The Stepford Wives – as relevant as ever

I don’t normally talk about movies, but I’m making an exception for this. It’s based on a book by Ira Levin, so it’s not totally outside of my norm. The story is basically the same, but it was updated for the 21st century.

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Nicole Kidman plays Joanna, the President of a cable network. She loses her job and, naturally, she has a complete mental breakdown. Her husband decides that they need to get away from NYC so they move to a gigantic house in Stepford, Connecticut, a gated town full of rich white people. Joanna notices right away that there’s something off about the other women in town; they’re all blond, gorgeous, impeccably dressed and, worst of all, happy. Later you find out that all of these women used to be CEOs, scientists, doctors; brilliant, powerful, independent women who are now content to be old school housewives who spend their days cleaning, baking and catering to the whims of the men in their lives.

Oh, it’s because they’re robots. With personalized remote controls no less.

The men in town use science to remove all of the personality traits that threaten them: intelligence, ambition, creativity, sense of humor, basically all of the things that comprise who their wives are as people. The mostly empty shell that’s left lives only to serve and flatter the men. And yes, these dudes are having sex with the robot versions of their wives.

The movie ends with a country club formal ball, and it’s revealed that the head dude in town, Mike (Christopher Walken), is also a robot. His wife, Claire (Glen Close). built him to be her ideal man; strong, decisive, the kind of man other men would follow blindly. She longed for a time when men were men, women were women, and the world was free from things like feminism and diversity (that last bit isn’t actually in the movie, but it’s implied).

So let’s unpack this: the men in this town are clearly the antagonists, but they’re semi-sympathetic characters, portrayed as mostly harmless and clueless. Their wives are harpies, so of course they want to hang out in the boys only clubhouse and think of ways to make their wives respect them as “men”. There’s even a scene where they shout about how emasculating it is to be married to amazing women, and they literally yell about how they’re MEN! It’s truly cringe-worthy and makes me want to punch them all in the face. Seriously, you’re going to complain that your wives are too smart, too driven, too capable? You’re currently reaping the benefits of their intelligence and income, so shut it.

And what about the issue of agency? Clearly, these women didn’t choose to become robots, and what about the sex? They can’t exactly give their consent to whatever weird robot fantasies their husbands have. Do you know what sex without consent is called? I do.

How about the internalized misogyny displayed by Claire? She has an extremely narrow concept of gender roles. For her to be on board with her fellow women being reduced to cooking, cleaning sex toys is gross, to say the least. She reminds me of Phyllis Schlafly, who extolled the virtues of women who didn’t work and were subservient to their husbands, all while working, writing, traveling, making speeches, and generally being the biggest hypocrite in the history of ever.

I realize that overall we’ve come a long way since this book was written. but there are plenty of people who wish we could return to this archaic social structure. For women to go to college to kill time until they get married, and once they graduate with their MRS degree they don’t need to get jobs. Leave the working to the menfolk and don’t worry your pretty little head about things like voting, finances or your own reproductive system. The men will handle it.

Hard pass.

This rant was far longer than I intended it to be, but it’s been three days since Dan and I watched this movie and it’s still on my mind. You’d think I’d have more important things to worry about with an impending move and all, but clearly, my brain disagrees.

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1 Comment

  1. scarlettcat
    Permalink

    I really love this movie. It is an interesting metaphor. I have to watch it again. Thank you for this post and for reminding me of this movie!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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