THE TEXTS


The Stepford Wives
Bryan Forbes (director) 1974

The Stepford Wives is based on Ira Levin's novel of the same name. Levin is the highly acclaimed and internationally bestselling author of Rosemary's Baby, A Kiss Before Dying, The Boys from Brazil, This Perfect Day, Sliver, Son of Rosemary. He also wrote Deathtrap, the longest-running thriller in Broadway history. He is a two-time winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award.

The Stepford Wives epitomizes the era when it was both written and filmed —at the height of the feminist movement: when women were very conflicted about their roles and desires, being pulled in many different directions: family, career, feminism, motherhood. To conservative-minded males, the feminist movement had just become something of a great deal more than a minor nuisance.

Without labouring the point, the film pinpoints the origins of the husbands' scheme by having Joanna leaf back through old issues of the local paper to discover that the Men's Association came into being shortly after Betty Friedan, feminist author of The Feminine Mystique, gave a well-attended talk to the Stepford Women's Club. The same club soon suspended meetings - due to lack of attendance, no doubt.

Upon the film's release, the Women's Lib movement violently attacked it in the US as being anti-woman. However, far from being anti-women, it is the Stepford men who are held up to ridicule. If The Stepford Wives were the easy satire on the banality of suburban housewives that it is commonly taken to be — a misconception that has installed its title in our language as shorthand for homemakers who affect uncanny perfection — the work would lose much of its meaning and humour. This is a film that satirises its oppressors and their desires, not the victims.

The Stepford Wives is ultimately a savage commentary on a media-driven society that values the pursuit of youth and beauty above all else.

What is being said?
1
How would you describe Joanna Eberhart's initial impressions of the town of Stepford, and how do those impressions change over the course of the film?
2
What role does the Men's Association play in Stepford, and why does Joanna suspect that the organization is responsible for the dramatic changes in her female friends and acquaintances?
3
How would you define a "Stepford Wife"?
4
What do the shared characteristics of Stepford wives reveal about their husbands' desires?
5
In this film we see many approaches to what women should do, what women are like, and what women desire. We also get some versions of how men imagine and construct "perfect" femininity. At some point in the film Walter Eberhart says about Ted's wife: "She cooks as good as she looks, Ted."
Is that what a perfect wife should do (cooking and looking)?
6
(a) What kinds of femininity are being portrayed in the film?
(b) Who imagines or creates these images of femininity?
7
What stereotypes are being evoked and re-worked in the course of the film?
8
How would you characterize Walter Eberhart's involvement in what's happening to the women of Stepford? Does he seem entirely complicit or entirely innocent?
9
To what extent was Joanna's transformation from skeptic to Stepford Wife inevitable? Were you surprised by the conclusion of the film?
10
At the end of the film we see a couple in the supermarket: they are arguing about moving to Stepford.
(a) What are they debating?
(b) How are they represented?
(c) What are the arguments they (and the other couples we've seen) give to each other about wanting to move or not?
How is it being said?
11
How are themes like feminism, suburban conformity, the quest for youth, beauty and perfection, and marriage satirized in The Stepford Wives?
12
How does the film create a world of chilling chauvinist horror?
13
How is the film a savage and social critique of society regarding how people strive for perfection and the effects this has on our everyday lives.
14
In terms of body type and physical/visual representation, how are the women of Stepford portrayed before and after their transformation?
15
How is technology used as a form of control?
16
Does The Stepford Wives present a utopian or dystopian society? How?