The men in The Stepford Wives choose, in a sense, to play God. By re-creating their wives in their own image (or in this case their “ideal” image), they take away the woman’s free-will. As with fundamentalist religion, this need to control takes precedence over morality, fairness and love. “The basic interdependency of life is ignored so that separateness and individual gain can be deified,” writes Bell Hooks in “All about Love: New Visions.”
As quoted in the movie, a man said that, “I wanted to know love but I was afraid to surrender and trust another person. I was afraid to be intimate.” This fear of intimacy is the backbone of the movie. If the men were able to find and nurture real love, they wouldn’t have such unrealistic expectations of their wives. Women, on the other hand, are natural communicators: they love to express their feelings frequently and openly. By becoming robots, women are denied their ability to make decisions, express themselves, be independent, or have free will. Subservient, their ability, as well as natural essence, is denied.
The movie shows compared to women, men are not as vocal and are likely to bottle up their emotions a great deal than their female equivalent. Men, particularly driven by pride issues, don’t communicate the woes of their relationship constantly. As what can be seen in the movie, it is difficult for men to reveal their true selves. It is as if they feel that it is risky to let someone, especially their wives, inside because they will see their true selves. They seem to think that meaningful intimacy comes with a price.
According to the movie, “Women are romantics and sentimental about love.” This goes to show that women are more comfortable with their emotions, whereas it is more difficult for most men to express themselves. Bell Hooks explains, “We do not become fully human until we give ourselves to each other in love.” By creating robots of their wives, the husbands take away their wives very “humanness” not only literally but figuratively. They deny them the chance to express true, human love.
Typically, a woman’s behavior is considered to be an open window to her emotions. However, most men are not like that. They have a propensity to hide their feelings and emotions. In the movie, it is demonstrated that for men, “it is just too threatening to embrace a definition of love.” This seems to support the philosophy that says that real men (macho men) are men of steel and are in control of their emotions. Thus, the popularity of the declaration the ‘Real men do not cry.’
Furthermore, it is also illustrated in the movie that the most fundamental field that a wife should succeed in is the home, or her domestic role. This role not merely keeps the wife in line, but it pleases the husband as well. Nevertheless, another means to keep the husband content and satisfied is to look after and deal with the children. As seen in the movie, it is the wife’s duty to keep the children happy and of course, out of trouble.
Hence, in terms of the emotions and conceptions about love, the movie seems to show that a woman demonstrates her love by fulfilling her domestic role by means of providing service to her husband, being resourceful and inventive in her work, enjoying the simple pleasures of life, both sexual and emotional, and keeping her husband and children elated in their daily lives. Moreover, the women of Stepford are greatly encouraged to sacrifice their own views and hobbies so as to please their husbands. If this feminine sacrifice is not done, then the wives are ignored, persecuted, or replaced. This is witnessed when analyzing Joanna, Bobbie, and Charmaine. Joanna and Bobbie are regarded as dangerous due to their strong wills, convictions and character. Meanwhile, Charmaine is considered as an unfit wife since she is more concerned with playing tennis than pleasing her husband, and she discussed his strange sexual habits.
By taking away their wives’ independence and freedom of thought, the men segregate the women. “Segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we have in Christ. It substitutes an ‘I-it’ relationship for the ‘I-thou’ relationship, and relegates persons to the status of things. It scars the soul and degrades the personality… It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible,” Brooks says. The men of Stepford caused segregation by turning their wives into “things” rather than humans.
Furthermore, the women of Stepford seem to express their love for their husbands by being robotic wives, thus completely pleasing their husbands without resistance. So, it appears that a woman demonstrates her love for her husband by being well-mannered, polite, attractive, well-dressed, and having perfect mannerisms at all times. Not merely do the wives hold these qualities, but they also seem to enjoy their new selves, hence keeping their husbands pleased. The movie imparts the thought that a Stepford wife is constantly subservient to her husband and selfless in service to her children. She is the true picture and epitome of what a perfect woman should be like when she embraces her feminity. It seems that Stepford exists so that men can convert their wives into robots, into being “ideal women”. A man does this so he could control his wife, destroy her independence and claim his role as the family leader.
Moreover, it is said in the movie that the majority of men are more concerned regarding sexual performance and sexual satisfaction compared to their capability in giving and receiving love. In the movie, to demonstrate their love, women changed the way they view sexual relations. Sexual relations involved pleasing the man with no concern for the woman’s needs: emotionally or physically. It looks as if a woman must do everything to please their husband sexually.
But what is most striking to me is the quote that “in true love, we should learn to mix a variety of ingredients—affection, care, respect, recognition, trust, commitment, in addition to open and honest communication.” After watching the movie, we will realize that these qualities are the ingredients of true love. This is proven by what happened at the end of the movie that Joanna’s husband realized that he loves the real Joanna.
Lastly, we should realize that the differences between the views and behavior of men and women about love and relationships are dictated by culture. As observed in the movie, the Stepford community dictated the role that men and women must play in the community. In the real world, this influence of culture also holds true. However, we should realize that both men and women equally need true and unselfish love to be happy and fulfilled in their lives.
In “All About Love,” Hooks quotes Merton, “Life curves upward to a peak of intensity, a high point of value and meaning, at which all its latent creative possibility go into action and the person transcends himself or herself in encounter, repose and communion with another. It is for this that we came into the world—this communion and self transcendence. We do not become fully human until we give ourselves to each other in love.” By the end of the movie, Joanna and her husband did just that: gave themselves to each other in love, thus becoming fully human.