In Stepford Daughters, Johanna Isaacson explores an emerging wave of horror films that get why class horror and gender horror must be understood together.
In doing so, Isaacson makes the case that this often-maligned genre is in fact a place where oppressed people can understand, navigate and confront an increasingly ugly and horrifying world. Films like Hereditary and The Babadook show women coming apart at the seams as the promises of both the family and waged work fail them. In Get Out, we see how poor women and women of color perform the invisible labor that holds up our society, experiencing domestic work as a kind of possession. In “coming of rage” films such as Assassination Nation and Teeth, we see the ways social reproduction leads to a futureless horizon. Robbed of their dreams but not their power to resist, these heroines emerge as the monsters and avengers we need.
Introduction: "Class Horror is Gender Horror"
Combining Marxist and feminist analysis, it makes a case for social reproduction feminism as a theory that understands that capitalist logic is always gendered.
Chapter One: "It's Coming from Inside/Outside the House: Horror as Care Strike"
Discusses the horror genre as a place that doesn’t see the home as a protection from “the other,” but as itself a source of horror. For example, using the film Hereditary, which illustrates the family as a source of terror, it discusses the resurgence of a call for “family abolition.”
Chapter Two: "It's Coming from Inside the Boss’s House: Horror and the Domestic Worker"
This chapter explores social reproduction and horror through looking at waged domestic work. Looking at films including Housekeeping, Get Out, and La Llarona, it makes the case that while reproductive labor is often personified by the bourgoise housewife poor and women of color domestic workers and surplus populations are the most exploited and diagnostic categories of social production.
Chapter Three: "It's Coming from Inside the Telltale Managed Heart: Service Labor and Emotional Labor in Horror"
This chapter looks at the ways that the contemporary boom in service work leads to the expansion of emotional labor as a key element of social reproduction. Horror movies in which figures such as personal assistants and sex workers appear, give us a way to understand the problems when love becomes labor, or when a person becomes alienated from her own smile.
Chapter Four: "Girls Gone Wild: Coming of Rage into the Futureless Future"
This chapter explores the crisis of social production as it produces a sense of futurelessness–the contemporary girls of horror are monstrous in the sense that they threaten the social order as we know it. They are utopian in that the carry a hope that witches and final girls will not give into passivity, but fight for a new, unimaginable world.
Conclusion: "Violent Femmes against Rape Economies"
The book concludes with the film American Mary and a consideration of questions in feminism about rape culture and how these questions connect to theories of social reproduction.
Capitalism and patriarchy create monsters—but inside the darkness there lurks a strange utopia. In Stepford Daughters, Johanna Isaacson explores an emerging wave of horror films that get why class horror and gender horror must be understood together. In doing so, Isaacson makes the case that this often-maligned genre is in fact a place where oppressed people can understand, navigate and confront an increasingly ugly and horrifying world.
What happens when your smile is no longer yours? Films like Hereditary and The Babadook show women coming apart at the seams as the promises of both the family and waged work fail them. In Get Out, we see how poor women and women of color perform the invisible labor that makes society run while experiencing domestic work as a kind of possession. In “coming of rage” films such as Assassination Nation and Teeth, we see the ways social reproduction leads to a futureless horizon. Robbed of their dreams but not their power to resist, these heroines emerge as the monsters and avengers we need.
Authors: Johanna Isaacson
Publisher: Common Notions
Published: October 2022
Size: 5.5 x 8.5
Page count: 208
Subjects: Feminism/Social Reproduction/Horror
About the Author
Johanna Isaacson writes academic and popular pieces on horror and politics. She is a professor of English at Modesto Junior College and a founding editor of Blind Field Journal. She is the author of The Ballerina and the Bull, has published widely in academic and popular journals, and runs the Facebook group "Anti-capitalist Feminists Who Like Horror Films."
“Johanna Isaacson’s Stepford Daughters is a brilliant and critically important elucidation of how ‘class horror is gender horror’ in the twenty-first century. The book explores twenty contemporary horror films that depict how public and private, work and family, have become intertwined under neoliberal politics—and how labor at home and in the workplace has become increasingly feminized and devalued. With an incisive theoretical framework and incredibly rich and illuminating readings, Isaacson’s book offers a much-needed approach to horror, eloquently demonstrating how horror films can both diagnose the problems of neoliberal and gendered capitalism and give us monstrous figures who resist and transform.” —Dawn Keetley, editor of Jordan Peele's Get Out: Political Horror
“Johanna Isaacson is a worthy successor to Robin Wood and Carol Clover, and Stepford Daughters deftly analyzes some of the most popular and accomplished contemporary horror films at the nexus of feminism and capitalism. Full of brilliant insights that apply decades of feminist theory to horror cinema, this is essential reading for horror scholars, pop culture enthusiasts, and anyone who desires a greater insight into the intersectional dynamics of the capitalist class war.” —Michael Truscello, author of Infrastructural Brutalism: Art and the Necropolitics of Infrastructure
“Surveying dozens of recent horror films and engaging a rich critical archive of social reproduction theory, Stepford Daughters makes provocative and evocative interventions into contemporary cultural theory. A leading scholar in the field of horror criticism whose work is also broadly accessible, Isaacson offers readings that are at once militant and playful, and she persuasively locates in the horror genre a radical current of Marxist-feminist critique that we need now more than ever”. —Annie McClanahan, author of Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and 21st-Century Culture
“In this brilliant and compulsively readable book, Johanna Isaacson unpacks a bunch of recent horror films, focusing on what they tell us about gender and class oppression. Horror films in the 21st century are a kind of social realism. They hold a mirror up to social conditions that are so ubiquitous and so commonly taken for granted that we have forgotten that we can fight back against them. Isaacson shows us how horror films can work as tools for understanding, and even for social transformation.” —Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University
“Johanna Isaacson's Stepford Daughters draws from social reproduction to explore the way in which contemporary horror illustrates the intimacy of exploitation. It proposes not just a new understanding of recent horror films, but a groundbreaking illustration of the monstrosity of daily life under contemporary capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy.”—Jason Read, author of The Production of Subjectivity: Marx and Philosophy
"Stepford Daughters is a powerful exploration of the trans-generational horror of women’s experience under contemporary capitalism. In an analysis attentive to the possibilities of horror film as a mode of realism, which explores in horror form the anxieties that shape our lives, Isaacson expertly brings together Marxism, feminism, and Queer readings into exciting new configurations. Tapping into the 21st-century horror film renaissance, Stepford Daughters offers an insightful reading of our bad times and how we might end them.” —Benjamin Noys, author of Malign Velocities: Accelerationism & Capitalism
“Johanna Isaacson is one of the boldest, most lucid critics working on horror today. Stepford Daughters includes some of her most original and paradigm-defining works on the subject, opening in particular a whole new avenue of thinking regarding the intersections between class and gender in horror. Full of exciting insights and bravura readings, this book is a landmark not only for the study of horror, but for the study of contemporary cinema in general.” —Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, author of Screening Neoliberalism: Transforming Mexican Cinema, 1988–2012
"Jo Isaacson is one of Marxist feminism’s leading lights, and this box of “tools” for horror viewers is more like an arsenal, chockful of weapons with which to abolish the present state of things. Teaching us how to read both with and against the grain of domestic horror cinema, uncovering the bathtubs full of blood in the “hiddener abodes” of social reproduction, Stepford Daughters is a true triumph of cultural criticism, and beautifully written, to boot. Via entertaining and ingeniously grouped readings of movies by turns scary, gory, creepy and uncanny, Isaacson takes us on a denaturalizing journey through housework, motherhood, stratified reproduction, emotional labor, migrant and indigenous oppression, and queer monstrosity, bravely pointing towards the horizon called “abolition of the family.” In these pages, we experience the full potential of the critically utopianist “antiwork” sensibility for which Blind Field, the journal of cultural inquiry Isaacson co-founded, is best known. Inside these elegant interlocking critiques, we glimpse horizons of social possibility beyond the family, beyond whiteness, beyond gender, beyond the state, and beyond capital itself."—Sophie Lewis, author of Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation