The Stepford Wives Organization’s Complete Guide to The Stepford Movies
The Complete Guide to the Stepford Movies by Carolyn Snowden at The Stepford Wives Organization at StepfordWife.com
Ira Levin’s original 1972 novella The Stepford Wives was both suspense and witty satire. It told the story of Joanna Eberhart, a semi-professional photographer who moves to a small town in Connecticut away from New York City. Living with her husband and two children, Joanna notices the women of Stepford being staid, cheery homemakers who were obsessed with cleaning and cooking. Their husbands, a group of computer and chemical engineers spent most of their time in the Men’s Association, where women are barred from entering.
She befriends Bobbie Markowe, a neighbor who exhibits all the traits opposite to those of the Stepford Wives. Together, they try to drum up a consciousness-raising group for women and bring feminism into Stepford. Along the way, they discovered a pattern of change that have occurred among the wives. After a long time resident commented on the progressive community that Stepford used to be, Joanna looks into the newspaper archives and discovers that there once existed a Stepford Women’s Group headed by someone who was now only concerned with daily chores in her kitchen. How did this transition occurred and can Joanna escape the ever tightening grip?
The term Stepford Wives has become a household word in the course of thirty some years since its inception. Though no such town exists in Connecticut, the state of mind in the code of a Stepford Wife remains a point of debate between those who celebrate homemaking versus those who feel domestic chores are a patriarchal conspiracy to keep women from entering professional careers.
As much as the Stepford franchise personifies American entrepreneurial tendencies to capitalize on a single name (Edgar J. Scherick produced the original and all subsequent sequels and the 2004 remake), each installment addresses a specific juncture of the women’s movement through time. After all, the Stepford Wives’ dialogue has always been about women’s liberation from the traditional homemaking boundaries and our duty as a helpmeet to our husbands.
When the original Stepford Wives movie came out in 1975, it was met with resistance, protest, and boycott from feminists. I have read so many feminist reviews and critical analyses of the Stepford Wives as a patriarchal fantasy that backfired and demeaned men as unconscionable chauvinist oppressors, but examine Ira Levin’s 1973 novel closely and you will see that it is a meta-satire that poked fun not only at men’s insecurities with the encroaching Equal Rights Amendment, National Organization of Women, and the Gloria Steinhem gang; it also gently broached doubt by way of suggestion.
For me, this was the crux – the “yoke” of the original Stepford Wife novella and movie that drove the more perceptive feminists insane.
The scene arrives when Joanna goes off to see a therapist. Deftly acted by Katharine Ross, the conversation between her character and Dr. Fancher wondering about a patriarchal conspiracy among the Stepford men to control their women. Dr. Fancher, sympathetic, proposes the notion that the artistic clique congregates at Westport CT., while the Home and Garden women flock to Stepford. She suggests that perhaps there is no conspiracy, no patriarchal designs on women, that Joanna’s paranoia – a metaphor for the paranoia of second wave feminism – could be nothing but a figment of her imagination.
What enraged the feminists even more was the critique conservative heroines such as Phyllis Schafly (we adore her!) observed about the Women’s Lib Movement. The Stepford Wives came at the heel of the mass hysteria with bra burnings, sexual liberation, and the demand for equal work opportunities for women. On the surface, the story, novella, and movie poked fun at men wanting robotic wives, but there is a sly subtext about how women who clamor for equal opportunities -even though we did not equal ability – were becoming robots to the fashionable rhetoric of the times. Schlafly made this observation.
I believe it was these underlying notions in the Stepford Wives that deprecated what feminists thought was a substantial demand for liberation and equality.
As you will see, the successive installments of the Stepford movie franchise played variations on this theme. Certainly many, if not all, of the tv films between the 1975 version and the 2004 remake lacked the biting satire of the original. However, they each contained little nuggets and “moments” which we will discuss.