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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Subjugation of the Stepford Wives

For centuries, the role of a woman has been in servitude to her husband as women have been second to man from the time Eve was born of Adam’s rib. From the beginning of a child’s life, that child is conditioned into a role socially acceptable for its gender. Girls are given dresses and dolls and taught domestic skills such as cooking and cleaning, in order to prepare them for a domiciliary life. Boys on the other hand, are taught games that are aggressive, and given books that promote adventure, thus leading them to lives outside of the home. Societal progress towards equality between the sexes has been made over the last seventy years, yet the film The Stepford Wives pointedly calls into question the dominant ideological notions of patriarchal dominance and gender assigned roles that still exist in our modern society as portrayed in the satirical representation of suburban America (Oz “The Stepford Wives”).

The film is a 2004 remake of a 1975 film of the same name, which was an adaptation of the novel The Stepford Wives written by Ira Levin in 1972. It is a work of satire and aims to highlight the disparities still present between men and women in the Western world by depicting families where women are dominant, taking careers typically reserved for men such as executives and judges, while the men hold supporting roles to their partners. The movie begins with the firing of Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman), a powerful executive at a television network, after a contestant on a reality show she produced opened fire on her and a crown of people at a network function. Shortly afterwards she has a nervous breakdown, which is categorically a depiction of women in film because they are made to be seen as delicate and unable to handle the same pressures as men. As a result of her fragile mental state, her husband moves them to the suburbs in Connecticut so she can recuperate in a less stressful environment.

Upon arrival in Stepford, she is greeted by Clair Wellington, whose husband Mike is said to run the town. It is immediately obvious to Joanna that she has stepped into a world very different from the one in which she came. The female residents were rather homogenous in appearance and lacked any individuality. For instance, the women all wore colorful dresses and heels, mostly adorned with long blonde hair, displaying constant smiles giving the countenance of happiness. The men were a bit more goofy and child-like in their behavior, assembling often at the Stepford Men’s Association where it is later revealed that the Stepford Wives are robotically enhanced figures of their human counterparts, designed by the Stepford Husbands as perfect female specimens, subscribing to all female stereotypes, and as such become domestic and sexual servants. The final reveal was that Mike Wellington is a robot also, and his wife Claire is human and not a Stepford Wife as was implied earlier. In Claire’s final scene, she explains that she too was a career-minded woman, and when she found out her husband had been cheating on her, she killed him and his mistress and created Stepford to make the world more beautiful. She re-created her husband Mike as the “perfect man”, and also because he would be someone other men would listen to. The irony was the men of Stepford idolized the male supremacy of the community that was actually conceived and created by a woman.

While this film was intended to accentuate the stereotypes of women in a way that made clear to the audience their absurdities, it sometimes crossed over into the aesthetic of camp, which minimized the effectiveness of the message for some people. Even still, the message aligned with feminism of the second wave and supported the beliefs of radical feminist Kate Millett who was said to have regarded “the family as the basic unit of patriarchy” and also that “the family encourages and perpetuates this in order to ensure the subordination of women.” A clear example of this was a scene where Bobbi Markowitz, friend to Joanna, after having become robotic, provided her three male children with their very unique and specific school lunches as they had requested, to which they seem expectant and their responses lacked gratitude. It seemed to illustrate that men are conditioned from the time they are young boys in their beliefs of a woman’s role as servants to them (Sing 2016).

In another scene we hear the sexual arousals of Stepford couple Ted and Sarah Sunderson where Sarah can be heard bestowing compliments and praises upon her husband and his love-making skills. During the climax of the moment, Sarah lets out a lengthy, unrelenting ecstatic shriek that serves to remind the audience about the unrealistic nature of the act they are witnessing. In an essay written for the Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory by Anna Krugovoy Silver, she says of a similar scene from the original 1975 film that “Sexually, also, the robots are designed only to cater to their husbands’ sexual desires and to have no desires of their own; they are sexual objects rather than sexual subjects.” This was reinforced in the 2004 version of the film when after Sarah’s orgasmic sound ceases, her husband can be heard asking her to make him nachos, to which she replied, “Yes dear.” Ultimately the movie fortified the idea that men are threatened by independent women, and that if left up to men, women would exist solely as slaves under their domination.

Works Cited

Silver, Anna Krugovoy. “The Cyborg Mystique: The Stepford Wives and Second Wave Feminism.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 58.1 (2002): 109-26. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

Singh, Archana. “The Influence of Patriarchy on Gender Roles.” International Journal of English Language, Literature, and Translation Studies Jan-Mar 3.1 (2016): 27-29. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

The Stepford Wives. Dir. Frank Oz. Perf. Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Faith Hill and Glenn Close. Paramount Pictures, 2004. DVD.





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