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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Women: We only have ourselves to blame

In our rush to avoid the word "man-hater", sometimes the arguments get downright surreal. Right now, of course, the ongoing "post-feminist" trend is to blame oppression in women's lives as simply the fault of women themselves. Of course, the old stand-by is that if women are over-worked and stressed out, they only have themselves to blame for "wanting to have it all". Just them, and not their husbands who won't help around the house, not the government for refusing to address childcare problems, not crafters of economic policy that makes it nearly impossible for a family to subsist on one income, and whatever you do, never, ever blame unreasonable male expectations of women. No, it's just women's fault; they brought it on themselves.
And now this essay about the upcoming remake of The Stepford Wives that says that if women feel the pressure to be perfect, plastic beauties, well, who or what could they blame besides their own selves?

It is not men (or at least, not men alone) who do this to us. Indeed, Paramount's Web site for "The Stepford Wives" hardly mentions husbands. Instead it addresses the female viewer, showcasing "before" and "after" photos of the character played by Bette Midler much like those belonging to "Swan" contestants, and inviting us to upload our own photos for a personalized "Stepford Makeover."

That tiny aside "(or at least, not men alone)" is the only concession she makes that plastic surgery might be something other than what women put on other women and on themselves. Plastic surgery isn't about adhering to a beauty standard that closely conforms to the wishes of a certain class of wealthy white men; no, it's about women's love of fairy stories like "Cinderella".

Narratives of physical transformation can be read as symbolic of our desire to be seen, and loved, for who we really are — and to find love, recognition and acceptance that transcends stereotype, class, age, poverty and physical imperfection.

And since this is a universal feeling, I'm sure that we will have the male equivalent of "The Swan" any minute now.
No, actually, The Stepford Wives is all about class, money, sex, and physical imperfection. It's not so much the underbelly of stories like "Cinderella" as the horrific amplification of My Fair Lady, where this time Henry Higgins is able to use technology to effect a change in the stubborn, lower-class, imperfect lady by just killing her and replacing her with a compliant robot.
Like it or not, the story is a caustic criticism of a society where women's lives, bodies and desires are so subservient to men's. The wives in Stepford that have been "transformed" are not objects of mystery and envy to the untransformed wives, but are regarded with pity and horror by the untransformed women and as refreshingly subservient by the men. It is a criticism of a peculiar standard that the behavior of women should mirror the desires of men, and not just any men, a certain class of men, the rich white snobs who view a wife as just another status symbol like a house or a car.
Look, I didn't write the book. In fact, a man wrote the book, the same man in fact who wrote Rosemary's Baby, another horror story about how society feels that women's bodies belong first to their men and then to the community at large, but certainly not to themselves. It's withering in its assessment of men who feel entitled to women's subservience, by outright stating that such men are incapable of even understanding that women are human beings and not just low-quality playthings that need an upgrade. The women aren't glorying in finally becoming themselves! They aren't even there are their "transformations".

Via Feministing.

18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee... I totally missed the message of Rosemary's Baby when I first saw it. :^)

Julian Elson

6/09/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

I think there's alot of ways to read it, but that's what I picked up on immediately. I think my interpetation is bolstered somewhat because the writer also wrote The Stepford Wives.

6/09/2004

 
Blogger BlondeSense Liz said...

I saw the original many times but hadn't read the book. Maybe the new version of the movie is different from the last version? The Times article goes on and on about Cinderella and women feeling the need to be perfect. .. that was NOT what Stepford Wives was about as I recall. It was about sucky white men. That movie came out when I was in college. We were horrified as it was the scariest movie since the Exorcist as I recall.

Your take on the story was right on. Women were so disregarded by men that they were replaced by robots in Stepford. What the hell does that have to do with Cinderella or plastic surgery anyway? That's completely different and falls under a different heading altogether, I believe.

I have to write a letter to that broad who wrote that Times piece and tell her to read the book or watch the movie before she makes commentaries like that. Sheeesh.

Good job Amanda

6/10/2004

 
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