A film studies professor once told me that everything you need to know about a movie is revealed in the first five minutes. This is particularly true of The Stepford Wives.
In the opening scene of Bryan Forbes's 1975 original, Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) takes a long, scrutinizing look at herself in the bathroom mirror. Her reaction is one of mild surprise, then subtle resignation, as if she's thinking, That's me?…Oh, well. She appears wistful and introspective as she walks around the silent Manhattan apartment that has been emptied for her family's move to the suburbs. Compare this to the start of Frank Oz's 2004 version: Joanna (Nicole Kidman), a powerhouse network executive, struts like a supermodel up to a podium, delivers a self-congratulatory speech, and previews the coming season's reality shows to a huge industry crowd. The mood is loud, flashy, and in-your-face. The difference between the two scenes is night and day, and therein, as my professor foretold, is everything we need to know.
The first thing you see is food. a breastlike dome of cake towers at the top of the ad, frosted pink with a raspberry on top. “It’s like dessert for your legs,” declares the text, and just in case this copy wasn’t clear, below it a pair of cellulite-free gams balances a bottle of Skintimate After-Shave Gel in lieu of icing.
From the ancient Greeks to the current Queer Eyes, the cocktail of knowledge, ideals, aesthetics, and manners that makes up the concept of taste has served as a tireless organizing principle for a class-based society (and really, is there any other kind?). Like all organizing principles, taste is a construction rather than a law of nature: It’s almost impossible to say why, for instance, we believe it’s in good taste to put flatware in a certain order, or in bad taste to wear vinyl pants to your cousin’s wedding.
To stroll the aisles of your local Toys “R” Us is to venture into the heart of gender darkness. Whether you believe that boys emerge from the womb with dump trucks clutched in their tiny fists or see toys as an early means by which kids are trained to hew to culturally determined gender differences, you’ll find plenty of evidence to back you up. (It basically comes down to how you interpret all that pink.)
Few would debate the fact that before the civil rights and women’s liberation movements percolated into mass culture, representations of black/white relationships in popular media, particularly Hollywood, were thoroughly unbalanced. Viewed in retrospect, seemingly amicable duos like Uncle Tom and Eva, Scarlett O’Hara and Mammy, and Shirley Temple and Bill Bojangles make us cringe with the obviousness of the black character’s one-way caregiving role. The minstrelization of African-Americans—alternately portrayed as countrified nurturers or urban entertainers—reveals the extent of their oppression in Hollywood. But a look at contemporary film exposes the perhaps more troubling fact that little has changed, and nowhere does this become clearer than in narratives that take on the societal ramifications of interracial romance.
"Analysis is hard, it's complicated, and it disturbs the comfortable simplicity of familiar worldviews." So writes Susan Bordo, professor of English and women's studies at the University of Kentucky. And she should know: Her incisive writings on a wide variety of topics cut through thickets of controversy and rhetoric to produce a fine, elegant, and, above all, resonant analysis.
You flip to your local Clear Channel station to find a shock jock “joking” about where kidnappers can most easily buy nylon rope, tarps, and lye for tying up, hiding, and dissolving the bodies of little girls. Reuters runs an important international news brief about a Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning for an alleged sexual infraction—in its “Oddly Enough” section, where typical headlines include “Unruly Taxi Drivers Sent to Charm School.”
“At least 19 victims, mostly men and children, were taken for treatment to the hospital in Kandahar.” “The Israeli missile...took the lives of at least 14 other people—including three men and nine children.” “Tens of thousands, including men, children and the elderly, were victims of chemical weapons attacks.”
These quotes from recent news articles may read a bit strangely, but they’re all accurate (from the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Los Angeles Times, respectively), with only one change: Each story documented the number of female victims, not male. The gender swap clarifies one writer’s point: “It’s bad enough that innocent people died, but they were among society’s most vulnerable.”
When i was 8, my father organized a present for my sisters and me to give my mom for Mother’s Day: a pressure cooker, wrapped up with other fun kitchen items like tea towels, pop-up sponges, spatulas, and an apron. It seemed like a good idea—Mom was the one who was always in the kitchen, and this was the day to celebrate her. But the minute she opened her present, even I knew we had the wrong idea.
Oprah says it. My yoga instructor says it. College students around the country say it. The cast of Friends says it, as do my own friends, over and over again. At least 10 to 20 times a day, I hear someone say “you guys” to refer to groups or pairs that include and in some cases consist entirely of women.