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Saturday, December 30th, 2006, 12:41 PM
Rosemary's Baby, Gothic Pregnancy, and Fetal Subjects

Karyn Valerius

The strategy of antiabortionists to make fetal personhood a self-fulfilling prophecy by making the fetus a public presence addresses a visually oriented culture. Meanwhile, finding "positive" images and symbols of abortion hard to imagine, feminists and other prochoice advocates have all too readily ceded the visual terrain. (Rosalind Petchesky, "Fetal Images")
Rosemary's Baby, a 1968 horror film adapted by Roman Polanski from Ira Levin's 1967 best selling novel, invites feminist speculation. It is a story of violence, deceit, and misappropriation of a woman's body by people she trusts that makes pregnancy a Gothic spectacle. This discussion reads Rosemary's Baby in relation to the contestations over abortion that have inflamed the public sphere in the United States for forty years.1 The film explicitly situates itself in Manhattan in 1965-66, and it is a product of and widely distributed participant in the anxieties and conflicts of that specific moment.2 In the intervening years, the heat of debate has been a powerful catalyst for reactions among medical, legal, religious, political, commercial, feminist, and antifeminist agents in reproductive politics, and the debates have changed shape in response. Nonetheless, what was at stake in the 1960s and what presently continues to be at stake in the high profile public debates on abortion is the status of women as legitimate political and legal subjects. Thus, Rosemary's Baby continues to resonate as a cautionary tale relevant to the historical present. As the discourse on generation mutates, so do the meanings that can be read into and out of this narrative.

Gothic Pregnancy

During the 1960s, a women's movement growing in momentum argued for repeal of abortion laws on the grounds of a woman's right to self-determination, while a less radical movement among some medical and legal professionals called for reform of abortion codes (Baehr 1990, 3; Ginsburgl989, 35-42; Petcheskyl984,128-29). Both groups objected to abortion laws at odds with actual practice since women terminated pregnancies despite the law, and both objected to the dangerous circumstances created by such laws, which made an otherwise simple medical procedure extremely risky for women seeking abortions illegally. The American Law Institute proposed a model penal code (drafted in 1959 and published in 1962) that provided for legal, therapeutic abortion in cases where pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or where continuing a pregnancy would jeopardize the physical or mental health of the woman or would result in a physically or mentally disabled child. Feminist activists, on the other hand, sought to seize control of the means of reproduction from a medical profession they considered to be elitist and patriarchal. They broke the law, organizing underground referral services to connect women who needed abortions with physicians who would provide them in safe, clean conditions, and they established women's health collectives to deliver woman-centered (as opposed to physician-centered) medical care, with some collectives eventually offering abortion services themselves (Baehr 1990, 25).

Two events helped to build mainstream public support for abortion reform during the period that informs Levin's novel and Polanski's film. In 1963-64 a rubella or "German measles" epidemic produced congenital abnormalities in over 20,000 infants in the United States (Lader 1966, 37). Two years prior to that, Sherri Finkbine, a local television personality, was prevented from obtaining a legal abortion in Arizona, and her highly publicized experience with thalidomide, institutional medicine, and Arizona state law instigated a national public debate on reforming restrictive abortion laws (Ginsburg 1989,35-36; Lader 1966,10-16). Finkbine was pregnant when she read about the teratogenic effects of thalidomide, a tranquilizer she had recently taken, and became alarmed. She approached her physician who recommended and arranged for an abortion at her local hospital. In order to warn other women of the dangers of thalidomide, Finkbine told her story to the local press, and the newspaper carried it on the front page the day her abortion was scheduled. In response, the hospital cancelled the procedure for fear of prosecution. What the hospital objected to was not therapeutic or eugenic abortion, which they were initially willing to provide, but the publicization of their covert practices. Finkbine's doctor, in turn, sought a court order for the abortion. However, the court side-stepped the issue by dismissing the case but recommending that the hospital allow the procedure. The hospital refused, arguing it needed further legal clarification, and Finkbine finally went to Sweden where the abortion of a malformed fetus was performed. In her sociological study of the twentieth-century abortion debates, Faye Ginsburg remarks that Finkbine was "a persuasive and compelling figure to the American public" because she was white, middle class, married, already a mother of several children, and believed abortion was justified only in extenuating circumstances (1989, 36). In other words, Finkbine was securely positioned within the institutions of marriage and motherhood. Unlike feminist arguments for legalized abortion as a precondition of sexual freedom and self-determination for women, Finkbine's abortion of a deformed fetus did not contest hegemonic social relations. Thus, people who felt threatened by abortion as a feminist platform could nonetheless sympathize with Finkbine.

Rosemary's Baby articulates this charged public debate on abortion with a literary and cinematic tradition of horror.3 The result is a modern-day tale of witchcraft and demonic pregnancy, a Faustian story of destructive ambition, a tribute to Dracula in which the unborn rather than the undead perniciously feed off the living, and a perversion of the Christian narrative of the Immaculate Conception in which Satan impregnates a mortal woman in order to become human and intervene in world history. This feat is accomplished in Manhattan in 1965 at the Bramford (as in Bram Stoker), a Gothic apartment house with a history of witchcraft and cannibalistic Victorian ladies.4 In exchange for a successful acting career, Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) secretly agrees to cooperate with the evil plot of his next-door neighbors, the eccentric and overbearing Roman and Minnie Castevet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon), who lead a coven of witches. On the night Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) believes she and her husband Guy are going to conceive their first child, she is drugged by him and transported through a false closet connecting their apartment to that of the Castevets. There the coven performs a ceremony to summon the devil, and Rosemary is raped and impregnated by Satan. During the malevolent pregnancy that follows, Rosemary endures excruciating pain, but she does not discover the preternatural constitution of her offspring until the horrifying last scene. Until this final revelation, Rosemary's misplaced fears for the well being of her much-desired first born compel her to piece together the conspiracy against her, and she suspects the coven is waiting for her infant to be born in order to steal it for a sacrificial ritual.

The film elicits horror from its audience through Rosemary's violation and the spectacle of her pregnant body, which harbors a monster. Although it exploits pregnancy as abject embodiment, I do not understand this as a misogynist repudiation of the maternal body or "the monstrous feminine," which Barbara Creed has identified as characteristic of cinematic horror.3 Rather, Rosemary's Baby turns horror to feminist ends. As Judith Halberstam explains in her study of the horror genre, Gothic is "a narrative technique, a generic spin that transforms the lovely and the beautiful into the abhorrent," and when this transformation of the sentimental into the grotesque "disrupts dominant culture's representations of family, heterosexuality, ethnicity and class politics," it can be particularly amenable to feminist and queer readings (1995, 22-23). I argue that the gothicization of bourgeois, white pregnancy enacted by Rosemary s Baby contests the essentialist conflation of women with maternity and the paternalistic medical and legal restrictions on women's access to abortion prior to Roe v. Wade (1973), which enforced that conflation in practice.

When Rosemary's Baby is located historically in relation to the criminalization of abortion and the idealization of maternity for married, middle class, white women, this story of a frightening pregnancy evokes feminist arguments for sexual and reproductive freedom. For one, a woman forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because abortion is illegal may feel betrayed by the reproductive capacity of her body and find the bodily transformations accompanying pregnancy profoundly alienating. Even for a woman who welcomes pregnancy, as Rosemary does, the experience may produce anxiety, fear, and ambivalence towards her own body, particularly if she is worried about the outcome of her pregnancy due to ill health. Indeed, both when Rosemary recognizes her sickly reflection in a shop window and when she is repulsed by the sight of herself devouring raw chicken liver, she becomes frightened and suspects that something might be wrong with her. Furthermore, although it is Rosemary's abject, pregnant body that horrifies the audience, the film nonetheless invites our identification with her and provokes our fear on her behalf. Finally, Rosemary's exploitation by her husband and the coven, who coldly pursue their own interests in her future child without regard for her desires or well being, might be read as an indictment of the more routine ways sexist social relations expropriate women's reproductive labor. For Rosemary, as for women facing unwanted pregnancies when abortion is illegal, coercive social relations make pregnancy a terrifying experience.

Saturday, December 30th, 2006, 12:42 PM

As Sharon Marcus points out in "Placing Rosemary's Baby," Rosemary is initially vulnerable to the coven's plot because she is not suspicious enough (1993,132). Yet, more than one reviewer of the film dismissed Rosemary as delusional and classified the plot as a paranoid fantasy (Marcus 1993,147).To attribute Rosemary's fears and suspicions to psychosis is to refuse a political interpretation of the narrative by failing to recognize the sexist social relations that conspire against her and, indeed, by failing to recognize any meaningful relation between the narrative and historical reality. Rather than pathologize Rosemary, Marcus locates paranoia in social relations of the 1960s, which are both represented by the narrative and the site of its initial reception. Specifically, she explicates an anxious discourse on privacy prompted by electronic surveillance technologies as well as what she defines as a paranoid discourse of pregnancy (132-44). According to Marcus, this paranoid discourse circulated during the 196Os in popular manuals for pregnant women, which associated pregnancy with fear precisely through habitual reassurances that their readers had nothing to fear about pregnancy (133). It also materialized in new fetal visualization technologies like ultra sound, which extended medical surveillance of pregnancy, and in revised medical knowledge about the placenta that positioned pregnant women as potentially toxic environments for fetuses (134-41). Finally, the legal prohibition against abortion except in circumstances that endangered a pregnant woman's life or mental health meant that in practice, abortions could be legally obtained only on the paranoid grounds of "fetal perniciousness and women's susceptibility to insanity" (134).

In Rosemary's Baby this pervasive, paranoid discourse on pregnancy becomes horrific. The antagonistic relationship between pregnant women and fetuses formulated by medical and legal discourses takes an aggravated form in the satanic fetus and the toxic effects of the pregnancy on Rosemary's body, while commonplace characterizations of pregnant women as needlessly fearful and even prone to insanity undermine Rosemary's credibility and put her in jeopardy. Both Guy and Sapirstein, her obstetrician, assume a paternalistic authority that enables them to easily discredit her as psychotic, and later Guy unsuccessfully attempts to convince Rosemary that she has suffered a psychotic episode brought on by "prepartum syndrome." The narrative substantiates Rosemary's claim that there is a plot against her, but as she becomes acutely aware, no one will believe her. Those interpretations of Rosemary's Baby that dismiss Rosemary as delusional assume the authority of this paranoid discourse on pregnancy, despite the work the narrative does to expose its pernicious effects. By contrast, Marcus follows Naomi Schor's reading of Freud, which appropriates "female paranoia" as a model for feminist theorizing, and affirms Rosemary's justified suspicions as an oppositional form of paranoia advocated by the narrative.6 This feminist paranoia leads Rosemary to the devastating recognition that her most intimate relationships have been the site of her exploitation (Marcus 1993,146-47).

Marcus is right to value feminist paranoia as a form of oppositional thinking, but she misidentifies feminist paranoia with a defensive stance against invasions of privacy. Her analysis assumes the legal framework which positions the individual's right to privacy as a protection against state intervention, whether in the form of wiretaps, video surveillance, or laws prohibiting abortion. This is, of course, the legal basis for Roe v. Wade, which affirms the right to privacy in reproductive decision-making within the context of doctor-patient relationships. However, Rosemary's story would seem to expose the limitations of privacy as a protection against violence or coercion. As the feminist slogan "the personal is political" maintains, sexist power relations operate in and through the private spaces of the home, domestic relationships, and the bodies and psyches of individual men and women. Since Rosemary's exploitation occurs precisely within the privacy of her doctor-patient relationship, her home, her marriage, her body, and even her desires, her privacy is less a sanctuary which is violated than a trap which ensnares her. In these terms, privacy is not an alternative to exploitation since protecting a woman's privacy will not ensure her safety from violence. Neither will it secure her access to an abortion as court cases subsequent to Roe v. Wade have proved by upholding the right to privacy while eroding abortion rights (Petchesky 1984, xxiii).This is not to overlook the importance of the right to privacy, which provided a means to defend women's reproductive decision-making from state intervention in principle and thereby cleared the way for legalized abortion in the United States. However, insisting on the right to privacy cannot address the myriad manifestations of sexism, racism, and class domination in private relationships, nor can it address the socially determined constraints on what private choices are available to women in the first place. For instance, the right to privacy does nothing to make the choices of poor women realizable because it does not ensure them either access to abortion or adequate material support necessary to carry a pregnancy to term.

For Marcus, "the moral that Rosemary's Baby holds for women is pure New York: trust no-one, not even your own husband; don't talk to strangers, even if they do live next door; and remember-there's no such thing as too much paranoia" (1993,149).This may be good advice.To be sure, Rosemary's misgivings about her husband's culpable behavior and her suspicions of an evil conspiracy are legitimate assessments of her situation. Nonetheless, the conclusion "trust no-one" seems to recommend isolation over collective feminist action and short-circuits the more politically efficacious insight to be gained from Marcus's historical explication of Rosemary's Baby. What 15 crucially significant about feminist paranoia is its insistence that exploitation is real. As a power-sensitive analysis of one's experience, feminist paranoia takes fear and suspicion seriously as rational responses to exploitative circumstances. What is at stake is less privacy than credibility (which is a privilege produced in the first place by asymmetrical power relations), both for Rosemary as she confronts the authority of her husband and obstetrician and for the feminist critic who would claim a meaningful relation between Rosemary's story and reality.

This is really happening!

Against dismissive readings of the film as paranoid delusion, Rosemary's Baby theorizes a permeable relation between fantasy and reality in which language serves as a placenta-like conduit for circulation between them. For instance, early on in the narrative, Rosemary hears the Castevets through her bedroom wall as she falls asleep. The dream sequence that follows is a memory from Rosemary's Catholic-schoolgirl childhood, but the sound of Minnie Castevet castigating her husband has penetrated Rosemary's dream, and Minnie's real-time polemic is delivered within the dream by a nun scolding Rosemary. Here fantasy and reality are not carbon copies of one another, but they are in close communication.
Similarly, a terrifying and instructive moment occurs during the rape scene when Rosemarys lucid perceptions interrupt her drug-induced dreams and she recognizes for a panicked instant that she has confused rape by someone inhuman with a pleasurable dream of sex with her husband. As fear replaces her previously passive, voyeuristic interest in those dreams, Rosemary protests "This is no dream! This is really happening!" before she is sedated. Her protest simultaneously asserts a distinction between fantasy and reality and acknowledges how closely intertwined they are. However, in the morning, despite the scratches on her body that provide evidence to the contrary, Rosemary mistakenly attributes all of her unsettling memories of the previous night to a strange dream. In part because what happened was so bizarre that it resembled a dream, and in part because she does not yet believe in witches, covens, or the devil, Rosemary fails to recognize her experience as real. Although Rosemary does confuse fantasy and reality, and although paranoia is commonly understood precisely as an inability to differentiate between fantasy and reality, this is not paranoid delusion, where imaginary fears and suspicions are projected out into the real world, but its inverse. Rosemary mistakes her real experience for fantasy and dismisses it. This category confusion is harmful to her because it provides a cover that allows the coven to operate with Rosemary's unwitting cooperation, while later on it is her developing sense of feminist paranoia that allows Rosemary to entertain her suspicions and begin to resist the plot against her.

Rather than dismiss outright what she misidentifies as her dreams (a dismissal that assumes that fantasy and reality are mutually exclusive), both Rosemary and the audience need to cultivate an adequate understanding of the intimate relation between her dreams and real life in order to sort out what is real. As Rosemary floats in and out of consciousness during the rape, her vivid fantasies are punctuated by the detached observations she makes about her sensations and physical surroundings, as well as the conversations of the coven as they prepare to summon the devil.This is achieved in the film through alternating camera angles, which produce the effect of shifts in perspective, moving between Rosemary's dreams and a third-party view of Guy and the coven's activities. As Guy undresses her, Rosemary dreams she is on a yacht with her friend Hutch and John and Jackie Kennedy-alternately self-conscious that she is nude and wearing a bathing suit. When the coven transports her on a gurney through the linen closet joining the two apartments, she notices the gingham contact paper covering a shelf as she is passed under it. Then she dreams she is lying on her back on a scaffold, looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from Michelangelo's perspective. Her dreams register her sensory experience, combine it with memory, emotion and the material of her subconscious, and transform it into fantasy.

As her dreams digest real events and transform them into fantasy, Rosemary consumes her dreams, which in turn elicit real responses from her. This communication between fantasy and reality suggests by extension that between the fictional narrative itself and the audience. For instance, following the terror of Rosemary's lucid moment during the rape, she dreams she has an interview with the Pope. In the novel, but not explicitly in the film, Rosemary is concerned to conceal from him that she has just had an orgasm (Levin 1967,117). While this revelation is disturbing for the reader who recognizes the relation of Rosemary's pleasurable dream to the actual violation in progress, her orgasm demonstrates that dreams and fantasy can have real effects. Rosemary's alternating responses of fear and pleasure suggest the fear and pleasure experienced by the reader, which are real effects produced by the narrative. Likewise, Rosemary's protest "This is no dream . . ." penetrates a permeable fiction/reality boundary even as it distinguishes between Rosemary's dreams and real life. Her protest is delivered into the camera and makes a direct address that acknowledges the presence of the audience and therefore implicates us as voyeurs who watch as the coven members do. The direct address is also a warning to the audience not to mistake Rosemary's violation for fantasy as she will do the following morning. This warning both acknowledges the role of the audience in interpretation and seeks to enroll us as witnesses of her rape and potential allies.

Saturday, December 30th, 2006, 12:44 PM
Gothic History

Like Rosemary's dreams, then, Rosemary's Baby does not mimetically represent reality but is closely intertwined with it, both through the responses it provokes in the audience which consumes it and through its parasitical relation to the historical events and discourses it digests and rematerializes as Gothic horror. The story establishes a climate of fear and danger by invoking the coercive and sometimes deadly reality created by a conservative sexual morality in combination with the criminalization of abortion, where infanticide, suicide, and dangerous back alley abortions were the last resort of desperate women. When Rosemary's friend Hutch cautions the couple against taking the apartment at the Bramford because of its history of cannibalism and witchcraft, he mentions that a dead infant wrapped in newspaper was found in the basement there in 1959. Rosemary and Terry, the young, unmarried woman the Castevets rescue from life on the streets, later discuss the creepiness of the Bramford's basement. Soon after, Terry commits suicide. Both the audience and Rosemary come to understand why Terry killed herself as Rosemary's investigation of the coven's conspiracy unfolds.Those who listen closely to Minnie's voice during Rosemary's first dream sequence (which immediately follows Terry's suicide) know that Terry was the first woman the coven plotted to have impregnated by Satan. Rosemary overhears but does not comprehend as Minnie berates Roman for letting Terry in on their plan, an indication that Terry discovered she was pregnant and was informed by Roman of the coven's role in this. Rather than comply, as Roman assumed she would, she jumps out of the window. Terry perceives death to be the only exit from an intolerable situation, and although the circumstances of her pregnancy are fantastic, the precedent for her self-destruction is a grim history of suicide by young women who reached similar conclusions when faced with the stigma of unwedded pregnancy.

Like infanticide and suicide, abortion was an illicit practice associated historically with the scandalous sexual activity of unmarried women. By contrast, Rosemary is married and looks forward to pregnancy and to starting a family. Unlike Terry's situation but like Finkbine's, Rosemary's story embodies what was considered, according to the conventional morality of the time, the unfortunate but more respectable circumstances addressed by abortion reform. Her pregnancy hyperbolically involves not one but all three of the circumstances in which the American Law Institute's model penal code provided for legal abortion: not only was she was raped, but pregnancy compromises her physical health, while the third circumstance-potential birth defects-is established through anachronism. That is, until the twentieth century, "monster" was a term used to refer to people born with congenital deformities, and copulation with the devil was one traditional explanation for the cause of monstrous births. Rosemary's pregnancy synchronizes this historical tradition of monstrosity with contemporary anxieties about thalidomide provoked by Finkbine's experience. At Dr. Hill's office when Rosemary takes prescription pills out of her purse and repeats the word "monsters" as she looks at the pills, the association between monstrosity and pharmaceutically induced birth defects is further secured. Of course, Rosemary carries her pregnancy to term, although Finkbine did not, and it is precisely the satanic contamination of white, bourgeois maternity that elicits horror in Rosemary's Baby.
As Finkbine's story did, Rosemary's Baby addresses itself to an audience invested in the sentimental ideal of motherhood, exploits that investment to produce a horrified response, and thereby makes abortion compelling. At the same time that Rosemary is a figure of sympathetic identification for the audience, and her wasted physical appearance creates fear on her behalf, dramatic irony renders grotesque her nurturing, emotional investments in her pregnancy as she goes about her preparations for the baby's arrival. While Rosemary's status as a married woman initially establishes her respectability and ensures the sympathy of a wide audience, as the narrative progresses such conventional moral distinctions between the sexually respectable Rosemary and the streetwise Terry become irrelevant. The willingness of Rosemary's husband to subject her to violence and his appropriation of her body as a medium of exchange in a transaction for worldly success position Rosemary as a victim of exploitation who needs to reassert control over her own body by some means. When Rosemary protests "I won't have an abortion!" to friends worried about her health, she simultaneously proposes and refuses an alternative to the horrible course of events underway. In the next scene, Rosemary's pain suddenly ceases, and for a moment she believes her fetus has died, but then she feels it move for the first time. As Guy recoils in horror, Rosemary joyfully yells "Its alive!" Given the circumstances of her pregnancy, this unmistakable reference to James Whale's 1931-film version of Frankenstein portentously suggests that it would be in Rosemary's best interest if it were not.

Rosemary trusts in modern medicine to navigate her safely through pregnancy (an expectation that marks her class privilege since prenatal care was and is a privilege not afforded to everyone). To her dismay this trust is repeatedly betrayed. Here, too, Rosemary's story bears some resemblance to Finkbine's in that both women seek medical intervention to resolve the problems they face but encounter obstacles: Finkbine read about thalidomide and sought a hospital abortion, while Rosemary reads about witchcraft and goes to her obstetrician for safe haven. She learns too late that her deference to Sapirstein's expertise has put her in danger. The success of the coven's plot depends on Sapirstein maintaining his position as Rosemary's sole source of information, and he instructs her not to read books or heed the advice of family and friends. Indeed, the experiential knowledge shared by the women at Rosemary's cocktail party threatens to undermine him when Rosemary's friends question his competency and encourage her to seek a second opinion from another doctor. Once she discovers that he is implicated in the plot, she flees to Dr. Hill, the obstetrician Sapirstein replaced at the insistence of Guy and the Castevets. Hill is not a coven member, but he fails to protect Rosemary. Instead of checking her into the hospital as she asks, he placates her and phones Sapirstein out of professional courtesy. What Rosemary wants is security from the coven for herself and the infant she is about to deliver, but her flight from one doctor to the next, her fear that she will be intercepted, and her desperation as she pleads for help with an unreceptive doctor who will not grant her access to the hospital reverberates with the experience of women seeking illegal abortions.

This double betrayal by Sapirstein and then Hill is consistent with feminist criticisms of institutional medicine; historically, a male-dominated medical profession has colluded with sexist social relations generally, and its covert administration of abortion is one particular form this collusion has taken (Baehr 1990, 23-24; Petchesky 1984, 78-84). Sapirstein's benevolent paternalism is exposed as self-interested, fraudulent, and manipulative, and while allegiance to one's colleagues is not conspiracy, Hill's disinterested professionalism contributes to Rosemary's coercion just the same. However, health care delivered to women by women and rooted in women's traditional knowledge about childbearing does not provide Rosemary with an affirming, feminist alternative to the abuses of the medical establishment either. Minnie, who Lucy Fischer identifies as "an ersatz modern midwife, shrouded in misogyny" (1992, 7-8), is instrumental to the coven's plot, administering herbal concoctions to Rosemary and monitoring her contact with the outside world. In the harrowing delivery scene, Rosemary suffers the worst of both worlds: her traumatic home delivery is not the positive experience proposed by a homeopathic health movement as a corrective to the overmedicalization of childbirth in hospitals, and she enjoys none of the benefits of a hospital delivery but is nevertheless medicated and unconscious for the delivery of her baby and entirely alienated from the experience of childbirth. As Sapirstein injects an unconsenting, screaming Rosemary with a sedative to prevent her from fighting him during labor, she objects "It was supposed to be Doctor's Hospital. Doctor's Hospital. With everything clean and sterile." For Rosemary (and for many women) a hospital delivery promises sterile conditions and skilled care, and historically, these have been important advantages given the risks of infection and hemorrhaging connected both with childbirth and with back alley abortions. It is these risks that inform both Rosemary's desire for a hospital delivery and Finkbine's desire for a hospital abortion.

The issue is defined here as one of access to the positive benefits of modern medical care. Since physicians act as gatekeepers controlling that access, privacy within the context of a doctor-patient relationship is no guarantee for pregnant women, who want and need access to skilled medical care when they carry their pregnancies to term and when they do not, because that relationship can itself be the site of coercion. In Rosemary's Baby both Sapirstein and Hill betray Rosemary's trust. Sapirstein's alliance with the coven, a group of religious fanatics who seek "To avenge the inequities visited by the God worshippers on [Satan's] never-doubting followers," and his misuse of his medical authority to further the coven's agenda are especially objectionable. By resuscitating the accusation of witchcraft to which midwives had once been particularly vulnerable, Rosemary's Baby criticizes the modern medical establishment for its failure to be sufficiently modern. Victorian pro-natalism, represented by the old crones, persists due to the professional cronyism of medical doctors: Sapirstein's unprofessional but characteristically witch-like mixture of religion and medicine goes unchecked because Hill's own strong sense of professionalism prevents him from questioning Sapirstein's motives or practice. Hill trusts Sapirstein's reputation over Rosemary's claim that she is in danger, despite corroborating physical evidence provided by a strange test result that had puzzled him early in her pregnancy. As Rosemary's traumatic home delivery attests, this combination of professional cronyism with a self-righteous mixture of medicine, religion, and politics endangers the well being of pregnant women.

If Rosemary's exploitation by her husband, doctor, and neighbors and the ensuing pernicious pregnancy contribute to a sense that, in her particular circumstances, maternity is not in Rosemary's best interest, the unease elicited by the last scene confirms this. In this ambiguous scene, the impulse to nurture the infant overpowers Rosemary's revulsion, and she apparently consents to mother the satanic baby. For Marcus, the ending betrays the feminist implications of the narrative "in favor of an image of sacred motherhood that neutralizes Rosemary's [feminist]'paranoia'" (1993,144). But Rosemary's seduction by motherhood is a profane parody of sacred maternity that is horrifying for the extreme self-sacrifice it implies. Within the terms of the film, Rosemary's assent to nurture the baby entails eternal damnation. Rather than sanctifying Rosemary's maternity, the narrative pursues the logic of "prolife" arguments against abortion to grotesque conclusions. The trajectory of Rosemary's story closely resembles the pro-life narratives described in Ginsburg's study:

In all the stories of pregnancy and birth told by right-to-life women, the ambivalence of the speaker toward that condition is invoked and then overcome, either through reference to her own or her mother's experience. Frequently, the narrative resolution of problematic pregnancy is managed through the protagonist's acceptance of the responsibilities of nurturance despite problematic circumstances. Sometimes the conquest of the difficulties of and doubts about pregnancy and birth seem almost heroic. In this way, nurturant qualities and behavior appropriate to female identity are something to be won through effort. (Ginsburg 1989,172)

I would argue that Rosemary's Baby offers a critical rather than heroic view of the self-sacrifice demanded of Rosemary, who is a woman pregnant in problematic circumstances, and who accepts the nurturing behavior appropriate to female identity.
Rosemary's internal dialogue, which is provided by the novel but absent in the film, contributes to this reading of her acceptance of the infant. Rosemary briefly considers killing both herself and the infant by jumping out of the window (Levin 1967, 302). Like Terry, she faces an intolerable situation, and the insufficiency of her options, suicide and infanticide or raising the devil's son, demonstrates how terrible this predicament is. Nonetheless, Rosemary reasons that she may use her position as mother to subvert the coven's evil intentions from within by nurturing the good in the infant (306). This is a heroic gesture, in Ginsburg's terms, which entails self-sacrifice and "acceptance of the responsibilities of nurturance despite problematic circumstances." Rosemary' s logic for choosing maternity can be understood as a rejection of victimhood and even potentially a radical act, but this is a limited agency fraught with ambivalence.7 An argument for the subversive implications of the ending offered from a rather different perspective makes this clear. Robert Lima understands Rosemary's acceptance of the infant to signal her return to Catholicism: "She accepts her grotesque motherhood as a divinely instituted mission. Like Mary, mother of Jesus, she will crush the head of the serpent. The Satanic rape of Catholicism has had a salutary end" (1974, 220). Salutary for whom? Certainly not for Rosemary.

Even if the ending does indicate a return to Catholicism on Rosemary's part or initiate a subsequent, feminist story of subversive parenting, the narrative has not prepared the audience to accept Rosemary s self-sacrifice for a satanic infant. Rather, to this point it has fostered a desire for Rosemary to prevail. For an audience invested in Rosemary's transformation from naïve victim to critical, investigative agent, Rosemary's seduction by or consent to motherhood compromises a subjectivity she has achieved at great cost, as Marcus's argument points out. However, this is not necessarily a rejection of feminism by the narrative but can be read as feminist provocation: by gothicizing bourgeois, white pregnancy, it renders maternal self-sacrifice as a horrific resolution to a pregnancy engendered by violence and misappropriation. The drama of fetal perniciousness performed by Rosemary's Baby makes abortion a compelling alternative to the exploitation that defines Rosemary's predicament.

Saturday, December 30th, 2006, 12:47 PM
Fetal Subjects

Thirty-two years after Roe v. Wade, abortion remains a contested issue. In response to its legalization, an anti-abortion movement has emerged and reframed the debate, asserting the legal and political rights of the unborn in opposition to the rights of women. These claims gain substance and credibility from visual images of an autonomous fetus circulating through the public sphere. As Rosalind Petchesky observes, "The 'public' presentation of the fetus has become ubiquitous; its disembodied form, propped up by medical authority and technological rationality, now permeates mass culture. We are all, on some level, susceptible to its coded meanings" (1987, 281). This two-dimensional icon, which feminists have named "the public fetus" to distinguish it from fetuses carried by flesh-and-blood pregnant women, is the historically recent product of Lennart Nilsson's famous photos, medical visualization technologies, the visual and rhetorical strategies of anti-abortion activism, legal discourse, and advertising (Ginsburg 1989,105; Hartouni 1997, 6, 67; Newman 1996,15-17; Petchesky 1987, 268;Taylor 71-72). It is not a simple, mimetic representation of a real-life fetus, although it works most effectively for pro-life ends when read in this way. Rather, fetal images and pro-life claims for the rights of fetuses are performative discursive practices in that they produce what they claim merely to represent, a fetal subject.8 This discourse suppresses pregnant women's bodies as the condition of possibility for fetuses, making an independent fetal subject with interests and rights of its own imaginable at the expense of pregnant women who are rendered invisible.

The autonomous fetus is an efficacious fiction with material consequences for flesh-and-blood pregnant women. Its purpose is to marginalize women who would have abortions, and it does. In effect the pro-life fetal subject also disempowers pregnant women who intend to carry a pregnancy to term. For instance, the Bush administration has revised the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a joint federal/state program, to extend government health benefits to what it insists on calling "unborn children" (NARAL 2002). In doing so, it prioritizes fetuses as patients rather than uninsured pregnant women, demonstrating a profound disregard for the social, political, and legal status of these women, whom it reduces to environments for fetal subjects.9 Existing programs could be used to extend health benefits to uninsured pregnant women, making medical care accessible to these women and therefore also to their fetuses (NAPvAL 2002). Instead, under the guise of doing something beneficial for the poor, this politically motivated policy seeks to undermine the legitimacy of abortion rights by establishing fetuses as beneficiaries of government programs and therefore as social subjects in practice, if not formally according to law. As a consequence, this simultaneously pro-natal and anti-maternal policy disenfranchises pregnant women both as patients and as social subjects deserving political and legal consideration.
Like Rosemary Woodhouse, then, the public has unwittingly been invaded by a pernicious fetal presence, and this has been accomplished through the efforts of the Religious Right, which, like the coven, is a religious minority seeking to subvert the status quo. The challenge now faced by feminist theory and practice is how to contest effectively a powerful public discourse that displaces fetuses from the bodies and lives of pregnant women and how best to insist on women-pregnant, or not, or pregnant-but-not-wanting-tobe-as legitimate social, political, and legal subjects. This is a complex task. To oppose the pro-life fetal subject with the specificity of pregnant embodiment by returning women to the scene of pregnancy is a risky affair given the historical conflation of "woman" with "mother," since this conflation is precisely what opponents of abortion want to enforce in practice. As a feminist confronting this double bind, I find Rosemary's Baby instructive.10 It continues to reveal the Gothic story lurking inside the idealization of maternity as the fulfillment of a woman's destiny as it did in 1967-68, but presently this frightening story of a parasitic fetus has acquired added significance given the emergence of the pro-life fetal subject.

First, the preoccupation of Rosemary's Baby with pregnancy as abject embodiment makes present without idealizing what the pro-life fetal subject obscures: the pregnant woman's body and subjectivity. As the Gothic spectacle at the center of the film, Rosemary's pregnant body is objectified by the camera, but her visibility on-screen and her narrative presence enable the audience to identify with her subjective experience of pregnancy, just as ultra sound images and pro-life discourse encourage identification with a fetal subject. We encounter Rosemary as a subject whose body and whose hopes for the future have been exploited. Although Rosemary has been objectified as a fetal environment by her husband and the coven, it is her experience of alienation that Rosemary's Baby brings into focus. This is an important shift of perspective given the effacement of pregnant women in the current regime of the fetal subject. If according to a historical reading Rosemary's frightening pregnancy makes legalized abortion compelling, at the present moment Rosemary's terrifying experience also suggests the dangerous effects of anti-maternal, pro-natal public discourse and social policy for pregnant women who wish to carry a pregnancy to term. Rosemary embraces pregnancy only to find her health jeopardized and her status as a legitimate social, political, and legal subject negated by others pursuing their own interests in her gestating fetus.
Second, in contrast to the highly visible, autonomous, and paradigmatically innocent fetal subject of pro-life discourse, the gestating fetus in Rosemary's Baby is invisible, dependent, and satanic. Like pro-life discourse, Rosemary's Baby has much to say about the unborn, but whereas pro-life discourse produces the fetal subject as rights-bearing individual, Rosemary's Baby elaborates the liminal ontological status of fetuses. The debilitating effects of pregnancy on Rosemary's body call attention to the parasitic physiological relation between every fetus and a pregnant woman. As Petchesky comments:

On the level of "biology alone," the dependence is one way-the fetus is a parasite. Not only is it not part of a woman's body, but it contributes nothing to her sustenance. It only draws from her: nutrients, immunological defenses, hormonal secretions, blood, digestive functions, energy. (Petchesky 1984, 350)

Rosemary's Baby gothicizes this parasitic relation by casting the fetus in the role of vampire, the traditional parasite of literary and cinematic horror; instead of the undead, in Rosemary's Baby it is the unborn that maliciously feed off the living. This is underscored in the novel (although the line is dropped in the film) by Hutch who remarks on Rosemary's deterioration, "You look as if you've been drained by a vampire. Are you sure there aren't any puncture marks?" (Levin 1967, 156). Of course, both Rosemary's satanic fetus and the undead are preternatural phenomena while in general the unborn are not. Nonetheless, like the undead, who continue to inhabit the world of the living although they are not alive and who cannot be killed although they are not dead, the unborn are liminal entities. Both the undead and the unborn exist in a transitional state denned by a threshold that has not been crossed, death in one case and birth in the other, and both require living human beings for sustenance.

Importantly, the relationship between pregnant women and fetuses is not solely physiological. As Petchesky argues, becoming a human person is a process accomplished within social relationships, beginning with the relationship between pregnant women and fetuses established during gestation and continuing after birth (1984, 350-351). In Rosemary's Baby, it is through the ordinary but significant act of choosing a name for her future child that Rosemary defines her own relationship to the pregnancy in progress and interpellates her gestating fetus into human social relations. That is, Rosemary's naming practice initiates her future child's formation as a social subject by "hailing" or calling it into social existence in the manner famously theorized by Louis Althusser (1971). When Rosemary addresses her gestating fetus, "Don't worry little Andy-or -Jenny, I'll kill them before I let them hurt you," or "Everything's okay now, Andy-or-Jenny. We're going to be in a nice clean bed at Mount Sinai Hospital, with no visitors," these are performative discursive acts that posit a fetal subject, just as pro-life discourse does. However, what Rosemary's Baby offers instead of the pro-life fetal subject is a provisional, subject-in-the-making specifically constituted by Rosemary, the pregnant woman, in relation to herself.11 As is signaled by the names Rosemary considers, which change in the course of her pregnancy from Andrew or Douglas for a boy and Melinda or Susan for a girl to Andy or Jenny, this is an on-going process the outcome of which remains uncertain. Of course, Rosemary's discourse does not in and of itself determine what this outcome will be, as we are reminded by the unresolved question of the future child's sex and the specter of monstrosity that haunts Rosemary's pregnancy. Nonetheless, in the account of pregnancy given by Rosemary's Baby, Rosemary is the crucial agent in a physiological and discursive process without which there is no fetus or infant. The coven needs her to accomplish their evil plot as she certainly does not need them.
To figure pregnancy as a physiological and discursive process, as Rosemary's Baby does, is to attend to the specificities of the relationship between a pregnant woman and the fetus she nurtures as the pro-life fetal subject does not. Pro-life discourse suppresses fetal dependence on pregnant women and conceals its own productive role in materializing a fetal subject when it claims to mimetically represent real, material fetuses. Rosemary's Baby, on the other hand, insists on the unborn as a liminal category, providing a compelling model with which to confront pro-life arguments that from conception a fetus is a human life and therefore a person endowed with rights. Recognition that a fetus is a provisional being located inside of and dependent upon a pregnant woman is necessary for any ethically adequate discussion of what a fetus' moral, political, and legal standing might be. Not only is a fetus, as a potential person, not equivalent to a pregnant woman, who is an actually existing person, but it is a woman's physical and emotional investments in her pregnancy that enable and sustain the process of development from fertilized egg to new born infant when a pregnancy is carried to term. If the physical and other nurturing contributions of pregnant women to fetal sustenance were generally acknowledged and valued, would that respect then engender social policy ensuring material support and medical care for pregnant women without negating their civil rights? If gestation were valued as a physically demanding activity exclusively performed by pregnant women, would it not also follow that the decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy ethically belongs to pregnant women themselves?

1 This is not to suggest that generation was not a contested site prior to the second half of the twentieth century. On the contrary, the terms of contemporary disputes over generation are the legacy of nineteenth-century debates over birth control, abortion, and social programs for widows and orphans. Petchesky, in Abortion and Woman's Choice, Ginsburg, and Gordon include histories of these debates.
2 This is true of the novel as well. According to Sharon Marcus, "the novel became an instant cultural icon, selling over 5,000,000 copies in less than a year" (1993, 132).
3 I am using "articulation" here in the specific sense of cultural studies where it refers to connections or linkages forged among various discourses, practices, and social relations, as well as to speech or expression in language. Stuart Hall defines articulation as "the form of the connection that can make a unity of two different elements, under certain conditions. It is a linkage which is not necessary, determined, absolute, and essential for all time" (Grossberg 1996, 141).
4 In her taxonomy of horror film sub-genres Carol Clover locates Rosemary's Baby with "Terrible Place" and possession movies. For Clover, Rosemary's Baby is an exception to the "standard schema" in possession films which "puts, or at least seems to put, the female body on the line in order to put the male psyche on the line" (1992, 76).
5 Creed defines the "ideological project" of cinematic horror as "an attempt to shore up the symbolic order by constructing the feminine as an imaginary Other' which must be repressed and controlled in order to secure and protect the social order. Thus, the horror film stages and re-stages the repudiation of the maternal figure" (1990, 141). Robin Wood offers a contrasting view of horror as "perhaps the most progressive, [of American Film genres] even in its overt nihilism-in a period of extreme cultural crisis and disintegration which alone offers the possibility of radical change and rebuilding" (1986, 84). Neither source analyzes Rosemary's Baby.
6 Judith Halberstam makes a similar argument for feminist paranoia in her study of Gothic horror (1995, 126-27).
7 In "Is the Gaze Male?" E. Ann Kaplan warns against the potential for essentialism present in such an argument but asserts the radical potential of mothering from a psychoanalytic perspective: "one could argue that since the law represses mothering, a gap is left through which it may be possible to subvert patriarchy" (1983, 323).
8 This is not to deny the material existence of fetuses prior to the emergence of a pro-life movement or ultra-sound but to insist that fetuses do not exist independently of pregnant women except as they are reified in discourse. see Austin's definition of performative statements (1962, 5-6), Butler on discursive materialization (1993, 30-31), and Poovey's explanation of a metaphysics of substance, "Despite the fact, however, that the law seems to recognize something that already exists, it actually creates that which it claims to recognize. The law creates the effect of a substantive core by "basing" rights on (the fiction of) that core" (1992, 214).
9 See Hartouni (1997) for other instances where medical, legal, and/or media discourse have rendered pregnant women fetal containers.
10 My argument here is indebted to Kelly Hurley's The Gothic Body (1996) and her essay "Reading Like an Alien" (1995).
11 In contrast to the pro-life fetal subject, Susan Squier proposes "the concept of fetal/maternal relations as a border, a creative space of contestation, both linguistic and experimental" as a "more workable and more accurate" representation of the fetus, which is also consistent with women's experiences of pregnancy (1991,18). Of course, for this fetal/maternal relation not to revert to a prescription for maternal self-sacrifice but to sustain contestation, both terminating and continuing pregnancies must be imaginable, accessible, and supportable options.

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Karyn Valerius is an assistant professor at Hofstra University's New College where she teaches literature, cultural studies, and women's studies

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