Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What is a Stepford Wife?

For a long time now, I have wanted to write a post on what being a Stepford Wife and Stepford Sister means. Finally, I realized the reason I kept putting it off was because it was too much for one post. I am going to write this as a two post series (maybe more if my sisters want to get in on this). The first post will be about what a Stepford Wife means according to the book and the movies. Luckily, Thematic Studies was one of my favorite classes in High School, so writing about what an idea means to others is just as easy for me as writing about what that idea means to me...sometimes easier.

First there was the book by Ira Levin, a satirical thriller, in which a photographer and mother of two moves to Stepford, Connecticut with her husband and finds out the true meaning of what it is to live in a patriarchal society. All the women do is cook and clean and serve the men (with smiles on their faces). It was meant to be a commentary on a society that values beauty and submission in a wife above all else.


Then in 1975, the book was adapted into a science fiction thriller directed by Bryan Forbes with a screenplay by William Goldman.* While the script emphasis is on gender conflict and the sterility of suburban living, and the science fiction elements are thus only lightly explored, the movie still makes it much clearer than the book that the women are being replaced by some form of robot. Goldman's treatment of the book differed from that of Forbes with the robots closer to an idealized "Playboy Bunny"; it has been claimed that the look was scrapped when Forbes' actress wife Nanette Newman was cast as one of the town residents.

 A remake of the original The Stepford Wives was released in 2004. It was directed by Frank Oz with a screenplay by Paul Rudnick, and featured Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, Faith Hill, Glenn Close and Jon Lovitz. It was intended to be more comedic than previous versions. There were many other changes, most importantly the almost complete erasure of the powerful feminist message of the original film, culminating in a role reversal in which it is the powerful woman (played by Glenn Close) who is the evil mastermind of the injustice perpetrated on other women, and featuring a Stepford-drone replacement for the male partner of a gay town resident.

 So, throughout all the different adaptations there were some slight irregularities in what it meant to be a Stepford Wife, but three things remained constant.

#1 Stepford Wives are subservient to their husbands always.

#2 Stepford Wives do everything they can to please their husbands. EVERYTHING. (How they dress, what they say, who they say it to, etc...)

#3 Stepford Wives do all the housework (cooking, cleaning, looking after the kids, gardening, etc) and do not work outside the house.

My next post will have my interpretation/adaptation of what it means to be a Stepford Wife, and how that translates into being a Stepford Sister.

*(Side note in a footnote - I love William Goldman, I didn't think he could make the Princess Bride any better than it already was, but reading his novel made me feel like I did the first time I saw the movie.)

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