The women of Stepford, the setting of this 1972 novel by Ira Levin, are seemingly perfect: large-breasted housewives with immaculate homes and cheerful attitudes. Newcomer Joanna, a professional photographer and housewife, doesn’t mind a little mess in her home and has a husband who shares child-care and housekeeping duties. When Joanna and her friend Bobbie, another newcomer, try to encourage the women of Stepford to step outside their domestic world, they begin to suspect that there’s some sinister reason for the women’s submissiveness. And indeed there is, but if you don’t know the secret, you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is. (My edition was only 123 pages, so it won’t take long, and it’s worth reading.)
The best horror stories tap into our real fears, and it would be easy to say that The Stepford Wives doesn’t really horrify us today because women are more liberated. But are we? True, more of us work outside the home, but how often do we allow society define who we are supposed to be, instead of deciding for ourselves? The women of Stepford are forced into becoming who they are, but I think a lot of women today give in to societal pressure willingly, choosing to stay slim, stylish, and submissive, not because that’s their nature or inclination (which if it is, fine), but because they’re told that’s who they’re supposed to be.
Around 10 years ago, I spend much of my time among a circle of friends who often said that women have a responsibility to take care of their appearances because men are “designed to be visually stimulated” and therefore had a right to expect their girlfriends and wives to be physically attractive. Women who gained weight after a pregnancy and had trouble taking it off were “just making excuses.” I kid you not. The men who expressed these ideas were college-educated men born in the late 1960s and early 1970s—people who should know better. And, as best as I can recall, the women I knew agreed with these sentiments, or at least they remained silent when hearing them expressed. Ugh!
Me, I moved out of that Stepford-ish world and now travel in circles where such views are perceived as shocking. But I’m pretty sure those ideas haven’t gone away. See, for example, Kirsty’s post at Other Stories about the negative attitude women have toward being labelled “feminist.” As long as feminist is a dirty word and women allow their identities to be defined by others, The Stepford Wives is pertinent—and scary. And I hope someday it won’t be.
BevE will be receiving my copy of this book because she won it in my latest giveaway. The Stepford Wives also qualifies for three challenges: What’s in a Name 2 (5 books to go), Read Your Own Books (28 books to go), and the New Author Challenge (23 books to go).