In an era where acceptance and assimilation have an increasingly blurred boundary, The Stepford Wives becomes the tragedy of a generation of activists slain by those who call themselves allies.
Since its publication in 1972, the ubiquity of Ira Levin’s dark satire novel The Stepford Wives has been almost unquestionable. With millions of copies sold, two movie adaptations (one passable, one frankly terrible), and a permanent place in the vernacular with the term ‘Stepford wife’, Levin has inspired a generation of social horror and brought a very real sense of the terror of everyday prejudice into the limelight. With this political niche of horror growing in popularity after the success of 2017’s social horror masterpiece Get Out, we are reminded again and again that the patterns we see in fiction are replicated in society at large. The victims of horror are the victims in reality too. Social horror presents us with a tension marked by very clear social categorisations that are easier for many to ignore in reality: black versus white, men versus women, oppressor versus oppressed. Battle lines in horror are drawn clearly for those who choose to see them, and protagonists are left to deal with the messy in-betweens, the people they love, and the betrayals of trust involved. For those unfamiliar with Levin’s sinister suburb, The Stepford Wives tells the story of Joanna Eberhart, a feminist/photographer/mother/housewife who has moved with her family from a bustling city to the idyllic Stepford, a suburb with unassuming middle-class professionals and their submissive, carbon-copy wives. From the very beginning, it is clear that something is amiss in Stepford, and the novel tells the story of Joanna uncovering a conspiracy against Stepford’s women, coordinated by the men of the town. The novel has been lauded for its prescience, with Levin presenting a world in which perfection is the biggest aberration, where against the backdrop of the rise of second-wave feminism, these Stepford wives are the biggest abnormality, not the feminist protagonist who questions them.