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What is a Stepford Wife?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “Stepford Wife” is used to describe a woman who lives a blindly conforming life, remaining subservient to her husband and other authority figures while attempting to offend no one. The term is taken from a 1972 book, The Stepford Wives, which was later adapted into several feature films, and it is generally considered to be derogatory. This type of woman is a topic of discussion and commentary among the feminist community in particular.

In the novel, which takes place in the fictional town of Stepford, Connecticut, men replace their wives with robots who are programmed to serve them flawlessly. The lead character in the novel is painted as a feminist with artistic leanings who moves to Stepford and becomes concerned about the wives, especially as she sees more and more of her friends appear to become subservient. She realizes that the women of the town have actually been replaced by robots, and ultimately becomes one herself.

There is a dark undertone to the Stepford wife. In both the book and the films, the former accomplishments of the wives are heavily emphasized. No ordinary housewives, they were once high powered executives, doctors, talented scientists, and so forth, making their transition into robots all the more horrifying.

In discussions of the book and subsequent films, critics have often pointed out that few men would really want to marry a robot, but the appeal of the spouse who is eager to please her husband can be imagined. She silently and cheerfully acquiesces to every desire, ensuring that dinner is on the table, guests are entertained, and the house is run flawlessly. This woman has no character of her own, and therefore never fights or resists her role. And, of course, she is devastatingly attractive.

Sometimes, a woman who gave up a career to become a housewife is referred to as a “Stepford Wife.” Some feminists argue that this is not fair, since it undermines the valuable work of mothers who choose to raise their children at home and to run their own households. Some high profile women, especially celebrities, have also been labeled with this term after entering marriages with famous and talented men and giving up their own careers for a variety of reasons.

Some feminists feel that the issue may be more deeply seated in society than people realize. Many women, for example, routinely change their bodies with elective surgeries, starve themselves, and modify their behavior to seem more attractive to men. In a world where plastic surgery is routine, some women do appear to approach the gynoid ideal in terms of flawless physical perfection, and some feminists suggest that submission to beauty standards turns these women into Stepford Wives.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon995216 — On Apr 12, 2016

"Blindly conforming life"? Stepford wives are in no way "blind". Their eyes are more open than the typical woman.

By anon271032 — On May 24, 2012

I think my boyfriend would be horrified at this idea, particularly because a 'Stepford Wife' wouldn't be interested in helping him pay the bills!

By anon267030 — On May 08, 2012

Not really true at all. Stepford women are great. It depends on how their health is.

By anon36334 — On Jul 11, 2009

Wanted to know the origin of the term, and I have found it. Being a beautiful and perfect female sounds good to me, if married to a similar guy, but with my personality, I would fail and succumb to my own whims of sloth and free wheeling, while I am not a feminist, as that also requires discipline, I admire the ability to seek perfection so much.

By anon27970 — On Mar 09, 2009

That is just the feminist point of view and they don't have the only right to comment on society. What about the sacrifices men have had to make as part of their gender role through the ages. Risking death and injury, suppressing emotion, sacrificing income for family and war (no I don't buy the feminist idea war is driven by men - it is a function of social demands which in turn are driven by lack of resources. Women become violent when men aren't around). I do not envy my grandfathers role.

By louiseburns — On Feb 02, 2009

Interesting article but unfortunately, I don't think the majority of feminists would agree that mothers who choose to raise their children at home and to run their own households do a valuable work.

I personally think if your kids are with someone other than you the majority of the day, they are being raised by others and if there is *any* possible way either parent can be home thy should be.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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