The Stepford Wives Organization reviews “The Stepford Husbands” made-for-TV movie 1997

The following synopsis / summary / review has been written by The Stepford Wives Organization at StepfordWife.com

Donna Mills heads this third sequel to the 1975 Stepford Wives movie. Michael Ontkean (above) surrounded by a pack of power-brokering career women-in-charge.

Deep in the nineties and Post-Feminist era, the big shoulder pads of the 80s corporate gal are gone. Women have simultaneously become the power brokers and the ceaseless “victim.” We wanted it all. If you lived through the nineties, then the dialogue in this movie makes complete sense. Third wave feminism and the hysteria of victimology, spearheaded by Naomi Wolf, is in full gear. Women want power in the workplace, but they also want to run a home. In fact, the phrase “you can have it all” is repeated several times throughout the movie. But how does a woman have it all? Simple. Change the husband to cater completely to her needs and paradise is in the horizon right?

Wrong.

In the 1975 film, men turned wives into the patriarchal ideal of femininity. They made women more “feminine.” (i.e. Homemaking, doting, loving, acquiescent) In this 1997 film, women have the upper hand, and what do we do? We turn husbands in to the patriarchal ideal of femininity. Yes. You read it correct: docile, acquiescent, homemaking, disinterested in sports, lacking in any bad temper, and utterly passionless.

In other words, a full-out castration.

But is this any viable solution – or any solution at all? Are we not women? 131 million romance novels full of big sweaty violent men ripping off bodices of virgins sold per year (all catering to women, maybe some to gay men) can’t be wrong. We want our men to be men. We like brusque, passionate men, capable of anger, strong emotions, breaking things, yelling at us, insistent. Fighter and lover. Yes we want it all. In The Stepford Husbands, we are shown that once men stop being men (or they become male feminists), the dynamics of a marriage end. At one hilarious moment in bed, the two are not even facing each other. The husband talks to the pillow and the wife mutters to the ceiling. The main character Jodi (Mills) discovers this and takes steps to rescue her husband from his predicament.

You may think this is fiction at the most commercial tv level. But remember that each installment of the Stepford franchise is a Zietgeist of women’s (and men’s) progress through different feminist eras. By the late ’90s, Girl Power, Riot Grrrls have gained full momentum. T-shirts such as “Girls Rule Boys Drool” sent men running to Robert Bly’s Iron John, which inspired men’s movement camps, reading poetry, eating granola, rolling in the mud, and hugging trees. The men’s movement attempted to discover a new, reasonable, egalitarian identity while still retaining a masculine Id. The Stepford Husbands was basically a wry allusion to just how far men have become emasculated in the 90s.

What misguided madness! We at www.stepfordwife.com / www.stepfordwives.org say, “take charge, order us to the kitchen to grill up that porterhouse rare!” It’s the only possible way to counter the increasingly brusque identity of womanhood, with girls who, to this day, brazenly wear those horrifically offensive t-shirts declaring “I have the p****y so I make the rules.”

If it’s worked for hundreds of years, it’s not broken!

Where will this all lead? Will we all be happy when we run and rule the world? What would we want when we get to the top?

For the next installment, we will have to wait another seven years.

In a prologue, a docile man suddenly kills his wife in a violent method, and then commits suicide.

Several months later, graphic artist Jodi and struggling author Mick Davison (Mills and Ontkean) move to Stepford, Connecticut, in the same house, hoping that life in the seemingly idyllic town will help rejuvenate their troubled marriage. Jodi reunites with old college friend Caroline (Williams) and meets the brilliant Dr. Borzage (Douglas) as well as the intimidating Miriam Benton (Fletcher), who heads a powerful women’s group. Mick notices the docile men in the community, including Caroline’s husband (who shows surprising moments of aggression), but befriends sloppy neighbor Gordon; both agree they are unnerved by the community. However, both Jodi and Mick are concerned when Gordon undergoes a radical behavior change after a stay at the Stepford Institute for Human Behavior, afterwords thinking only of wife Lisa, but ignoring his son and other interests.

Caroline subtly manipulates the Davisons and drugs Mick at a party. When Mick reacts to the drug, Jodi is convinced her husband has serious problems and commits him to The Stepford Institute for a cure. Mick is given mind altering behavioral therapy and psychotropic drugs, altering him to behave docily, but passionless. Jodi is concerned about the drugs Mick takes as part of the therapy; when she learns that the previous couple in her house (of the murder-suicide) was linked to heavy drugs, she replaces Mick’s drugs with placebos. The serious side effects of the treatment becomes clear, the men can become violent, and Mick crashes and threatens to kill Jodi. They reconcile when he is convinced she didn’t know of the Institute’s motives or methods. (In essence, Caroline had made the decision for Jodi.) They plan to leave immediately.

Caroline has learned of the Davisons’ plan to leave town. With the other residents, Caroline captures them in their own house. Mick is returned to the Institute for reconditioning, while Jodi is forced to escape to rescue Mick. Benton allows Jodi to find Mick in the Institute, but with Dr. Borzage, plans to kill her. Borzage, however, is alarmed by the out-of-control ethics and kills Benton with a hypodermic needle meant for Jodi. Borzage then allows the Davisons to escape.

In the epilogue, the fate of the town is not revealed, but Jodi and Mick have returned to New York, Mick has written a book about the experience, and a movie will soon be made. Where could it go from here? It seems the trope has run its course and we’ve come full circle. Not so. Wait and see!

return to The Complete Guide to the Stepford Movies

continue to the Review of The Stepford Wives 2004 with Nicole Kidman