Here’s a question for you: what is your idea of the ‘perfect woman’? Does she have soft hair, smooth skin, a beautiful smile? Is she devoted, caring, obedient? Does she cater to your every whim? Well, in this book that I’m reviewing, I discovered a community that literally creates their idea of the perfect woman from scratch.
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (the bestselling author of Rosemary’s Baby) sees Joanna, her husband Walter and their two children moving to the small town of Stepford, Connecticut. At first, everything seems normal enough; they settle in, make friends and become accustomed to the town. But as time passes, Joanna becomes very unsettled by the women of Stepford – stick-on smiles, hair never out of place, and content with doing nothing but cooking, cleaning and food shopping. As time passes, with her once-independent friends turning into nothing but demure housewives, and her husband becoming more enthralled with the ideas of the local men’s association, Joanna realizes that she must find a way to escape the town, before she becomes the next target.
I have to admit, this book scared me. The conspiracy of the Stepford men plotting against their wives, breaking them, stripping them of their minds, their independence and turning them into prettily perfect housewives, ready to bend and cater to their every whim. That frightened me. Women becoming nothing but pretty dolls. But in a way, it’s a testament to women of today.
I have lost count of the amount of YouTube channels that are dedicated to showing you how to wear the perfect make-up, of Instagram profiles that show nothing but slender, beautiful women posing provocatively in various exotic places. There was a while ago, when I was watching TV and there was a teenage girl about to get married to her boyfriend of six months. She was basically giving up her identity to become his housewife. I’ll never forget what she said: ‘I wanted to be an oncologist and now, I want to be a stay-at-home mom. I want to stay at home and cook and clean for him.’ A modern-day Stepford wife, wouldn’t you say?
Ira Levin’s writing definitely helped show the fear and transformation of the characters in the story, not just the female, but the males too. I was fascinated by the change of Joanna’s husband Walter. Initially, he was seen to be very supportive of his wife but after he becomes influenced by the mysterious men’s association of Stepford, he completely changes and conspires against her. The town of Stepford appears to have a mysterious hold on not only the women, but the men as well. They also change from being supportive husbands to being dominant control-freaks.
This novel certainly frightened me, but also definitely intrigued me. It’s a horror story, but more of a psychological horror rather than a traditional one. For me, that’s what makes it better. The Stepford Wives is one of those stories that will make you think about our lives today compared to forty years ago, but Ira Levin’s writing and interesting characters certainly make it a worthy read.