Article by Wendy Reichental
I remember watching The Stepford Wives, the 1975 version, now considered a cult classic, and was absolutely obsessed with it. It starred Katharine Ross as the doe-eyed, intuitive and devoted Mrs. Joanna Eberhart. The movie’s plotline follows Joanna as a budding photographer, wife and mother who at her husband’s insistence agrees to uproot their family from the grime and grind of big city life to a Norman Rockwell-style Utopian suburb of Stepford, Connecticut. First impressions are paramount. It’s not long before Joanna suspects that something is amiss among these beguiling, housecleaning obsessed robot-like women of Stepford.
Following the rules of society
The phrase “Stepford wife” has now become part of our vernacular. It epitomizes somebody with a perfect facade who obediently follows the accepted rules of society. Since being recently retired, I have slipped into a similar mechanical role. I had a second act planned but put it on hold with the onset of the pandemic. Instead, I focused on things I could control, like maintaining all the household duties and being supportive of my still gainfully and thankfully employed husband. I kept myself busy with online workshops, webinars, and talks and interspersed that with a few virtual wellness and fitness classes to improve my mood and my growing girth. The highlight of my day was welcoming my husband home from his extended commute – his basement makeshift office!
Loss of identity
Despite my humbled retired lifestyle, and my many attempts at being fully engaged with Facetime, Zooms, and life itself, I have been experiencing bouts of loss of identity, and functioning on autopilot–cook, clean, wash, fold, dust, rinse and repeat. My invisibility became more pronounced on days when I questioned my husband about his workday. Was he busy? Stressed? Bored? Etc. and not getting asked anything in return. My decline into invisibility took years in the making, it’s different for everybody, but for me, it took on the form of not feeling valued by society, and disappointingly most judged by other women! I became proficient in comparing myself to others and feeling less than, such as believing I was incomplete, for never having children. Ironically, we still live in a Stepford Wife culture that fosters retrograde gender attitudes and praises the importance of having children and a family of your own. Nothing smacks more of being robotic to me than literally following the ancient dictates of the bible; – 1 Timothy 2:15 “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control”.
In the movie The Stepford Wives, Joanna uncovers the truth about the women of Stepford and their metamorphosis into compliant robots but a bit too late, as she succumbs to her demise. In the next scene, we see Joanna with all the other 2.0 robot wives, dawning floppy straw hats, long skirts, walking up and down the supermarket aisles with vacant eyes and smiles. While I share some things in common with a Stepford Wife, my cozy suburb with its manicured lawns, my willingness to forge a loving, happy, and clean home, as far as I know my husband is not attending any weekly exclusionary local Stepford Men’s Association trying to figure out how to create my fuller breasted younger-looking android doppelgänger.
While I might grapple with some existential depression, I know how blessed and fortunate I am. So, if you see me at the grocery store absentmindedly pushing my cart, do not fear I have not morphed into a Stepford Wife, despite my docile veneer I am wonderfully flawed, raw, and very much real! And in the words of Ceri Wheeldon, “Why be invisible when you can choose to be fabulous?”
Wendy enjoys capturing life’s passages in short essays and commentaries. Her writings have appeared in The Montreal Gazette, Ottawa’s Globe and Mail, The Montreal Suburban, and various online magazines. Wendy’s unique take on those first days of the Pandemic lockdown is now part of the just-out anthology Chronicling the Days by Marianne Ackerman (Editor) and Linda M. Morra (Editor). Guernica Editions, Spring 2021