The late 1950’s and early 1960’s in America saw a shift in the American lifestyle sparked by increased civil rights activism, and following the end of WWII, peacetime put pressure on the social policies. The Women’s Liberation Movement was a key factor in thissuch change. The standard lifestyle of married women in 1950’s America mirrored that of Leave it to Beaver’s June Cleaver. A dutiful wife rooted in the home complete with a routine of chores, cooking, and cleaning. The restrictions with this lifestyle would come to rally women of the nation.
Within a short period of time women across America were given more opportunity and freedom in the household and society overall. Rowe vs. Wade was a landmark case in United States history that gave the right to abortion to the mother. Women had claimed right over their own lives and bodies with such court decisions and legislation, a large win compared to the previous decades. However, a growing opposing movement led by religious conservatives and political leaders, called for a return to former repressions, favoring the old lifestyle.
The Stepford Wives would be what would bring this conflict to film. The movie was staged in a small suburban town, Stepford, Connecticut with the American-ideal nuclear families with trophy wives, dutiful and homebound, happy to cook, clean, and serve their husbands. However Bryan Forbes’ 1975 is a science-fiction thriller referring to the male paranoia of the time. During the 1960’s women gained the political freedom which they had once believed unattainable. Such a freedom worried men as women’s political awareness and organization deemed a threat to social and political structure.
This paranoia of women’s rising political concern is addressed in The Stepford Wives, shown in a scene where the clone wives show a lack of interest in the consciousness-raising group organized by the film’s two protagonists Joanna and Bobbi. The meeting is held to elevate a political consciousness among the Stepford women however, the other wives are more concerned about cleaning and household work. The clone wives’ disinterest of political issues shows the role their husbands had intended for them, mirroring a real life concern for men in the late 1960’s.
These husbands desired a wife who served her role at home, taking care of a household, a husband, bearing children and showing minimal concern for worldly issues. With little to no interest in politics, women would have no ability to create change or progress for themselves falling dependent on their husbands. However, upon further investigation, Joanna and Bobbi find out from an old newspaper article that many of these “dream” wives were once professionally and politically active feminists.
Forbes’ uses this idea to show that the husbands grew weary of being overshadowed by their equal yet powerful female counterparts and desired a trophy wife exemplified in decades previous to the 1960’s and 1970’s. Out of fear and wounded pride the husbands opted to have their wives replaced with robot-duplicates, a new and improved version of their wives. These robots served as trophy wives for their husbands, lacking ambition, independence and brains. Forbes displays the realistic concern men had of women’s growing political power and freedom in his film.
The feminist movements of the 1960s also concentrated on achieving reproductive and sexual freedom, which posed a threat on a male-dominated society. A once independent and proud Joanna succumbs to the inevitable fate of the other Stepford wives and is replaced with a robot-duplicate towards the end of the film. Forbes portrays a message by allowing the audience to note the differences between the “human” Joanna and her robotic clone. Unlike the human Joanna, the robot-duplicate has significantly larger breasts along with flawless skin, a fake smile and black empty eyes.
The director generates the idea of how the 1970’s American society viewed beauty contrary to the human Joanna who wore minimal makeup and was unavoidably replaced by a doll-like robot that lacks any substance. While examining her duplicate, Joanna realizes that her own husband was more concerned about her appearance than her personality. The clone makes up for all the human Joanna’s aesthetic insecurities with a perfect body. This idea shows that regardless of a man’s appearance, husbands held women to the physical standards they had created.
In the film’s concluding scene, an emotionless robot-duplicate Joanna interacts with a robot Bobbi with a mere hello, a significant difference from their human friendship. In conclusion, the differences between the human Joanna and her clone illustrates the reality of what women were and what image the 1970’s American society still had of them. Bryan Forbes’ a science-fiction thriller The Stepford Wives reflected the ideal image of women in 1970’s American society. Though still rooted in a male-dominated society, women’s growing political power posed a potential threat causing the male paranoia of the time.