Feminism, Pygmalion and the Stepford Wives Research Paper

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1960, the world of women (especially American women) was limited in very many aspects, from the workplace to family life. American women who were employed in 1960 were largely restricted to jobs such as being nurses, teachers or secretaries. Women were in general not welcome in professional fields. Friedan's work, The Feminine Mystique, captured and detailed the lives of quite a number of housewives from across the United States in the late 1950s to the early 1960s who felt trapped in their marriages (The Feminine Mystique, 1963: I).

Friedan's work had such a huge impact that it re-ignited the American feminist movement. Ira Levin's novella, The Stepford Wives, is basically a social satire which is a little bit horror, a little bit spooky, was written and published during the "second wave" of feminism in the United States (Wulandari). The Stepford Wives is a novel that takes the reader through the life of Joanna, a white, thin, upper-middle class New York City housewife and liberated young woman. She reluctantly moves to Stepford, upper class suburbs with a husband, who is a lawyer, and their two daughters. While in Stepford, she wrestles with conflicts over her roles as a mother, wife and a freelance photographer. Joanna becomes then becomes wary and alarmed by the fanaticism of a majority of the Stepford wives who attend to each of their household chores and give in to their husband's every whim and demand. Through The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin beautifully gives us the bigger picture about what women really needed during the second wave of feminism. In the novel, the Stepford husbands neither give nor allow liberation and empowerment of their wives. Men ridicule women who try to liberate themselves and break free from the shackles of patriarchal power (Wulandari).

Literature Review

The Stepford Wives is basically a novella that describes the effects and conditions of the Second wave of the American feminism movement in during the 1960s through to seventies. The Stepford Wives (1972) by Ira Levin takes the reader through the life of a young, upper-middleclass woman named Joanna Eberhart who moves together with her young family to Stepford Connecticut. Even though Joanna is a housewife, she enjoys freelance photography which is a passion and hobby of hers and seeks to turn it into a paying career. When she gets to the new neighborhood, she meets and converses with a lady in the Welcome Wagon. She talks to the lady specifically since she wants her to draft an article for the local paper to organize a meeting between her and other liberated open minded women (Wulandari).

While in Stepford, Joanna's husband, a lawyer named Walter, joins the local Men's association. Joanna manages to talk to the Men's association when her husband gets to host the Men's association committee in his house. Joanna conveys her idea of organizing Parent and Teachers forums in one of the local schools' auditorium to the association's president Dale "Diz" Coba, and other influential members such as Frank Roddenberry, Herb Sundersen, and Claude Anselm. She tells about how such forums would assist the Stepford community to talk and listen to each other concerning issues affecting their welfare. Unfortunately when the forums come to be, they are attended by very few people; about a dozen men and nine women. Joanna then talks to two of her best friends, Charmaine Wimperis and Bobbie Markowe about her idea to start a local Women's Association. This association's aim is to meet and discuss women's roles and responsibilities, if any, in the household and the desire of the local area women to define their own paths in life, especially career-wise. But the group becomes almost a complete failure. Things are then further worsened when Charmaine and Bobbie get back from their holiday travels with their husbands and turn into submissive wives. Joanna then gets to see the pattern of how things started to change in Stepford immediately after Betty Friedan came to talk with the local Women's club about six years earlier, after the publication of her book 'The Feminine Mystique' (Levin, 1972:39). After a short while she gets to learn everything when she seeks counsel from her chemist ex-boyfriend. Eventually she realizes that the local Men's association is behind the plot to change women. The men, with the help of the association's chairman, a bachelor named Dale "Diz" Coba (who used to work at Disneyland as a figurine creator), are killing their wives and replacing their bodies with almost indistinguishable robots (Wulandari).

The marriage between Joanna and Walter enters to shaky grounds when they argue about their two missing daughters. In an attempt to find her daughters, Joanna has an idea that Bobbie, her friend might care for her children. Instinctively, Joanna stabs Bobbie with a knife so as to prove she is human, however she becomes even further worried with her friend Bobbie's behavior when she does not shed any blood or writhe in pain. Instead she begins an odd mechanical routine, which makes Joanna conclude that she has also turned into a robot. At this point she assumes that naturally she would be the next victim. However, Joanna casts away her fear and sneaks into the Men's association mansion in an attempt to find her children. Whilst in the mansion, she finds Dale "Diz" Coba, the mastermind of the entire operation. The last chapter of the book narrates the struggles of Joanna as she tries to rescue and escape with her two children. However, she fails and is eventually captured, killed and replaced by a robot like the other women. The novel ends with a conversation between Ruthanne and Joanna at the supermarket. Joanne is depicted in this part as looking marvelous and acting perfectly (Wulandari).

Best Wives Are Artefacts? Popular Cybernetics and Robot Women in the 1970s

In 'The Stepford Wives' (USA, 1975) movie, based on Ira Levin's 1972 novel of the same name, cyborg and android themes are met by feminist' ideas on gender, power and technology. The main protagonist, Joanna Eberhart, played by Katherine Ross, moves from Manhattan, New York to Stepford, Connecticut, with her husband Walter (a lawyer), a character played by Peter Masterson, their two daughters, and a family dog. There is something off in Stepford and Joanna doesn't like it there; apparently all women seem like the perfect feminine homemakers and their husbands and other men gather every night at the local Men's association, when not at work at the town's bio-tech and computer corporations. Walter states that all the important people of Stepford are members of the association, including, the police and fire chiefs, the TV executives, the psychologists, the head of the hospital and the head of the telephone company. The Men's Association is headed by a president named Dale Coba (a part acted in the movie by Patrick O'Nal), who is nicknamed "Diz," a nickname based on Disney, where he was formerly employed (Paasonen).

In the movie remake, the robot wives are portrayed in Victorian era dress and hairstyles, complete with vacant gestures, realistic looks, and submissive displays portraying conventional femininity and an unusual obsession with appearances and cleaning. These women, though picture-perfect, are consumerists and emotionally void - in the movie the thriller/terror aspect is based on the fact that the wives look very realistic/human yet they are not. This is because husbands have murdered their wives and replaced them with robots that are more 'convenient'. The Robot wives are monstrosities as unnatural constructions trying to emulate human beings, however their husbands as similarly boundary figures who are emotionally void, and therefore 'not quite human'-based on the fact that emotions, interiority, and empathy are conventionally thought to be the markers of one's humanity (in comparison to machines which lack them) (Turkle; Williams).

The image portrayed in this movie of "wife-as-a-robot-servant" is quite similar to the issues that were argued by Betty Friedan in her powerful and influential 1963 work, The Feminine Mystique, in which she investigates and discusses the frustrations of middle-class American homemakers and housewives ("the problem that has no name").. According to Friedan, in the period after the Second World War, the feminine mystique - a set of beliefs which stated that true feminine fulfillment was only to be found in 'motherhood, domestic chores, and most importantly marriage' was created by popular psychology, media (particularly women's magazines), educational systems, and expert literature (Paasonen). Friedan's sentiments are greatly demonstrated in one such article - the 1960 Ladies' Home Journal: which details how a woman sits on a pale aqua sofa and gazes out at the street. Despite it being very early in the morning she is wearing powder, lipstick and rouge. Freidan then states how this particular woman proudly announces that by 8:30 A.M., when her youngest child would have gone to school, her whole house will already be neat and clean and she is dressed for the day (Friedan, p.63).

This depiction is almost similar to Ira Levin's portrayal of "new Bobbie." She states in her book…

Sources Used in Document:

Work Cited

Balsamo, Anne "Reading Cyborgs Writing Feminism," in The Gendered Cyborg: A ReaderKirkup, Gill Janes, Linda Woodward, Kath, Hovenden Fiona (eds) USA and Canada: Routledge Press, n.d.

Bowlby, Rachel. Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping. London: Faberand Faber, 2000

Butler, Judith. Antigone's Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Chasin, Alexandra. Class and Its Close Relations: Identities among Women, Servants, and Machines. In J. Halberstam and I. Livingston, eds. Posthuman Bodies. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 73 -- 96, 1995.

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