So thanks to Netflix I got around to watching the modern version of The Stepford Wives. A few years ago I organized a showing of the original for a Halloween fundraiser so I’m quite familiar with it and have given the film a lot of thought over the years. What it means as a feminist. There are no good men in Stepford. Just like in reality all men benefit and to varying degrees perpetuate the sex caste system.
In the modern version this is all turned on its head. What was once really just a fierce female triad becomes a gay male inclusive triad of misfits who don’t quite understand or fit in with the town of Stepford. In the original the first woman to change before the eyes of two of the characters bemoans in a consciousness raising group that she feels her husband only married her for her looks and has never loved her. Now we get to learn the lesson that PATRIARCHY HURTS MEN TOO. Or actually not patriarchy, but an obsession with perfection. (More on that later) As the gay best friend character ends up throwing out all his designer clothing and becoming a log cabin republican candidate.
The main couple move to the small town of Stepford after an attempt on the wife’s life. Of course the fact that she was nearly killed by a man is portrayed as her own fault and her faults as a mother and wife for not baking enough and letting her sappy beta male husband wear the pants even though he’s not qualified to at all are also portrayed as character flaws. Even though she begs him not to leave her and agrees to change for him he plots with the men’s association behind her back to turn her into one of the creepy sex robot women the town is overrun with.
I’m going to give away the whole film now so if you haven’t seen it and are enough of a masochist to 1) want to watch it, and 2) not want SPOILERS, discontinue reading.
We see the main character, played by Nicole Kidman become the perfect femme-bot wife and attend a grand party with her husband. Inexplicably her husband dumps her with the president of the men’s association and we see him go back to their headquarters and destroy all the femme bot technology. As he does this the women in the town suddenly go haywire and stop working. The husband’s remote controls no longer work and the women are VERY angry, as well as our GAY BEST FRIEND who is just disgusted at the outfit he’s wearing (teeheehee).
The main character then confronts the leader of the men’s association and he learns she never actually was transformed, it was all an act because her husband is a real man (TM) and didn’t turn his wife into a machine against her consent. (see nice guys, not all men etc). The leader of the association is then revealed to be a ROBOT himself because surprise surprise who is actually behind this fucked up shit? A WOMAN!!!!
A woman who was a scientist, who was accomplished, successful but got a little too old and smart so her husband had to screw around on her. This of course made her go crazy and become obsessed with creating the perfect world of robots. All the men of the town who wanted these robot wives were duped by a female puppetmaster.
So obviously the old witch dies and everything is restored to normal. The husbands even learn their lesson and are forced by their wives to do chores and go grocery shopping (THE AGONY!) Of course nobody gets divorced. Who would divorce someone over something as petty as turning you into a robot sex slave?
So what we have with this retelling of a classic horror story is a great example of how patriarchal reversals work culturally to obfuscate male’s role in creating and perpetuating the oppression of women.
We have the patriarchal lesson that women do it too so men are off the hook. These mythos of happy homemakers and domestic goddesses actually come from the minds of women, not men. Men are lovable dupes who are never responsible for their actions and we must forgive them no matter how fucked up what they do to us is.
The whole terrifying point of the original Stepford Wives is lost but oh isn’t it funny?
Two thumbs down.
I highly recommend watching the original.