Guest Post by RossanaFavero-Karunaratna – STEPFORD LIFE

If you ever watched a film named “Stepford Wives” (1975 ) you will remember the plot involved the dream of certain men to have the perfect wife, submissive, totally dedicated to a life involving looking after their rich houses and attending social events. It’s a society only for the privileged ones, where the protagonist, a talented professional woman, happily married with children, finds out that women are being brainwashed and turned into robotic beings. At the end she falls in the trap and becomes one of the robots.

A 2004 remake of the film showed a different scenario.

In this case a woman was the leader of this exclusive society. “Distraught over the loss of her husband, Claire explains that she created Stepford because she, too, was a bitter, career-minded woman, a tired brain surgeon. When she discovered that Mike was having an affair, she murdered him and his lover in a jealous rage. Deciding to make the world ‘more beautiful’, she created her robot husband, partly because he was someone other men would listen to. When Joanna- the protagonist- wonders aloud why Claire didn’t simply make the men into robots, she replies that she planned to turn the whole community into robots…Six months later Larry King appears interviewing Joanna and her friends about their experiences in Stepford. They were all successful while the irate wives have taken over Stepford and forced their husbands to atone for their crimes by placing them under house arrest making them to complete many of the same domestic tasks that the men had forced the women to do”.(Source: Wikipedia)

The plot and its variations lead us basically to Joanne Eberhart, the protagonist, who becomes a threat to that possibility to a total male dominated sphere, where other kind of life is not possible. “Power and Control” are the key issues.

The films came to my mind in moments when we discuss spaces and development in Sri Lanka, especially in relation to Colombo. Exclusive surroundings are being created and we see new constructions appearing rapidly in the urban scenario, while we don’t dedicate much time or planning to reflect in the possibility of creating spaces where new roles can be constructed. No government has so far implemented a vision to eradicate violence against women and discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, social status, among other factors. Creating “lifelike robots”, can be equivalent to “creating” individuals that do not question or make different choices, individuals that are just interested in what they wear and where to have a good time. Modernity cannot be assimilated to reproducing sexist and abusive roles against women.

Some progress has been made, but the numbers of the victims of gender violence continue to be high.Women are killed by relatives, their partners, their own children and it does not matter how beautiful a landscape is if gender violence continues to exist.

In the field of Architecture, new designs have been incorporated to create different spaces that can promote empowerment. Some architects have started to look after the design of traditional shelters and how it protects- or not- the lives of women and their children.

Mahlum, an architecture firm and a website named Building Dignity give domestic violence agencies resources and models to change and really transform the way shelters are structured and generate empowerment and autonomy for women.

A real transformation of the space compels us to further reflect about the impact of those changes we bring to. How will the social order be affected? Gender sensitive designs can be part of the strategy to protect the dignity of all women and prevent violence.

RossanaFavero-Karunaratna
LLB (U.Catolica, Peru) LLM (Warwick,UK)

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