Anything but a Homemaker

When the film The Stepford Wives was released in 1975, it hit a cultural nerve. The premise was a silly one: that is, that men want brainless slaves for wives and would kill to get them. But people responded to the film and the term Stepford wife has become a permanent part of our cultural vocabulary. The movie, a horror film, tapped into the paranoia that even then was an integral part of the feminist movement. The newly released remake of The Stepford Wives is, by contrast, nothing but a reflection of the gender-related confusion that's taken over our culture after several decades of radical feminism. Instead of a horror film, the new Stepford Wives is a comedy about Joanna Eberhart, a network president who specializes in sordid reality shows. After being shot at by a contestant, the supposedly tough Joanna has a nervous breakdown, gets fired, and moves to Stepford, Connecticut, with her family. There, as in the original film, she finds a town full of bland, boring women with few interests outside of housework and home decorating. Unlike her predecessor, however, this Joanna goes through a major identity crisis. Realizing that her new life might be a chance to reconnect with her family, she tries to turn herself into a fanatical homemaker, putting a bow in her hair and baking enough cupcakes to feed all of Connecticut. When that doesn't work out, she begins to suspect that her husband wants to change her even more. He wants her to become a full-fledged Stepford wife -- her wifely behavior controlled by a computer chip implanted in her brain -- just like her neighbors. What people tend to forget is that the heroine of the original Stepford Wives, a feminist and a "semi-professional photographer," was also a stay-at-home mom -- and that was okay. In the remake, staying at home is automatically identified with Stepfordism. Joanna discovers that all of the women in Stepford used to be high-powered executives until their brains were taken over, forcing them to stay home. Yes, the movie is a comedy, but there's a disturbing idea behind it: that is, that there's no middle ground between being a career woman and being a semi-robotic, brainless Stepford wife. It's disturbing because it echoes an attitude that's more and more prevalent among the elites of our society. Reviewer Desson Thomson demonstrated this attitude beautifully when he wrote in the Washington Post, "[Stepford wives] defer like slaves to their husbands. These women make hot muffins, take care of the kids, and obsess about cleaning house." I have to wonder, since when is baking or taking care of the kids on a par with slavery and obsession? (And incidentally, why is taking care of kids a worse option than producing lurid reality TV shows?) Even when they're meant to be taken lightly and, like this one, when they're poorly made, most movies tell us something about the state of our culture. In this case, it's about how our culture views marriage. If marriage is seen as oppressive and mocked, it's just that much easier to redefine it as we see fit -- a prospect before us today and far more frightening than The Stepford Wives. For further reading and information: Suzanne Fields, "Return of the wrong robots," Washington Times, 17 June 2004. Suzanne Fields, "When the Dowdies confront the mommies,", 19 June 2003. Desson Thomson, "'Stepford Wives' not to have and to hold," WASHINGTON POST, 11 June 2004. Margaret Talbot, "A Stepford for Our Times," Atlantic Monthly, December 2003. Jan Jarboe Russell, "For today's Stepford wives, quest for perfection begins within," San Antonio Express-News, 20 June 2004. Ruth Franklin, "I, Robot," New Republic, 15 June 2004. David Sterritt, "'Wives' is all women's glib," Christian Science Monitor, 11 June 2004. Jason Silverman, "Divorce These Stepford Wives," Wired, 15 June 2004. Read more reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. Catherine Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies (Baker, 2004). Available August 2004. Call 1-877-322-5527 to pre-order.


Chuck Colson


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