Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Stepford Wives, A Feminine Approach

Feminism is the social equality of the sexes. It is the idea that women should have social, political, and intellectual rights and they ought to be equal to those of men. “When Beauvoir claims that ‘woman’ is a historical idea and not a natural fact, she clearly underscores the distinction between sex, as biological facticity, and gender, as the cultural interpretation…of that facticity” (Butler). Women are often looked in ways that are traditional; that they should be homemakers, housewives, and always make certain that they remain in poise and their appearance should look clean and pleasant. During the 1900 era, women were strictly distinguished by men as being weak and superior to them. After marriage, wives became their husbands’ “slaves.” Their husband’s every wish was to be accomplished by their wives and if by any reason the wife did not perform her husband’s desire, then she was not acting upon her feminine duties. Living now in the more modern era, women are no longer pressured into living a life of “feminine duties.” After watching “The Stepford Wives,” which was released in 2004, starring Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick, the plot of the movie was very modern but did portray the ultimate view of feminism; women clothed in floral dresses and frilly aprons cooking and cleaning all day. The view of feminism in “The Stepford Wives” portrays the idea that women are thought to be mere objects rather than be treated like human beings equal to men altogether. This film presents a view of a perfect life, a perfect house, and a perfect wife, a gender bias, and an ultimate view of feminism.
Why should anyone live with a nagging and troublesome woman when there is a possibility of having a perfectly well-made, flawless Barbie doll? The men in “Stepford Wives” technologically make it a possibility to make a wife of their own. These wives are to perform their every desire and command. Their wives will be technologically trained to do whatever their husbands tell them to. Joanna, (Kidman’s character in the movie) moves with her husband and two kids to a suburb in Stepford, Connecticut after she has a nervous breakdown when she is fired from her high-profile job as a television hostess. Everything in Stepford seems perfect; the homes, the grass, trees, and even the people. They are so nice and humble, and so…perfect. After a few days in their new perfectly-made two-story house, Joanna decides to visit the “gym” where a bunch of housewives are dressed in floral dresses and ready to workout. Joanna then approaches the leader of the group and asks them why they are dressed that way to workout and she answers, “Whatever we do we always wanna look our best. We would never allow ourselves to look sweaty and dressed in unseemly clothing in front of our husbands. They should always see us at our very best.” These women are to show only perfection; no exposure of flaws but pursue the ultimate excellence. While “working out” the women are exercising in comparison to the washing machine in its cycle phase. Their domestic aspects are clearly depicted; the women function only when it has something to do with domesticity. Men depict their wives in the movie as their slaves. These women are caught up in such feminine lifestyles and believe that they should look perfect and act perfect, that their idea of pursuing the ideal act of feminism is what would make their marriage better.
Feminism in the movie is depicted through a modern perspective and that a biased view of women is “in” and “cool” and it seems reasonable to view it in such a way. Robert Stam, the author of “Literature and Film,” elaborates on the concept of the modern era and sexist beliefs when he claims that “The nonsynchronous texture of life in Stepford belies Joanna’s historicist misprison that patriarchy is outmoded while feminism is contemporary” (Stam). The movie in some ways presents the idea that feminism is no longer conventional but it is current and modern. The movie allows an acceptable judgment when it comes to feminist biases. In another scene in the movie the women are caddying for their husbands on the golf course. The men use them to their advantage and the women stand there holding the golf clubs supporting their husband telling them that they are playing a great game. Stam continues to state, “Instead, Stepford’s homicidal husbands employ cutting-edge technology to reprise old-fashioned notions of femininity embodying discrepant patriarchal ethos, at one futuristic, coeval, and deeply nostalgic”(Stam). The men have created robotic wives for themselves and their “wives” perform their husbands’ desires and the way that men look at it is that wives should approach their husbands this way. It is the stereotypical aspect of viewing women in this means. The men believe that women should act in such ways and should wait on them hand and foot. They should support their husbands in everything that they do because males are following the conservative judgments of femininity.
Going Beyond the point of viewing females as weaklings of the natural world, femininity assembles the idea of masculine characteristics in women. It is difficult to think that since women have been depicted as being superior to men for such a long time that females carrying the masculine trait within themselves is anything but believable. Philosopher, Judith Halberstam, considers to “reimagine masculinity” and create “alternative masculinities” altogether. She further continues on to say that “female masculinity has been blatantly ignored both in the culture at large and within academic studies of masculinity”(Halberstam). Masculinity is a characteristic of power and supremacy, however, when this theory is applied to women they are only thought of containing feminine aspects. This gender ideology creates a big difference when thinking of women as having masculine characteristics, however, Halberstam convincingly states that women are capable of being as masculine as men are. She explains the idea of James Bond in the movie Goldeneye and how Bond battles with bad guys and one of those “bad guys” tend to be a very “aggressive violent femme type” (Halberstam). She fights like a man, walks like a man, and becomes one with a man and Bond uses the same technique to fight with her as he will with the other men. “His usual performance of debonair action adventure hero, and he has his usual supply gadgetry to aid him”(Halberstam). Bond’s typical take on battling against his enemies is not paused just because there is a woman involved in the battle. “Sexism and misogyny are not necessarily part and parcel of masculinity, even though historically it has become difficult, if not impossible, to untangle masculinity from the oppression of women”(Halberstam). Femininity has become such a big part of women’s lives that thinking in terms of female masculinity is quite unattainable.
In “Stepford Wives” female masculinity is not revealed by any means because it has thickened the issue of gender bias in such ways that imagining the “stepford” women being masculine is humorous. The women are caught up in their domestic duties that they act like robots. Considering the fact that in the movie the stepford wives are literally robots, however, assuming that they are not, allows one to notice that women yet are being portrayed in a stereotypical viewpoint. In one of the scenes the women are gathered together at a book club meeting and when approached to talk of a book that has nothing to do with domesticity, they are frozen in their seats, lifeless, with no sense of reaction. When the leader of the group brings up the topic about yarn and knitting, the women’s eyes light up with excitement and they are clearly entertained by the idea. This scene depicts the idea that the female gender bias is only to converse about domestic things such as sewing, knitting, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their husband when they come home after a hard day at work; nothing should excite them but stereotypical feminine duties. Judith Butler, a philosopher, talks of Beauvoir’s claim when he stated that “ ‘woman’ is a historical idea and not a natural fact,” contributing to the idea that the acts of women are historically originated and have not naturally come forth. Butler once again goes back on Beauvoir’s idea, “When Beauvoir claims that woman is an ’historical situation,’ she emphasizes that the body suffers a certain cultural construction, not only through conventions that sanction and proscribe how one acts one’s body, the ’act’ or performance that one’s body is, but also in the tacit conventions that structure the way the body is culturally perceived” (Qtd. in Butler). For example, the wives in stepford are shaped in the way that is conventional for females to act like. Every move they make is feminized and according to Beauvoir, the stereotypical viewpoint of women in the movie is convincing. Going back to female masculinity where females expose their masculine characteristics, it is an obvious factor that the depiction of imagining the stepford wives as masculine is not a possibility.
When thinking about gender, it is a phrase that is described differently than of femininity and masculinity. Butler describes gender as, “an act which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it; but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again”(Butler). Masculinity and femininity is something that people express as the stereotypical view that a man has masculine features and characteristics and the woman has feminine features and characteristics. However, gender is described as something that society depicts it to be. The man should act in such ways that a woman shouldn’t and vice versa. If, by any means, a man acts out of their socially structured characteristic they are no longer in the margin of masculinity because they have acted upon something that only concerns women or that is not “manly.” “Surely, there are nuanced and individual ways of doing one’s gender, but that one does it, and that one does it in accord with certain sanctions and prescriptions, is clearly not a fully individual matter”(Butler). Men and women operate their actions according to how society has portrayed it to be and those portrayals are authorized by “prescriptions” meaning the method that society has built it up to be.
Butler presents a theme in her study of gender when she compares gender biases with acting. “Just as a script may be enacted in various ways, and just as the play requires both text and interpretation, so the gendered body acts its part in a culturally restricted corporeal space and enacts interpretations within the confines of already existing directives”(Butler). In “Stepford Wives,” the women are robots, however, if that aspect were to be disregarded, it is a possibility to think that the women are acting the way they should be because the men have given them the “script” to act through. Although the women are technically robots and they are only acting the way they are because they are technologically made that way, they are acting feminine unconsciously; not knowing what they are exactly liable of. Butler continues further to say, “the link between a theatrical and a social role are complex and the distinctions not easily drawn, it seems clear that, although theatrical performances can meet with political censorship and scathing criticism, gender performances in non-theatrical contexts are governed by more clearly punitive and regulatory social conventions”(Butler). Every way that a man and a woman act nowadays is often judged by conventions of stereotypical viewpoints that come across from society.
“The Stepford Wives” presents a stereotypical viewpoint of gender biases. It is a film that has captured the attention of many and is interpreted as a feminist movie. The women portray a typical housewife who’s every intention is to pursue a domestic existence. Femininity and masculinity are built the way they are because of society. Every action that a man takes and every action a woman pursues is a stereotypical bias because culture has caused it to be that way.

Works Cited
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing. 2004. 900-904.

Halberstam, Judith. "Female Masculinity." Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing. 2004. 935-938.

Stam, Robert. “Literature and Film.” Serial Time: Bluebeard in Stepford: New York. 5 June 2005.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Femininity and Masculinity

For the past few decades, Disney Channel has converted disney princesses into a figure of femininity and humbleness. They are portrayed as flawless figures presenting great splendor and magnificance not just physically but characteristically. For example, Bell from the "Beauty and the Beast," Jasmine in "Aladdin," and Cinderella, portray beauty, grace, and perfection. In all these movies, each one of them present a stereotypical perspective from which one can tell that since they are women, they are weak emotionally and physically. Their "prince charming" saves them in the nick of time from their conflicted lives. With Belle's humble personality, she endures the beast's aggressive behavior towards her and because of her lovely features the beast gives in to her grace and modesty. Jasmine is saved from Jafar (the evil villain who attempts to capture Jasmine and force her to marry him)by Aladdin who is possessed by Jasmine's exotic beauty. He comes to her rescue in time to annihilate Jafar and acquire Jasmine as his. It is typical to think that men are known as masculine type; that they should acquire toughness and aggression. Alice Eagerly and Valerie Steffen from the Purdue University on "Gender and Agressive Behavior" state that "Psychologists and popular writers who have analyzed the male gender role have claimed that men are expected to be tough, violent, and aggressive...people expect men to be aggressive(Eagerly & Steffen). This broadens the idea that masculinity is stereotypical in these Disney fairy tales where the princes come to the rescue of their princesses, and the princessess are portrayed as the weak figures.

Eagly, Alice H. & Steffen, Valerie J. "Gender and Aggressive Behavior." The American Psychological Association, Inc. 1986.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Knowledge is Power

Foucault's notion of knowledge and power is revealed in this scene of a movie titled "Enough." Jennifer Lopez is being trained by a professional self-defense trainer who helps her connect with her inner self to gain the knowledge of power then apply that to her physical strength. In this clip of the movie she is seen to close her eyes as if in a trance of some sort to attach herself to her strength inside, and, at the same time, disconnect from the outside world. When she closes her eyes she is connecting to her inner power of strength and at the same time gaining the knowledge of self-defense. In order to gain knowledge, it is the power one must contain within themselves or even find in oneself to apply that to their physical strength. This scene is based upon the idea that Foucault's theoretical approach of knowledge is power depends upon whether or not one has that sense of self to determine that. Power is anonymous, therefore, it depends upon what type of power will be let loose to determine that knowledge of power.
For example, a child's knowledge is developed from the people around that child. His or her family shapes the child's knowledge and without them the child will not know anything but what is perhaps communicated by the parents, sibling, etc. Another example would be where everyone of us have different ways of communicating and what we say shapes who we are. That power that we have within ourselves that we have the ability to talk is determined by others of how much knowledge we contain.
Even though in this scene of "Enough," Jennifer Lopez is opening her mind to the knowledge of self-defense to gain physical power, she is yet training to pertain to violence whether or not that may be irrational and violence is another Foucaultian substance - although that is another story. "In Foucault's worldview there is no absolute morality. Morality is created through the exercise of power"(Foucault). What this means ultimately is that if one were to think that something is immoral, it may not be immoral in the least. However one determines power, since it is an anonymous factor of life, may be expressed in different ways and how they present their power in general, therefore, knowledge is power.

Steven, Brian. "Power/Knowledge." Selected Interviews. 1972-1977.

Monday, March 16, 2009