gender in the 70s
“Battle of the Sexes” tennis match Billie Jean King vs.
Bobby Riggs, 1973
majority of women work outside the home; many
interested in careers, not just part-time work
questioning identity: just a mother or wife? “Ms.”
instead of “Miss” or “Mrs.”
consciousness-raising (CR) groups
women’s health activism
legal advances: no-fault divorce, abortion
sexual revolution and feminism
more permissive attitudes about heterosexual sex:
“swinging” singles and wife-swapping
less stigma for singles and couples living together
attention to women’s sexual desire and demands
greater acceptance of gays and lesbians
new concept of “woman-identified woman” who values
female relationships as equal to, or more important
than, male ones
Stepford reception in 1975
feminists criticized the movie’s pessimism and
hyperbole, felt it ridiculed the women’s movement
Betty Friedan called it “a rip-off of the women’s
many women liked it, felt it dramatized some of their
problems with men (in exaggerated form)
awkward target audience: women were target, but not
usually horror film fans
men felt it was unfair and dehumanized them, making
them the center of a conspiracy plot
Do you think the use of the horror genre is a good
choice for this movie’s message? Why or why not?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of
making a horror movie about women’s oppression?
pop culture feminism in Stepford
feminist mottoes and catchphrases in popular media
and implied in the film
The Battle of the Sexes: after Billie Jean King’s tennis
victory, a common phrase for tension between men and
Sisterhood is Powerful!: emphasizes women working
together instead of competing for men’s attention
The Personal is Political: mostly white, middle-class
feminists analyzing their personal lives as isolated,
dependent housewives (Friedan’s The Feminine
Mystique of 1964)
the battle of the sexes
wives battling husbands to discover the secret
husbands fighting against the fear of feminism even
when their wives aren’t rebelling
husbands are the villains and conspirators, instead of
fellow victims of gender inequality
Joanna talks back aggressively to men in the film
“Not with you.”
“You don’t look like someone who enjoys making other
men win this battle by killing their wives, “because we
the personal is political
CR: consciousness-raising groups in which women
talk about their lives and learn to recognize their
oppression within the limits of wife / mother / daughter
spatial problematics of the suburb vs. city
hearing and sharing personal stories created bonds
among women, “sisterhood”
middle-class white women wanted
careers, not just jobs
to be taken seriously instead of objectified or infantilized
partners involved in child care and housework
Joanna and Bobbie: feminists?
Joanna insists she isn’t radical “bra-burner”
Joanna wants a career, Bobbie doesn’t seem to
both seem to miss the city lifestyle
both are very fashionable, pretty, thin, and sexy
fashions not as old-fashioned as the robot wives
they do resist the men’s evil plot, but too late
feminist ideological criticism
character: representations of women (virgins, victims,
plot: sexist society (women punished, repressed, killed)
mise-en-scène: atmosphere, motifs, costumes
gender in society: can men and/or women escape
patriarchy? can they live outside it?
is the movie sexist? feminist? backlash? ambivalent?
feminist film theory
Diz watching Joanna in the kitchen
camera POV = male POV
Is this scene merely a good example of Mulvey’s
thesis that classical Hollywood cinema’s default POV
is male? Or does this scene highlight that and critique
How is the audience positioned here—to identify with
Diz? with Joanna? Or ?
Lilly Ann Boruzkowski:
The film depicts and confronts a modern patriarchal
fear: that, strengthened by the women's movement,
contemporary women have gained sufficient
knowledge and power to refuse to be defined and
oppressed by education, family structures,
socialization, and ideological brainwashing. The film
indicates that when the traditional means of sustaining
the patriarchy begin to fail, then men must find a new
means of oppression.
Elyce Rae Helford:
We see sisterhood reduced to a battle of the sexes on
white middle-class men’s terms. We see feminist
goals limited to the vague and elitist goals of a
classist, racist, and heterosexist suburban club of
young, thin, “beautiful” women. And we see a CR
group that renders grassroots activism absurd excess.
Yet we also see depictions of articulate, sincere
women attempting to resist the white middle-class
feminine mystique and a critique of the reduction of
intelligent women to media dupes.
1. Do you think the movie has an effective feminist
message? Why or why not?
2. Do you think the characters of Joanna and
Bobbie are feminists? Do you sympathize with
them? Why or why not?
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