Published on May 1st, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin
Ira Levin really loves the ladies. Both Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives are all about ’em.
Plus, it’s got to be really difficult being a male feminist, when it’s so easy to throw around accusations of ill intent and woman pandering. In fact one might even describe Levin as the world’s very first White Knight.
Well, depending on who’s describing, I’d probably say White Knave would be more apt. He hasn’t such a capacity as a knight.
The Stepford Wives follows Joanna Eberhart, a freelance photographer and young mother, also known as a “post-modern housewife” who moves into the prim and proper Stepford where all of the women just love to clean and have big boobs and no opinions.
Being an avid supporter of women’s rights, after a brief feministic uplift of making her husband do some dishes, she sets out to make friends and set up some sort of woman-y club.
Being that there are only two people not deranged and sporting uteri (the newly formed plural of uterus) in Stepford, she starts to uncover a little about the nature of Stepford and it’s recent history in setting up a gentleman’s club, a place that men go at night.
Using her expert picture-taking skills Joanna is on a mission against submission and nobody can stop her!
Except they do. Oh, SPOILER ALERT of 40 years ago. I s’pose that’s not a good enough excuse. I’m still finding people who don’t know what Soylent Green is made from.
Written in 1972, a whole two decades after the 50’s housewife image, I can’t help but feel that this book was probably a little outdated already. Like Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives attempts to tackle “women issues” by throwing children and periods at the page, hoping female sentiment can drive the mediocre messages home. I felt that Rosemary’s Baby achieved this better, as for me, it preyed more on my fear of childbirth rather than the fear for children’s safety, something I presume it was misguidedly aiming for.
Unfortunately the simple and one dimensional message of, women can do more than housework and look pretty, didn’t cut it.
There’s a minimal focus on the nuclear family element and it seemed to focus more on the main character finding things to do because she is bored. Something that strikes me as ironic, because the main reason housewives do cleaning is because they seem to be unable to entertain themselves and either a) to responsible to work, looking after their welts or b) too stupid or lazy to work. Something which means that either way, they end up contributing to the family unit.
Whereas this woman, doesn’t work, she doesn’t look after the kids particularly well, (they also go to school so don’t need looking after all day) and she doesn’t do much housework, seeming to make some huge deal out of it when she does do it and also leaving it all the time to the point that it REQUIRES doing. In short, she’s a crap human being and certainly not a pristine example of someone I want fighting for women’s rights, as it looks like her idea of equality is women’s right to just be lazy and let the men do all the bloody work.
Anyway, once again this side of things was done better, not just because it was more subtle and nuanced, but also because the woman that we feel is being victimised is not only justifiably not doing certain things because of valid reasons like pregnancy, but also because of her state, she feels more vulnerable and innocent, the very man that made her like this exploiting and betraying her. Erm, also SPOILER ALERT.
To be fair, the book is extremely short and I read it in about 2 hours, but it doesn’t excuse the lack of interesting themes or ideas, essentially equating to a downgrade of Rosemary’s Baby which he wrote 5 years prior. Also this book seems to have entered popular culture and become more famous, with the term Stepford Wife becoming synonymous with a whipped housewife.
Another small issue, is that due to constant pursuit of mystery and thriller elements, the book doesn’t lean on the nature of the wives themselves much, leaving it a little vague, whereas the film in 1975 devoted a lot of time shouting from the rooftops about the women being robots and it was marketed as a sci-fi film. It could have done the book a world of good to have leaned on this premise a bit more, as the unclear conspiracy thing was already done to death and sci-fi mixed with women make for a much better idea.
What would have been a really great idea is if Joanna had castrated her husband, hung his testicles round her neck as a tribal offering, and then ran around Stepford shouting her triumph whilst also completely naked and smeared in sheep’s blood. That would have made for a much better final showdown than her sneaking anxiously between long American lawns, hiding behind bushes in just a thin jumper in the middle of the night, trying to reach the house of a woman she’d only met once before and couldn’t get one or two lines of conversation in before remarking that the woman was indeed black, like she might not have ever seen a mirror. You know, it would have been nice to at least have seen Joanna’s plan hit the last hurdle, when she reached the woman, who then had to respond to this raving white lunatic on her doorstep.
I actually really enjoyed this book, as I did Rosemary’s Baby, but I feel a little let down that there is a lot of lost potential here for something really remarkable. The pacing is great, the incidental characters were good and the idea of the town was compelling. But being the rehash of the afore mentioned, right down to the same straight cut cynical ending, meant that not only were we bored, but also a little satisfied to be relieved of such a pathetic wench.