needs Guy’s income,  and emotionally. She does get angry with Guy, but she never really stands up to him and tells him what she wants. During Guy’s preoccupied phases, Rosemary has to wait for Guy to apologize. Even when Guy claims to have taken advantage of Rosemary’s unconscious body, she does not manage to tell him how she feels about it.

Rosemary tends to use her vulnerability and femininity when wanting to get her way. This is very obvious as Guy declines the Castevets’ dinner invitation:

‘You don’t have to sulk about it, he said.
‘I’m not sulking’, Rosemary said. ‘I see exactly what you mean. (…).’
‘Oh hell.’ Guy said. ‘We’ll go.’
‘No, no, what for? We don’t have to. I shopped for dinner before she came so *that*’s no problem.’
‘We’ll go.’ Guy said.

If these traditional gender roles had continued all through the story, I would have been on the verge of stating that Levin was simply an old-fashioned sexist, but when reading the last chapters of the book I found that the roles changed. Rosemary appears to be strong and independent while Guy is weak and insecure. Actuallay the last chapters make you understand that Guy was never the strong one in the relationship. Guy is willing to sell his own wife for a good acting career, and after having done this, he is not even able to stand up for himself. This is particularly clear as Rosemary enters the Castevets’ apartment in search of her baby:

He stood looking down at her, his hands rubbing his sides. ‘They promised me you wouldn’t be hurt’, he said. ‘And you haven’t been, really. I mean, suppose you’d had a baby and lost it, wouldn’t it be the same? And we’re getting so much in return, Ro.’
She put her handkerchief on the table and looked at him. As hard as she could she spat at him. He flushed and turned away, wiping at the front of his jacket.”

I think that it is very important for us to consider this apparent change, because I believe that this indicates that Levin has an idea with letting the gender roles of his character appear to be as traditional as they do.

The fact that Rosemary develops during the story supports this theory  Rosemary seems from the beginning and right up to the point where she figures out that Guy is somehow involved with the Satantists’ cult to be very much in love with Guy. It is actually her love for an loyalty to her husband which leads to the disaster – the fact that she is impregnated with Satan’s child. The one time we sense that Rosemary actually wants to be come an individual person is when she is by herself in Hutch’s cabin. Here she seems to allow herself to get a little angry with Guy:

On the third day she thought about him. He was vain, self-centered, shallow, and deceitful. He had married her to have an audience, not a mate. (Little Miss Just-out-of-Omaha, what a *goop* she had been!)

Shortly after, however, she gives up all thoughts of rebellion and elides to go home to Guy. By going home to go on as if nothing has happened, she accepts Guy’s alleged abuse of her body and by this, one might argue, she resigns to Guy and gives up her independence. As a result of such a resignation something awful is bound to happen.

The fact that something awful does happen, and how awful it actually is, is another side of the story, which I will not try to define nor explain here. However, it is remarkable that Rosemary, as soon as she learns that Guy is involved in the conspiracy, leaves him. At this point in the story, one experiences for the first time, that Rosemary is a strong person. She realizes that she needs to take care of herself in order to save herself and her baby. Eventually, however, Rosemary is forced to acknowledge the fact that she is too late – she is trapped, because she cannot leave her own son in the lurch.

I think that the liberation of women is one of Levin’s points with Rosemary’s Baby. That it is a main point is arguable, but I do believe that Levin has meant to discuss the old-fashioned woman’s situation with this story. How dependent should she allow herself to become in her marriage? What might the consequences be? These questions were indeed relevant in the sixties when this story was written and takes place, because the liberation of women was just about to begin at the time (1). Is it still relevant, one might ask, today, when the equalization of the sexes is almost total (2). I think it is. The gender roles in Rosemary’s Baby are probably a little too antiquated for us to identity with, but I do think that we an still learn from this  thriller story. I think that as long as we live in a society with even the slightest possibility of discrimination, we need to be reminded of the consequences of resignation, however bizarre they may be.”

TEACHER’S NOTE:
(1) The struggle of the sexes and the process had been going on for a hundred years then – but the sixties saw the birth of the feminist movement.

(2) I wish you were right [about the equalization of the sexes being almost total] – but I’m afraid there is still a long way to go – I remember a heated discussion in a Scottish youth hostel with my best friend in 1962: She said that men and women were equal now, I said they were not. She learned her lesson later!

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