The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Harper (1972). 144 pp.
There’s a 1970 essay by Judy (Syfers) Brady entitled “I Want a Wife.” In this essay, Brady explains her completely non-lesbian reasons for wanting someone to do the things that a woman of her time was expected to do: clean, cook, take care of the family, keep the household in order, and satisfy her husband’s every need, all while looking like she stepped right out of a copy of Good Housekeeping. Of course she would want a wife. In fact, the last line of the essay reads, “My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?”
Two years later, Ira Levin publishes The Stepford Wives. Much like “I Want a Wife,” this short novel explores the stereotype of the housewife, termed “hausfrau” by Levin. But, while Brady pointedly exposes the somewhat lofty demands of a woman during that time period, Levin allows the reader to infer based on the contrasts between Joanna and the other woman in her neighborhood. It is, in more accurate terms, a satire.
Have things changed? Certainly in the corporate world they have. Thanks to our mothers, we now have the capability, and almost the requirement, to pursue a degree and a career. However, in the media it’s advisable that we put on a pretty dress and walk down a runway, weighing no more than 70 lbs. maximum, of course. We’re not seen for our degrees that we work for or our ability to multi-task with the best of them. We’re either resented by our male counter-parts for either being better than them, acknowledging that we’re better than them, or “putting-out” too much for our rung on the corporate ladder.
Honestly, if you want my true opinion, it’s our own dumb fault. Especially with the rise of Sex and the City, and more recently the movie, women are going on group-dates to see it, and men are left brooding at home. There is no greater movie of “girl power” in the past year, and we now can explain to our daughters how lying on a cold marble table-top wearing nothing but sushi is the epitome of what it takes to be a woman. And then we can walk into work the next morning and complain to the receptionist and Lisa from accounting how Bob was given that extra bonus just because of what plumbing he has, giving no regard to his intellectual capabilities or the fact that he’s been working there five years more than anyone else in the office…
We’ve taken it a bit too far. Back in the day when women were thought of more as furniture, they sought for equality among men. And, as the saying goes, you give an inch they take a mile. Now, on some level we’re still fighting for equality, but for the most part I think we’ve accomplished that. It’s becoming a power struggle, and men have no idea what to do with us. Whatever happened to men and women working along-side each other?
Now, allow me to step off of my soap-box and return to Levin. I liked it. It’s a short and sweet book, and it leaves you hanging. On that note, I did think it was a bit hurried in the conclusion. We’re not entirely sure what happens to her, and the possibility of interpretation both is a help and a hinderance in this situation. I wasn’t ready for the book to end, which as frustrating as it is for me, the reader, it is also a testament to the quality of writing that exudes onto the pages.