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With the birth of Second Wave feminism in the 1960s women started to ask the questions of what their roles in life are. A generation of future housewives wondered that if they continued to keep doing the chores and giving their undivided attention to their husbands they would not be living a life they really wanted. The Stepford Wives (Forbes, 1975) addresses these concerns with a terrified and gloomy look at the perfect woman. The Stepford Wives (Forbes, 1975) portrays the “feminine condition in a bourgeois, patriarchal society” (Boruzkowski, 1987). In the film, liberated females who are equal to, if not more powerful than their husbands and hold on to their own sexuality are murdered and changed with supposedly superior copies who supposedly embody perfection. These robotic copies have the best figure, do chores, they are extremely maternal, and are willing to satisfy their husband sexually whenever he wants it. With women being forced into becoming domestic housewives being dominated by men sexually, this essay will textually analyse the final ten minutes of the film in relation to these issues.Â
Sexuality and man’s desires play an important part in the final ten minutes of The Stepford Wives (Forbes, 1975). The scene starts with the character of Joanna searching for her children in the Men’s Association building. After having a conversation with the robotic wife creator Diz, in which he tries to persuade her that conforming to a male oppression is the right thing to do and she should embrace the male dominated is society, she then flees from him. The darkness does not allow the audience to clearly see her actions, but a room with a life-sized female replica is seen briefly. Finally she opens a door and is greeted by an exact replica of her bedroom, including Fred the dog she thought was dead. The existence of him can be read as a metaphor to what the men of Stepford want their wives to be like, man’s best friend; to be well-trained, faithful, passive, and subservient, to want for nothing, and to always be there. The camera slowly pans to Joanna’s robotic double brushing her hair in a three-way mirror. As she turns we see that her eyes are completely black. This reiterates that this double is not a real person; she has no life in her eyes.
When Joanna meets her replacement, we see her sitting at her dresser. As the robotic Joanna stands, we notice through her see-through clothes that she isn’t an accurate representation of Joanna, but a new-fangled superior version. The double has clear skin, perfectly wavy hair, a fake smile and black robotic eyes. Joanna’s shock is revealed and soon the audience sees why; the camera reveals a shot the robot has perfect and significantly larger breasts, a narrower waist and fuller hips. The camera then pans back up to the human Joanna. Joanna stares in horror as the robot stands up with a pair of tights stretched tightly in her hands. The camera shows a close-up of a very satisfied Diz, distractingly petting Fred and watching the scene with genuine voyeuristic pleasure. The scene ends with a close-up of the tights stretched tightly between the robots hands and the see-through lingerie that reveals the perfect abdomen.Â This scene clearly demonstrates to the audience that the robotic females are not for any scientific method or anything other than to be used for the pleasure of men only. When Joanna is talking to Diz he explains this viewpoint; “if the roles were reversed, wouldn’t you like some perfect stud waiting on you around the house praising you, servicing you, whispering how your sagging flesh was beautiful no matter how you looked” (Forbes, 1975).
Desire is a main focal point for the scene between the real Joanna and the robotic Joanna created by Diz. Diz’s creation falls into what MacKinnon would say is typical gender division and inequality. “Male power takes the social form of what men as a gender want sexually, which centers on power itself, as socially defined “woman” is defined by what male desire requires for arousal and satisfaction” (MacKinnon, 1991, p. 131). Diz creates what he believes to be the perfect woman, to meet his sexual desires and has marketed his product to all the men in Stepford. They believe the women have become too successful, powerful and independent , while the robots are the completely opposite to this, lacking ambition and are repressed and submissive . The fantasy that Diz creates is not meant to be “woman” but instead “sexuality”. When the robot is shown the focus is not on her mind or anything immediately beautiful, like the eyes or the smile, instead the focus is on her breasts and her stomach and her female body as a sexualized form. The object of desire is the artificial beauty man created.
Artificial beauty is a theme that is recurrent throughout The Stepford Wives (Forbes, 1975), focusing on dolls or other subjects that relate to childhood innocence. The robotic domestic Joanna’s blatant sexuality reveals her submission to male desire. The camera emphasises the object of desire multiple times, lingering on the breasts, abdomen and full body. In the scene between the two Joanna’s, the liberated female must die in order for the domesticated female to exist. With women’s liberation becoming more culturally excepted, the number of women who chose to stay at home was decreasing. Women were beginning to become less submissive to men. In the film this process had to be reversed so that in order for man’s perfect creation to exist, the threat of women’s liberation must die.Â
The final image in The Stepford Wives (Forbes, 1975) shows the robotic wives in their best dresses doing their shopping and “talking” to each other. The dress that the robotic women are wearing hides the sexuality she possesses. The women to be under complete control of the men need to be both sexual and in need of a man to be there. The robotic females have been programmed to please their husbands physically; they are vain and self-absorbed because of this. The robotic wife has become an “â€¦ isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualized property” (Mulvey, 1975, p. 9). She is weak, hopeless, and unable to protect herself. However as she has been reprogrammed it could be argued she no longer has a self to protect. The ideal housewife is an ardent consumer who buys endlessly new things for the home, and gains satisfaction from doing so (Frieden, 1963, p. 206). In The Stepford Wives (Forbes, 1975), women shop systematically and neatly, discuss and consume products with devouring interest and gratification. The robotic wives are almost at one with the supermarket, the woman are merchandise available for any man, just like the products available for purchase on the shelves in the aisles and in there trolleys.
In this clip from The Stepford Wives (Forbes, 1975) we see men forcing their dominance by creating “new and improved” versions of their wives in the shell of a robot. The robot serves as man’s ultimate fantasy, a beautiful and subservient wife with the perfect figure and a sex drive constantly set to “on.” The fantasy doll created in Joanna’s image kills her competitor in an act of sexuality. The ending to the film is very negative. Women have lost both the battle of the sexes and a battle for their lives. What were once very educated women are now “obedient consumerist automatons” (Inness, 2003, p. 38) who all think the same, and are nothing but sexual objects for their husbands.
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