Imagine a worldwomen cast aside their career and dedicate themselves totally to their husband, family and home. A placewomen must be (and are) wonderfully beautiful, inhumanly obedient and overly kind all the time. This is the small fictional town of Stepford (Connecticut, USA),where the movie The Stepford Wives (2004) takes place. This comedy was directed by Frank Oz, the plot was written by Paul Rudnick based on the homonymous book of Ira Levin (1972), and the cast includes stars such as Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick and Christopher Walken.
The big highlights of this narrative are passive robot-women programmed to love, please, and seduce their husbands. This was not the first time this story came to the big screen: The Stepford Wives (1975), directed by Bryan Forbes, made the earliest adaption of Ira Levin’s book in a science fiction/horror style instead of the comedy genre made in the adaption of 2004.
Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is the successful president of a TV Network, whose programs increasingly put women and men in conflict, a televised battle of the sexes. She is deprived of office and suffers a nervous collapse after a former program participant tried to kill her. Her husband, Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick), used to work under his wife at the same TV network, but he resigned, and with their two children, the family movesManhattan to Stepford, a small and planned city, in which the ideal of the perfect American family seems to be intact.
The citizens are guided by the older couple Mike (Christopher Walken) and Clear Wellington (Glenn Close). The houses are modern, but the community and the costumes appear to have moved directlythe 1950s. In this city, men go to the men’s association whereas women take care of the house and go to the day spa. Walter is enthusiastic with the new city and like the local men’s association, in which he feels among friends. Joanna, on the other hand, considers Stepford just excessively ideal to be normal and is shocked by the servile attitude of the other women, always happy and busy with housework.
When everything is perfect, all people are friendly, and, in particular, women are too beautiful, too tidy, too happy, too obedient, a suspect may appear. Joanna made good friends with other newcomers, Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler) and Roger Bannister (Roger Bart), and with them is determined to discover what is behind the “Stepford way of life” and what happens in the men’s association.
After a while, both Bobbie and Roger changed and had fit into the system, in appearance, behavior and mind, and just had become other Stepford wives. In the men’s association, Joanna finds out that all men/husbands were tired of always being ‘inferior’ to their wives, exhausted of being in the background, so they went to that city searching for a “reprogramming”. The wives had actually been changed, with the insertion of computer chips in their brains, to make them obey and please their husbands.
The Stepford wives were no more humans, they were acting like subservient and kind robots, and Joanna was about to have the same fate of the other Stepford female citizens with the consent of her husband Walter. But at the end, instead of changing his wife, Walter trusts her and together they succeed to debunk the Wellington couple and release the wives’ minds of control.
Concerning the subjects in The Stepford Wives (2004), it is possible to talk about lots of topics (such as American family, human modification, personality, marriage etc.) but I will focus on two important topics: gender differences/inequality and the pursuit of perfection. These themes are interesting in the actual scenery of life in which women obtain more power, but at same time, continue to be casted aside in many aspects of life and are required to have a good (or even perfect) look.
Isolating the Stepford society, it is easily noticeable the differences between wives and husbands. The first group is represented always happy and busy, tries to please and impress (and are always available for what their husbands want to), do the housework and take care of the children, shop, focus on looking good, go to the day spa and so forth. The second group is basically presented in the men’s association (where they smoke cigars, play cards and so on).
Differences between genders of course are present in reality world. However, it is important to notice that gender and the power relation between them are not naturally nor biologically given, they are constructs by societies and cultures. This power relationthis power balance between the two genders always weighed more toward women, which had to stay at home, procreate, and take care of the children, whereas men could have more independence (and this is represented in The Stepford Wives plot).
In the current time, women’s fate and position is changing as they become more independent and start to be more valued by society. In The Stepford Wives the type of female that is more successful than the husband is not desirable and is chosen to be reprogrammed. When Joanna finally entered in the men’s association, she was received with the news that she would be improved and her husband Walter told her it was because he was tired of being “inferior” to her in various aspects.
Models and patterns of beauty and behavior were created to satisfy the needs of have an example of how to be ideal or, in the case of female, how to please a man. Analyzing the movie, it is possible to conclude that Clear and Mike run the city and also are models for the Stepford citizens. After Joanna had entered the men’s association, Mike shows the new advertisement of the female improvement system. In the ad, the audience watches the animated version of the reprogramming of a regular wife, that changes not just behavior, but also appearance (she turns blond, thinner and even got bigger breasts).
Basically the only way (or one of the only ways) a woman has to be considered within the standards is to achieve a good look, is to worry about make-up, clothing, fat and wrinkle, because if she does not, she risk being judged by men and also by other women. The Stepford wives, the perfect wives have all the features to pleasure: they are beautiful, seductive, kind and docile. Is it the type of woman every man dreams of having by his side? Maybe almost all men would say yes.
As happens in the movie (in which they exist as robots), the ideal women do not actually exist. Influenced by the media, ladies wish to have the perfect look and this only can result on frustration. People have to analyze if is really worthy to attempt to achieve perfection, and moreover, to analyze what this perfection is (that is different in the mind of each person).
This movie is a simple and efficient way to present and teach about complicated questions about gender inequalities and obsession with perfection. The plot is interesting and makes people curious, stunned, and leads the audience to wonder its end. But more important, make people reflect on their own society and the system they are inserted into.
The Stepford Wives involves many issues of social criticism about feminism, sexism and gender differences that can lead to significant personal reflections. The approach on these issues was criticized by many for being too smooth (The New York Time is an example). However, any attempt to make people think about the system/society they live in, about the search of ideal patterns and the roles to men and women and to reflect on gender inequalities can be inspiring and educational.
The role that men and women play in society is rooted in our culture for years and does not change easily. An example is Stepford society: although modifying the wives and seeming to be a society dominated by men, it was designed by a woman (Claire).
I would like to add, that this is neither a feminist nor a sexist article, is an attempt to apply the contents of The Stepford Wives in possible thoughts and lessons for life. As a conclusion it is important to say that neither men nor women should be on top, both sexes should have equal access to opportunities, and have freedom of choice in all aspects of life.