Friday, April 25, 2008

Being wives or being successful? You Choose.

In 1972 Ira Levin wrote a novel which in my mind is one of the most anti-feminist pieces ever written. His book spawned two movies, and although slightly different than the book, they still showcase women in a very demeaning manner. It is the epitome of what feminists are trying to stop. Although I have never had the chance to read the novel, I have seen both of the movies that are based on the book. They both make me wonder: Are gender roles still so prominent after so many decades of feminist progress? And why do successful women think that they have to give up their careers to please their husbands? I believe that the answer to this question lies in the social beliefs that women should be second to men. Men should work and “bring home the bacon” and women should stay at home, raise the kids, and keep the house clean. The prevalence of gender roles within the marriages in this movie is very patriarchal; the men are in charge. The most recent movie had many successful independent actresses in today’s society playing many of the “obedient” women of the movie, which I believe is ironic because they seem to be very independent women, not relying on anyone but themselves. In this paper I will argue how The Stepford Wives is a step back in the eyes of feminists, with regards to erasing gender roles in today society.
The movie begins with the introduction Joanna, played by Nicole Kidman, a very successful television producer. However she is fired and has a nervous breakdown. She then moves to the quiet town of Stepford, Connecticut with her husband and two kids. In Stepford all the men are “nerds” but yet are married to beautiful young blondes, whom she refers to as “Barbie’s”, who serve their husbands hand and foot. Their only job is to cook, clean, and have sex with their husbands. She soon realizes that all the women seem to be non-human when she notices sparks coming from the neck of one of the wives after overdoing a dance. The wives are perky and happy all the time, living only to please their husbands. Another woman, sarcastic writer Bobbie Markowitz, played by Bette Midler, arrives and she too is skeptical of the women in the town. Joanna and Bobbie do some detective work and sneak into the Stepford Men’s Club. Although no hard evidence is found, the men’s club only entices the women to continue questioning everyone in the town. They are both very disbelieving of the whole situation and they find that they are really the only two “normal” women in the town. Joanna’s skepticism is confirmed when Bobbie is suddenly one of the blissful wives of Stepford. She is turned from a sarcastic writer to a blonde, knitting, cooking, cleaning wife. We come to find out that all the women have been turned into robots that live only to perform meaningless domestic tasks and be seduced by their husbands when they come home. In the end we find that Joanna’s husband likes her just as she is and can’t make himself turn her into a robot. They uncover the mystery behind Stepford when everyone, including the men, realizes that the mastermind behind the whole town and the whole “perfect” woman is a woman.
My criticism of this movie is that we find that the founder of this “cult” is in fact a successful business woman who felt that she wasn’t good enough because she wasn’t following the society’s norms. According to China Daily the media “continue[s] to propagate the traditional stereotypes of male superiority and women’s dependence on men.” Stepford Wives is a classic example of this, the women are very submissive and dependent on the men to do everything other than cook, clean, and raise kids. These women are much more successful than their husbands, but they feel as though their husbands should be the ones in charge and making more money. Because of social stereotypes, some women feel that they should be inferior to men. The China Daily goes onto say that “the media have a responsibility to help change traditional stereotypes, advocate gender equality and promote progress.” This piece of media does not do that. It does the opposite, it encourages submissiveness. Women have had the idea that they are supposed to be submissive ingrained into her mind from a very young age. Submissiveness has been encouraged towards women for as long as the patriarchal society has been in place. According to the article, Getting to the Source: Hints for Wives… and Husbands, Martha Wright responded to an article saying , “that ‘obedience is a very small part of conjugal duty’ and to please her husband much more was required, including ‘unremitting kindness’ and ‘a cheerful smile’.” These words are what have shaped the way women in society think they should be and it is seen in the Stepford Wives movie by how this woman, the creator of Stepford, felt that she wasn’t doing her “job” so she created a world where every woman fulfilled their wifely duties.
The idea that a woman created this community of blissful and obedient women is not new. The nation of India is similar to the Stepford community in the idea that it is run by women, yet women are still discriminated against in both cases. This shows that discrimination by women of themselves is not just in movies but in reality. Joanna’s quest to show that women can be accepted as they are proves that it is not only men, but women as well who must work to change the gender roles and the stereotypes and accept women as they are.
The Stepford Wives movie has been leaked into today’s society. In an article written by the National Ledger, they talk about how actresses become submissive, “Stepford Wives,” when they get married to these powerful actors or other famous people. They use the example of Katie Holmes. When interviewed they said she was “dazed, passive and vacant. She never stopped smiling." Since she has married Tom cruise she is rarely seen without him or their daughter. She is always doing her wifely duties, and no matter what she is always dressed to perfection with a smile on her face. This is just one example of how this movie has affected society in an anti-feminist way.
Although this movie is mostly anti-feminist, it does have its moments where you see the progress that the feminist movement has achieved. In the end the fact that Joanna’s husband liked her how she is, shows that some of the feminist ideals have seeped into men’s brains. Anita Chandrasekaran said that “Marriage is a partnership between equals…Now women can live independently and be successful,” and I believe that this is shown in this part of the Stepford Wives. Joanna has accepted it and so has her husband. It is no longer necessary to try and be the “perfect” woman.
Stepford Wives, in my mind, is a very controversial piece of anti-feminist media. It has changed women back to the point where they only live to serve their husbands. The progress towards erasing gender roles in society, by feminists, is completely gone in this film. The wives of Stepford, Connecticut are the epitome of what feminist are trying to stop. Women shouldn’t be confined to just the kitchen, but should be able to do as they want and be successful business women. They should be able to be more successful than their husbands without the stereotypical gender roles telling them that they aren’t “real” women because they are successful. Being confined by traditional gender roles is not a way of life.

By Megan Looby

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