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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

All Stepford, All The Time

I love horror films, especially subtle ones with a gradual buildup of tension until the big “reveal” at the end. One of my favourites in this vein is the 1975 version of “The Stepford Wives”, based on a book by Ira Levin (author of “Rosemary’s Baby”). It’s about Joanna, a career-oriented young wife and mother who moves with her family from New York City to the idyllic, tranquil village of Stepford. Everything is beautiful there: the homes are all immaculate, and the wives are all gorgeous and serene. Life seems perfect -- a little too perfect, in fact -- and Joanna begins to suspect that all is not as ideal as it seems … that there is, in fact, an evil conspiracy being controlled by the men of the village.

The book was written and the film was made in the midst of the burgeoning feminist movement, and it’s a biting metaphor of the docile, easily manipulated, Barbie-doll women favoured by many men. It focused on how men want to control women and mold them into a “type” that’s most pleasing and convenient for them, and took it to the most “horrific” extreme – that the men in the town were replacing their wives with robots designed to be perfect life partners.

I think the film is still a very valid metaphor for the messages we receive today about how we, as women, should be. Sadly, the radical fervor of the feminist movement seems to have completely disappeared. Young girls today probably wouldn’t know the name Gloria Steinem from Gloria Bunker. What happened to all the anger and determination that spurred women on to make such political strides back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s? It seems like many of us are willing co-conspirators, determined to make all women look a certain way, or else.

Very often, when I watch TV and see the programs and commercials that are on, and when my eyes happen to brush over magazine covers, I realize that I’m living in a round-the-clock Stepford, where we are all supposed to be a size 0, have perfect hair, and all the right “stuff”.  We are living a real-life horror movie, and most of us women buy right into it. We strive, and we strain, and we work our asses off to meet that ideal. Who is giving us this messages? We can’t blame just men, because there are plenty of women giving us those messages as well.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good. There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy. But there is something wrong when failing to get into a pair of skinny jeans is a cardinal sin. There is something wrong when eating disorders among young girls is rampant, and bulimia is the perfect solution to getting into all those cute clothes.

Perspective, ladies. That’s what we need. And maybe a little radicalism, too. How about a  little good old-fashioned bra-burning? Actually, I have a better idea: How about we grab every single fashion magazine off the newsstands and have a nice, hearty bonfire? That would suit me just fine.

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