To what extent do media representations of feminism and/or masculinity function ideologially with reference to the film The Stepford Wives?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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First, as a general discussion of the ideology in The Stepford Wives, the film is a satire. Satire is hard to understand during the era in which it is written because it is meant to break down entrenched present social practices that deviate from the moral or social norm. When a satire is also poorly written, then it is even harder to isolate the object and end aim of the satire. Specifically, the film's beginning messages all point to power and authenticity, yet these messages switch to "perfection"; Joanna (Kidman) ends by saying, "perfection doesn't work." Due to weak writing and dubious craft, the end of the film causes puzzlement: "Huh? I thought this was about the destructive dominance of power-crazed people of either sex. Now we have perfectionism!?" The best course is to understand "perfection" as authenticity, then you come back in line with the early themes and the general thesis of the film relating to destructive dominance and inauthentic humanity of power-crazed people of either sex.

In a way, this film may be called anti-feminist because the central figures being satirized are destructive power-crazed women. Though the thesis at the heart is feminist since it advocates women’s authenticity and humanity versus inauthentic striving after destructive traditional patriarchal power. On the other hand, the deconstructed embedded message is that women cannot authentically succeed in a patriarchally defined male world of achievement: the woman brain surgeon geneticist failed when confronted with personal adversity; the woman president of the TV network failed when she put success above moral integrity. Contrastingly, the resolution shows the two subclasses of the film, women and gay males, finding their own authentic ways to compete successfully within the traditional, dominant patriarchal world of power competition.

The object and ideology being satirized in this complex project, regardless of weaknesses in writing and directing that create dilution of themes and thesis, are power-crazed people and the abandonment of women’s authentic humanity in quest of a niche in a patriarchal structure that is flawed from the beginning and promises failure to all competitors far more often than it promises success.
Now for a few particulars of analysis supporting the general remarks.

Satire: Notice introductory credits music. See Intro montage: exaggerated 1930-40s TV commercial and documentary clippings; idealized inauthentic unrealized technical innovations; Busby Berkeley motifs; "showgirl" clippings; detailless black shadow forms.

Costuming & Setting Incongruities: External world, stylized contemporary (see women's apparel; video games; Walter's car; "smart house" built on superconductor and supercoolant technology: "talks to the refrigerator"). Internal world of Stepford, anomalous flashback to 1930s (see women's hair and apparel; some cars at Men's Club; rules of correctness dropped from U.S. norms in 1970s).

Realism: Compare stylized reality of external world to unreality of Stepford world. Contrast women's inauthentic behavior at Day Spa to men's realistic behavior at Men's Club.

Theme: Dominant power and achievement by women, "Balance of Power" (TV show title), is inauthentic and destructive.

Thesis: Neither nouveau female nor traditional patriarchal male form of dominating power is better than the other. Both forms of power are inauthentic and destructive: the end result is death.

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jesseravenclaw | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

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Thanks--for your comments, however, my feelings haven't changed, I still think both films are driven by a Hollywood view of "women". More specifcally men, who I argue have little interest in the feminist movements of the 1970s, other than to capitalise on it for their own ends.  Just because these films touch on feminist issues, that doesn't mean either of them are feminist films. They are both fundamentally driven by commerical and entertainment values, not " let's help raise the bar with gender equality."



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