And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. — Nietzsche
I saw my share of scary movies back in the day, but there were a limited few I refused to watch on principle. I believed some were touched by true evil, that if I looked into their celluloid eyes, the evil would surely look back into me and open me up to who knows what. Superstitious tosh, you might say, certain and strong when the lights come on. I guess my tender spirit just needed extra time to grow thick, comfortable, and confident enough to say “I got this.” It must have, for I recently said to myself, “Come on now. Be a grown-up and watch the damned movies, they’re just movies for pete’s sake!” So I did. I knew everything about them, alpha to omega and the minutiae in between, but never saw their scenes unspool in a dark, silent, living room.
“Rosemary’s Baby” turns out to be very good. It holds up for me as a “modern” viewer through a slightly-educated feminist filter. In some ways, Rosemary had it all. (My friend suggests she was a fairy-tale princess.) She had a thoughtful, playful, loving husband, a fancy apartment, and the promise of starting a little family, all while getting to stay home and chat with the neighbors. What woman could want more? But from the moment she chose to take the step into motherhood it went from being a horror movie to watching a woman violated, stripped of personhood, all control taken away, from what to eat, what to wear, what to drink, what doctor to see, what not to read, not to think too much or worry, to disregard her instincts, and criticizing her dramatic haircut. But she held on, she fought the gaslighting, fought for control of her body, her pregnancy, and her sanity right up until the end. I ask now what is more important? Having a quiet, happy, carefree life or being in charge of your body, en totale? Why not both?
“The Exorcist” was not as good as “Rosemary’s Baby.” After watching it in a silent, dark apartment with a taste of apprehension, I felt like I was missing something. Where was the horror? I guess I’ve seen “Constantine” so many times that my superstitious edges are dull. The story brought me a strong, successful, independent woman (Chris) struggling with her daughter’s failing health. Chris had it all: homes, fame, parties, friends, and a daughter she loved to the moon and back. What more could a woman want? But everything she earned was taken away when every man she encountered (doctors, priests, and the handyman) basically told her, “You don’t know what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing, and you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re a hysterical woman that just needs to calm down.” She gave a simple order to her maintenance man: put rat traps in the attic. “There’s no rats up there,” he said. His statement implied that since he didn’t hear rats there aren’t any, so he’s not going to do what she asked. I was furious! These movies were less about horror than about women having their voice, their personhood, beliefs, rights and authority taken away. And here’s a petty but fair question: Does anyone remember the name of the lady scientists in Jurassic Park?
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. — Nietzsche
Taking a journey means every now and then you have to lift your head up and look back to see where you began. With hard work and some luck, there will be some good distance between those points. I look back at my teenage and young adult years to recall the injustices and inequality I saw everywhere, the anger that rose up in me. I remember Thomas Covenant raping Lena at the start of a very famous fantasy series. (I tossed the books and refused to finish them.) Watching my parents fight, powerless to stop mom’s tears. Radio DJs mocking Nicole Simpson’s 911 call with a Guns ‘N Roses song. (And what about that Guns ‘N Roses album cover.) Reading about female genital mutilation. The years of being bullied at school. I built some tough walls for self-protection, found some good ways to channel my anger, but I never learned how to cope with the soft parts, the crying parts, the wounded woman parts. The parts that are waking up and shaking me while I watch old, scary movies.
Looking back for me is like looking through a spyglass, sometimes distant and blurry, sometimes sharp and in focus. Sadly in focus, for the anger, the outrage is still here, and the distance between my journey points aren’t as far apart as I’d hoped. I acknowledge that anger will always be with me because I am human, but I have chosen to use what I’m learning to make things better for young women as my goal instead of wanting to kill, vigilante-style, the perps who had it coming.
And that is the danger of looking into my abyss, to allow it to open so that I may see the softest, most broken, sad, angry, fearful parts while watching a movie, re-reading “The Handmaid’s Tale” or essays by Rebecca Solnit. The real evil I should be on guard against is the anger that rises up when I think of women silenced and their rights taken away, or the smaller indignities like getting patted on the head or being told to smile. It is anger that stitches closed the arteries that should be feeding my womanhood. Kindness, forgiveness, and peace choked off instead of flowing out into the world. It would be so easy for me to fall into that abyss, close it off, and never give you a kind word or a smile again. (You had your chance, world, now piss off!) Or…I could put my anger into that shiny piece of coal I found on the beach, as often as I need. It will be a safe place to acknowledge that my dark feelings exist and will always be with me, but they’re quite small and manageable sitting on the windowsill. I named that piece of coal Fury, and we are partners, now, in the next act of this woman’s journey.