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The Stepford Wives: Male fantasy and Automata

by on October 15, 2012

Inspired by hs348’s blog on ‘Men’s fantasy and Automata’, I will be looking at the 1975 movie Stepford Wives, as a portrayal of this theme. Set in the fictional town, Stepford, home to married men and their submissive, fawning, impossibly beautiful wives. However these are not real women. Their wives have in fact been replaced by robots.

The film not only makes us question gender conflict and the sexualisation of women, but it also reveals our cultural desire for aesthetic perfection –in our era of extremism; this is particularly relevant to cosmetic surgery.

The first clip that I would like to show you is from the modern version of the movie. It highlights the male fantasy of having complete control over a woman: even going as far as changing her brain activity, her appearance, and ultimately turning her into a robot.

A comical moment in the film is when the new couple of Stepford (human not robot) decide to say hello to their neighbours. Entering the house, they hear Sarah having loud, passionate sex with her husband. Roger and his wife start tiptoeing up the stairs to have a peek, until they hear someone suddenly walking out of the room. They quickly return down the stairs to hide, and they find a remote control labelled SARAH. While playing with it, they inadvertently cause Sarah’s breasts to enlarge before she falls on the staircase behind them.

This scene is humorous because it ridicules the extremes that we will go to. The ‘sacred act of marital sex’ has been replaced by something very sinister: she is battery operated… This is very unsettling, and perhaps Mori would even say “uncanny”!

The next clip is from the original 1975 movie. The basic, visceral idea of a human bleeding from a cut is one that Joanna in the film uses to find out how Bobbie has “changed”.  (Watch from 1:36:41 – 1:39:50)

Joanna’s moment of revelation (that her friend Bobbie too has been turned into a robot), is very poignant. As she stabs her, there is that moment of shock. We as an audience condone her violent act, as it seems necessary in discovering the truth. Then the tone shifts, as a strange sense of sadness falls over the scene as we watch Robot Bobbie beginning to deteriorate. And we are fearful for Joanna as we realise that she is now one of the only human wives left…


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