If ever there was a love letter to feminism signed by horror, it was the classic THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975). It is actually my favourite horror film of all time and I love a shit ton of scary movies. They’re kind of my thing.
THE STEPFORD WIVES is different though. It’s one of the few films that is far better than the book it was inspired by. The tone, atmosphere, emotions it stirs and the intelligent dialogue within is enough to classify it as a perfect film. Those notwithstanding, it is the portrayal of Joanna Eberhart by the legendary Katharine Ross which gives it both the staying power and reverence in horror communities that it so deserves.
The timing of this film is critical. Second-wave feminism was in full swing, and fems were tired of the bullshit. They called out doctors for hospitalizing women under false pretences and handing out Valium scripts as a method of mind control. They were angry at companies that tried to keep them housebound with insultingly pandering advertisements for appliances and cleaning products. Women were done! No longer would they be under the thumbs of their male counterparts.
The beautiful and necessary liberation didn’t come without fear. The thought of going backwards and losing the ability to self-actualize and self-determine one’s own path was real. The character of Joanna Eberhart exemplified this panic.
Joanna is a strong independent woman who is unapologetic about her career goals, drive, autonomy, self-respect and demand of respect from others. When her husband, Walter (Peter Masterson) moves her to the town of Stepford, she immediately starts questioning her environment. She fights with him about many things. She goes head-to-head and doesn’t back down. We’re not dealing with some quiet and passive damsel-in-distress. Hell no! If Walt pipes up, Joanna will smack a bitch. I love her.
Immediately, she sees the women in town as repressed and oppressed. The chicks don’t own themselves or their bodies. They are sole trophy wives and homemakers. Their entire existences revolve around cooking, cleaning and serving their spouse. They have no sense of self. It’s gross.
Rather than accepting the inequality, she and her best friends begin a women’s group to try to spark change and their own little Stepford revolution. When Joanna sees her friends turn into carbon copies of the Stepford Wives, she isn’t stupid. She doesn’t just accept what happened as natural. She knows that her gal pals wouldn’t trade in their minds and freedom for a box of Clairol hair color and a new dress. She is fully aware that something is fucking off and that the goddamn men in town and their shitty ass private men’s club are behind it. Those bitches are replacing women with robotic fuck dolls.
When asshole Walt gaslights her and implies it’s all in her head, she goes to therapy. That said, she sees a female psychiatrist of her own choosing. She refuses to play his fucked-up reindeer games, and God bless her for that.
At her session one of the greatest lines of dialogue ever written is uttered, “If I am wrong, I’m insane; and if I’m right, it’s even worse than if I’m wrong.” Joanna is desperate. She’s lost. She knows how crazy what she is saying sounds, but she also knows herself. She knows her intuition, her instincts and what she feels, sees and hears is correct and real. On screen, we see her tug-of-war. We see the toll fighting for social change takes on the strongest of people.
I have to give it up for the psychiatrist, too. I love that she isn’t a moron. She isn’t very skeptical of Joanna’s claims. She believes that something is going on in Stepford. The female bond is tight, and she gives her patient the best advice. She essentially tells Joanna to get the fuck out of Dodge.
Joanna can’t just leave though. Walter has her kids. I hate Walt. I want to beat the shit out of that motherfucker. He and his fucking small dick brigade coerce her to come back home by using her children as pawns.
As much as the dipshits irk me, the set-up is brilliant. Just because Joanna is a tough, no-nonsense, career woman who can intellectually destroy the men, she isn’t without weakness. She’s human. She’s a nurturer. She’s a mother. She’s not just going to leave her kids with these monsters.
That said, she doesn’t just run in blind and face them head on. She picks up a fireplace poker and when pushed puts up a physical fight. She isn’t this helpless victim that critics always paint as the typical horror fem. Joanna is a fucking badass and a goddamn hero! I love her so much. I want to kiss her because she’s RAWRtastic, and all you cats know it.
Sadly, she’s outnumbered and the conclusion isn’t a good one for her. Still, the last scene packs such a punch, it needed to end that way.
Sometimes the good guys lose. Sometimes the good girls lose, too. That’s okay. It is the fight, tenacity, perseverance, fortitude, intelligence, talent, moral compass and integrity that make Joanna Eberhart such a magnificent feminist Fem Goddess of Horror.
It is an insult to the characters and actresses to classify horror as a sexist genre. Yes, Joanna was ultimately a victim; but that doesn’t take away from what she survived and what she went through.
Katharine Ross’s portrayal hits home on so many levels. The thought of women ever being treated like mindless fuck toys is both infuriating and scary. Ross’s acting exhibits those emotions flawlessly.
Another notable point of relevance are the female friendships between the characters. There was no cattiness or jealousy between Joanna and her bestie Bobbie (Paula Prentiss). They were simply two amazing chicks that loved one another and understood each other.
In so many ways, horror has celebrated multi-faceted women, their accomplishments, talents and overall essence more-so than any other genre. I wish critics would take a moment to thoroughly analyse and review masterpieces like this before jumping on the horror-bashing bandwagon of losers.
Lastly never watch the God-awful abomination remake with Nicole Kidman. It’s dreadful and every copy needs to be destroyed. It makes me angry, and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry! Okay, maybe you would. Imma delightful motherfucker.