Sunday, June 13, 2004

I saw The Stepford Wives yesterday, and boy was that a bad movie. First of all, the movie can't decide whether the robot wives are actually robots or if they're just the same old wives with chips in their brains. There's a scene where you see a wife with the lifeless robot that's about to be substituted for her, which suggests the former interpretation, but the ending doesn't make any sense unless it's the latter one. The whole movie is an incoherent muddle.

But that's a small point. The bigger point is that the movie seemed to me to blame the women for their plight and subtly justify the anti-feminist backlash. At the start of the movie, Nicole Kidman's character is a monster: she's a cold, driven, man-hating bullbuster who apparently cares about no one and nothing other than her career. Her husband, played by Matthew Broderick, is a total mensch: a caring guy who took a job at his wife's workplace because it was the only way he could ever see her. Broderick looks like he's about 16, and he projects such an air of wimpy, put-upon decency that you can't help feeling for him, even as you realize that this is a bizarre fantasy of modern gender relations.

I don't think there are that many families in which the wife marches off to work every day, oblivious to her husband and children's wellbeing, while the put-upon husband struggles to balance work and household responsibilities. I think there are still a hell of a lot of families where it works the other way, though. Someone should make a movie about upper-middle-class women who, sick of being responsible for the house and the kids, decide to turn their husbands into robots who cheerfully do housework. Except that in that scenario, viewers would stop to ask who was paying for those palatial high-tech mansions. Matthew Broderick's character says several times that he doesn't make nearly as much as his wife: it's one of the chief complaints that’s supposed to make the audience sympathize with him, and since all of the other Stepford wives, we're told, used to be hyper-successful career women, that's presumably a common Stepford husband complaint. We never see any evidence that the husbands actually work. But nobody addresses the issue of who funds all of this once the CEO wives have morphed into high-tech Betty Crockers.

At any rate, the movie seemed to suggest that evil corporate women brought on the backlash by being cold, heartless bitches who drove their husbands to admittedly extreme measures. The movie isn't just about the backlash; it's part of the backlash. It's probably silly to make too much of this, since it's a deeply silly movie on a lot of levels, but it pisses me off.

You know, these are really depressing times, and I can barely stand to read the news anymore, so I thought I would relate a happy media story.

The other day I had a rheumatologist appointment, and as usual they had crappy magazines in the waiting room. Actually, they only had Working Mother magazine, and since my rheumatologist is always late, I settled down with that. In it, there was a story about mothers who made quilts that had some meaning or significance. There were three mothers profiled, and each of them had a little first-person blurb about their quilt, a picture of the quilt, and a picture of the quilt-maker with her family. And one of the families was a lesbian couple and their daughter. This wasn't an article about the controversies surrounding gay parenting, and the word lesbian didn't appear in the piece. It was just a blurb about how she made a quilt out of fabric from her daughter's baby clothes and then a picture with a caption that said something like "Jane Smith, her partner Sarah Jones, and their daughter Elizabeth." The article treated them like a completely unremarkable family, except for one of the mothers' quilt-making abilities.

So it's not a huge deal: it's not some big court victory, it's not equality. It would be a lot more telling, probably, if it were in Good Housekeeping. And the existence of Working Mother magazine kind of naturalizes the idea that mothers are primarily responsible for childcare. But it seemed significant. It felt like a small, subtle indicator that there's a cultural shift underway, no matter how many constitutional amendments Bush and his right-wing cronies may propose.

Hi! Found you through alas, a blog, and love your blog's name.

"Someone should make a movie about upper-middle-class women who, sick of being responsible for the house and the kids, decide to turn their husbands into robots who cheerfully do housework"

Read Pat Cadigan's story, "The Day the Martels Got the Cable" in her collection Patterns. You'll like it.

--Mr Ripley
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