US Cinema of the 1970s:
Feminism, Spectatorship, and The
Stepford Wives
Prof. Julia Leyda
September 10, 2013
quiz
gender in the 70s
 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match Billie Jean King vs.
Bobby Riggs, 1973
 majority of women work out...
sexual revolution and feminism
 more permissive attitudes about heterosexual sex:
 porn
 “swinging” singles and wife-sw...
Stepford reception in 1975
 feminists criticized the movie’s pessimism and
hyperbole, felt it ridiculed the women’s movem...
“She cooks as good as she looks, Ted.”
discussion questions
 Do you think the use of the horror genre is a good
choice for this movie’s message? Why or why not?...
pop culture feminism in Stepford
 feminist mottoes and catchphrases in popular media
and implied in the film
 The Battle...
the battle of the sexes
 wives battling husbands to discover the secret
 husbands fighting against the fear of feminism ...
POV: Joanna and Diz
the personal is political
 CR: consciousness-raising groups in which women
talk about their lives and learn to recognize ...
fear and isolation at home
Joanna and Bobbie: feminists?
 Joanna insists she isn’t radical “bra-burner”
 Joanna wants a career, Bobbie doesn’t seem...
Joanna and Bobbie
feminist ideological criticism
 content analysis
 character: representations of women (virgins, victims,
sex objects)
 ...
feminist film theory
 Diz watching Joanna in the kitchen
 male gaze
 female objectification
 camera POV = male POV
 I...
Lilly Ann Boruzkowski:
The film depicts and confronts a modern patriarchal
fear: that, strengthened by the women's movemen...
Elyce Rae Helford:
We see sisterhood reduced to a battle of the sexes on
white middle-class men’s terms. We see feminist
g...
discussion questions
1. Do you think the movie has an effective feminist
message? Why or why not?
2. Do you think the char...
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70s6. Feminism, Specatorship, and The Stepford Wives

  1. 1. US Cinema of the 1970s: Feminism, Spectatorship, and The Stepford Wives Prof. Julia Leyda September 10, 2013
  2. 2. quiz
  3. 3. 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
  4. 4. sexual revolution and feminism  more permissive attitudes about heterosexual sex:  porn  “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
  5. 5. 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 movement”  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
  6. 6. “She cooks as good as she looks, Ted.”
  7. 7. discussion questions  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?
  8. 8. 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 women  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)
  9. 9. 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 people happy.”  men win this battle by killing their wives, “because we can”
  10. 10. POV: Joanna and Diz
  11. 11. 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 roles  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
  12. 12. fear and isolation at home
  13. 13. 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
  14. 14. Joanna and Bobbie
  15. 15. feminist ideological criticism  content analysis  character: representations of women (virgins, victims, sex objects)  plot: sexist society (women punished, repressed, killed)  mise-en-scène: atmosphere, motifs, costumes  cultural analysis  gender in society: can men and/or women escape patriarchy? can they live outside it?  is the movie sexist? feminist? backlash? ambivalent?
  16. 16. feminist film theory  Diz watching Joanna in the kitchen  male gaze  female objectification  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 it?  How is the audience positioned here—to identify with Diz? with Joanna? Or ?
  17. 17. 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.
  18. 18. 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.
  19. 19. discussion questions 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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