Rosemary's Baby is about the horror of coercive control

The horror movie Rosemary's Baby explores "coercive control, a form of domestic violence that is notoriously difficult to identify, assess, and prosecute," writes Eleanor Johnson in her essay at Public Books.

It centers not just on coercive control but, very acutely, on one important subtype of coercive control, which is reproductive coercion. And Rosemary's Baby recognizes something particularly excruciating about this form of domestic abuse: it's almost impossible to identify, even when it's happening to you, or to someone close to you.

Coercive control and reproductive coercion don't look like what we expect domestic violence to look like. They don't necessarily involve physical battery, trips to the hospital, or calls to the police. Coercive control happens when a partner (usually but not always a man) severely limits his intimate partner (usually but not always a woman) in her basic rights, by restricting her access to her friends or family, medical care, money, children, education, information, or reality itself. Reproductive coercion happens when a man restricts a woman's access to birth control, or forces her to engage in intercourse for the express purpose of impregnating her, without her consent. It also happens when someone—usually a man—tries to control and determine the outcome of a pregnancy. The ultimate goal of reproductive abuse and coercive control more broadly is to dehumanize, disempower, and control a domestic partner.

The novels Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, written by Ira Levin, share thematic similarities that explore the dynamics of power, control, and the subjugation of women within marital relationships. Both stories are about women being subjected to oppressive forces orchestrated by their husbands. In Rosemary's Baby, Rosemary is a victim of reproductive coercion and coercive control, while in The Stepford Wives, large groups of women are transformed into docile, submissive figures through institutional coercive control.