Updated: May 26
It's not news that women have been systemically oppressed throughout history. The Ghouls tell you why not only religion but science is wrong for shaping society into what it is today! We watched Stepford Wives to discuss subservience, what it means to be a strong, independent woman and the roles we play in society and on screen. We have MUCH more to say so stay tuned for part two featuring Handmaid's Tale!
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RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Kat's Facts - Traditionalism, Science and the Oppression of Women
Today in Kat’s history corner we are talking about the history of the oppression of women, specifically the why and the how of this oppression.
So before we get started I’m gonna throw 3 definitions out there that will help us on our journey.
Historiography: The study of Historical writing. It is “Why was history written this way, what influenced the ideals, thoughts, perspectives displayed in the writing and most importantly is the source of the writing reliable”. It’s the Media analysis glasses of history.
Traditionalist: dictionary defines a traditionalist idea, argument, or organization supports the established customs and beliefs of a society or group, rather than modern ones. Gross euphemism for oppressors acting in favor of the patriarchy.
Sexual Asymmetry is defined as the assignment of different tasks and roles to men and women based on sex within a culture.
Okay, so we have our definitions. How does this tie into the oppression of women? Let’s start with Historiography. Some of this is pulled from The Creation of the Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner which can be found here https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Creation_of_Patriarchy.html?id=szm-8WgGjWgC
So what is the history of the oppression of women? What historical influences support or refute the idea that women need to be oppressed? What “evidence” is used to further this ideology? Is this evidence scientific, based in fact, or presented with bias? There are two things we see commonly used as "justification" for this oppression. Religion, and Science. Now I know Religion and Science usually work against each other, but they pair together perfectly in how they are manipulated and have been used to justify it historically in both American, and Western culture.
The history of western society is largely driven by Darwinism and Christianity. Both have been used as validation for systemic methods of oppression. Creating an understanding of a lesser and validating the mistreatment of that lesser on religious or scientific grounds. So when viewing the history of humankind, traditionalists hold to the idea that ‘Women’s subordination is a universal, god-given, or natural fact.' That is the lens that Traditionalists use for this. So, traditionalists view history with bias, in that their lens is that of the patriarchy. They inherently assume that if men and women are designated certain roles, that if there are any differences between them, that the reasoning is because one group is a lesser.
So as is the case for any information we take in, we should question what is being presented to us, and I would argue that the usage of universals is already a red flag. Generalizing things is a quick way to catch yourself in exceptions, and honestly potentially invalidates the entire argument. So we question this universal, and anyone critical of the patriarchal explanations, we have to ask "How, when, and why did female subordination come into existence? Is it actually something universal?"
We know how traditionalists would answer this question. "The argument could be offered in religious terms, woman is subordinate to man because she was so created by god." Taken from Adam’s rib, and the reason we fell from Eden. "Traditionalist defenses of male supremacy based on biological deterministic reasoning have changed over time and proven remarkably adaptive and resilient. When the force of the religious argument was weakened in the nineteenth century the traditionalist explanation of women’s inferiority became “scientific”. Darwinian theories reinforced beliefs that species survival was more important than individual self-fulfillment. Much as the social gospel used the darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest to justify the unequal distribution of wealth and privilege in American society, scientific defenders of patriarchy justified the definition of women through their maternal role and their exclusion from economic and educational opportunities as serving the best interests of species survival. It was because of their biological constitution and their maternal function that women were considered unsuited for higher education and for many vocational pursuits."
"Sigmund Freud’s theories further reinforced the traditionalist explanation. Freud’s normal human was male; the female was by his definition a deviant human being lacking a penis, whose entire psychological structure supposedly centered on the struggle to compensate for this deficiency. Even though many aspects of Freudian theory would prove helpful in constructing feminist theory, it was Freud’s Dictum that for the female “anatomy is destiny” which gave new life and strength to the male supremacist argument."
Another claim is because of “Sexual Asymmetry”. While Sexual Asymmetry has been observed in all known human societies, Traditionalists interpret this term with bias and manipulate it as evidence of ‘rank’ to further justify oppression. If god or nature created sex differences, which in turn determined the sexual division of labor, they inherintely assume that the reason for this is because women were less than men. They use religion and “science” as a scapegoat so that no one can be blamed for sexual inequality and male dominance. Especially not men, right? "Mensuration and menopause, even pregnancy were regarded as debilitating, as diseased or abnormal states which incapacitated women and rendered them actually inferior."
And they see motherhood as a woman’s chief goal in life, and responsibility. by implication defining not wanting to have a baby as deviant behavior. A woman’s maternal function is seen as a species necessity, since we could not have made it to the modern world without the majority of women devoting most of their adult lives to childbearing and child-rearing. In order for society to continue, society has to be created, and as men are not biologically capable of birthing a child, so the pressure of reproduction is purely in the hands of the woman. So it is argued that for this reason, "the sexual division of labor based on biological differences is functional and just. It also implies that that forcing women to conceive, would be just according to this framework. "
Another argument traditionalists would make is that men are dominant because they are physically stronger, and they use the “history” of men providing for women as a means to justify each group to their lot. Now let’s talk science, if we’re considering Anthropology a scientific school or thought. "The man-the-hunter explanation has been disproven by anthropological evidence concerning hunting and gathering societies. In most of these societies, men would hunt big-game, and big-game hunting was an auxiliary pursuit."
Meaning it was a supplemental form of survival. It was EXTRA and not essential to survival. "While the main food supply was provided by gathering activities and small-game hunting, which women and children did. Also, it is precisely in hunting and gathering societies that we find many examples of complementarity between the sexes and societies In which women have relatively high status, which is direct contradiction to the claims of the the man-the-hunter school of thought."
"Feminist anthropologists have recently challenged the many earlier generalizations, which found male dominance virtually universal in all known societies, as being patriarchal assumptions on the part of ethnographers the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures.
"and investigators of those cultures. When feminist anthropologists have reviewed the data or done their own field work, they have found male dominance to be far from universal. They have found societies in which sexual asymmetry carries no connotation of dominance or subordination. Rather, the tasks performed by both sexes are indispensable to group survival, and both sexes are regarded as equal in status in most aspects. In such societies the sexes are considered “complementary”. Their rules and status are different but equal."
Sources: The Creation of the Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner which can be found here https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Creation_of_Patriarchy.html?id=szm-8WgGjWgC
Gabe's Film Analysis - Stepford Wives and the Problem of the Perfect Woman
Even without having ever seen Stepford Wives (I watched it for the first time for the cast!) I knew what a Stepford Wife was and the whole spiel. Because, honestly, Stepford Wives is so much more than a film. It's a statement, a way of life, a cautionary tale and more. According to an article on filmcomment.com, In 2003, there was the New York Times's “Stepford Spring” fashion supplement and a Maureen Dowd column headlined “The Stepford Wives: Now Showing at the Botox Salon Near You.”
The author of the article, Our Bodies, Our Selves: The Stepford Wives Alissa Quart says, the phrase had been taken up to describe a general phenomenon: it was the term for what middle-class women didn't want to end up as, but with a camp accent, ensuring that those using it wouldn't be mistaken for earnest. Alissa brings up an amazing point that I think it super prevalent in regards to our current series about social horror and it's that these social-horror films all have what she dubs the “at least” clause. Which is that we have an excuse for why we’re behaving this way or why society has gotten to this level. For example, in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, it's that there are aliens possessing us! And in Stepford Wives, it's that we’re robots. Because there’s no way that we could ever let it get this far in reality and not without some outside force! In most dystopian films, we are thrown right into the middle of the chaos - and so it seems brash and wild to us who could never imagine the world becoming that. Next week, we’ll cover a social-horror show that does not do this and I find it so refreshing! This film, Stepford Wives, only solidifies our, hmmm...pride? Or hubris, that there’s no way. They would have to turn us into robots to get us to conform to such a lifestyle - as if people don’t do this already! I think something the film misses, in its remake having love be the all-inspiring weapon against this “perfect” society, totally avoids the severity of this society.
The remake takes a fun and playful approach to the content - poking fun at the absurdity of the plot instead of the terror and urgency we feel in the original. In this one, we have some really fun moments and we even have a new element with our gay character, Roger, who is equatted to an unruly, headstrong wife and is turned into *gasp* a gay republican! (Funnily enough, a character has a similar interaction, although far more seriously, in Handmaid’s Tale season 2!). But we really miss out on the severity (not knocking it as it is very fun and I adore Bette Midler in everything she does, she looks like my mom) of this toxic masculinity world that is even worse than what we have today. We have men and their locker room talk secret manly men clubs whining about their headstrong and beautiful wives. There’s so many lines where men cry out like, “She wants ME to cook but I’m a man!” which only makes me think of all these posts I saw on twitter where men tweeted about times they were called too feminine or even gay because they did things like the dishes or even watering plants or flossing. Seriously. We’re totally missing how this toxic society is also incredibly unhealthy to the men as well. We get a little of it back with Matthew Broderick’s character, Walter choosing love over this ideal society but he did have the teeth gritting line, “When I’m home.” which was in response to his loving, trying-very-hard-to-please-him wife asked when to expect him home. With the transformation of our new gay character into, not an obediant housewife but rather a manly and bland gay republican *cough buttegieg cough* which further drives home this toxic masculine society. An article in the Guardian, Living dolls by Jeanette Winterson she says, “Men must be men in Stepford, even if they are gay. The message is that owning a penis is everything, no matter how you choose to use it. The double message is that no guy should behave like a girl, any more than girls should behave like guys.”
Jeanette also goes on to compare the two films, “at the beginning of the women's movement, men and women feared a disaster of Stepford proportions: men would never cope with the new threat to their status, and women would be made to pay. Murdering and turning us into robots is the price of feminism, the earlier film seemed to say. The comedy (remake) lies in the excess. The message is that when a woman breaks out of her nature-intended back-seat role, she loses her restraint and all sense of proportion. The message here is: you got what you wanted, girls, but how much has it cost and was it worth it? Rightwing thinktanks all over the world point to increasing divorce rates, child crime, and rocketing levels of family stress, and blame it on women who are more interested in personal achievement than family life.”
Jeanette goes on to explain how the remake is more timely and prevalent to the audience of its time in 2004, “For us, now, the sight of Kidman baking 500 fairy cakes in an effort to be a "real" woman is funny, because we don't suffer from the anxiety of a generation whose mothers were those 1950s housewives.” There’s this idea that these fears are too absurd for reality, which I find really funny considering what we’ll cover next week with Handmaid’s Tale where that future is absurd and terrifying while also feeling very real and possible. Robot wives is absurd, no doubt but the idea that men would change us doesn’t seem too far fetched. However, the theme with the tone of the films changes with the time. Jeanette says, “That women deserve to be punished was implicit to both the earlier film and the novel. That women have a right to be themselves - literally, ie a right not to be reprogrammed - is embedded in the new Stepford.”
At the heart of the issue, we have a woman who is the creator of it all! (We’ll see this again in Handmaid’s Tale) but that only furthers the saturation of the toxic masculinity implemented into our own society. Glenn Close, I mean Claire, envisioned a “perfect” world where women were perfect, obedient, lovely and flawless and who lived only to serve and be loved. She fantasized about a world where women don’t have to try so hard to succeed in that dog-eat-dog manly man world but could keep their house and home in tact, receiving love as payment. We as viewers see this flaw, as these men clearly did not love their wives, since who their wives were at their core were hardworking and headstrong. Walt has a line, “No more black. Only high-powered, neurotic, castrating, Manhattan career b’s wear black. Is that what you want to be?” and Jo replies, “Ever since I was a little girl.” which is my favorite line in the whole film, reminds me of the dialogue in Adam’s Family for some reason. So in reality, these men never loved their wives - and that’s the only reason why they were able to transform them into robots to begin with. Which means, sorry Claire, but your society sucks. But Claire was planning to also transform the men, this is overlooked! I don’t know what that society looks like other than booooring but I guess something like Pleasantville? Walter did love his headstrong wife, and she loved his goofy-self. This reminds me of when I brought my boyfriend home to visit my mom and she embarrassingly asked him that if I was the breadwinner and was famous or whatever, working as hard as I do - would he stay home with the kids? And he’s like, heckin yes. I also asked your BF btw Kat and he said, sign me up! So we’ve come a long way. So maybe a remake of Stepford Wives wouldn’t even work because we have men who stay at home and love it! And our real enemies are the self-proclaimed “nice guys” or incels who expect us to be obedient. However, their whole thing is that they don’t have wives...so it would need to be an abduction scenario. Hmmm…
****Also, fun tidbit - in the novel there is a black family and they are important. They are not featured in either movie….I guess they were swapped out for the gay couple as the minority instead.
IF HAVE TIME Another point I want to discuss, why do we always go back to the 50s? As if women weren’t being troublesome then and rioting, burning books and marching? It’s the whole traditionalist view of society. The family-unit, everything in its place and it's a reality that could only exist back then. With inflation, the lack of income raises and the cost of living forever on the rise, we could never have a household where one party is carrying the rest with their one-job. What kinda pre-2008 stock market crisis world do you live in??
Media from this week's episode:
Stepford Wives (2004) Director: Frank Oz
The secret to a Stepford wife lies behind the doors of the Men's Association.
Nicole Kidman is super tall. Those are my big thoughts.