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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 She realizes that the women of the town have actually been replaced by robots, and ultimately becomes one herself.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.