Cristina Odone no longer wants a Stepford husband

Today's men are motivated by insecurity, the women by ambition

I thought I wanted a Stepford husband. A docile, smartly dressed ever-purring sex machine with flawless DIY skills. In short, I used to dream of a male version of that feminist anti-heroine, the Stepford wife. The book and the film, you will remember, brought a young Manhattan wife to an affluent suburb, where she quickly found that Something Was Not Quite Right in Stepford. The women were all housewives with vacant, mascara-lashed eyes and 36DD busts. They chirped in delightful unison about their husbands' virtues, and were always ready to pleasure him. A man's fantasy personified?

Certainly, it continues to be many men's secret fantasy - which explains why Hollywood is preparing a remake of the film, starring Nicole Kidman. Your regular Joe no longer dares express his longing for the Stepford wife (she'd have to be a "partner", for a start); yet even today an affluent man can fulfil his fantasy. And he does. Go to a chi-chi holiday spot or peer in at first class on any airline and you will find couples that look like a 21st-century cut-out of that 1970s film: he is a heavy-jowled, pin-striped tycoon, she a breathless, bejewelled poppet half his size and age.

Well, if rich honchos can find themselves an undemanding trophy wife, why can't a reasonably prosperous career woman find a similarly meek and glossy male?

The truth is, she can; but she won't want him. Unlike today's men, who are motivated by insecurity, today's woman is motivated by ambition. His self-doubts (prompted by being challenged by an entirely new foe in those areas he once ruled) call for an adoring, unquestioning, obedient other half who must occupy a lower rung on the ladder of success (measured in fortune, looks or fame). We women, instead, buoyed by the professional progress we have enjoyed over the past three decades, feel aspirational in our partner-search. We want someone whose own respectable - even enviable - status confirms that we're intellectually valid, financially sound and aesthetically pleasing. We want a match - or even someone who's slightly above us on the ladder of success and may hoist us up with him on to his own rung. We believe in mobility - we've come so far, we see no reason to stop. Men, instead, seem to hanker for an old-fashioned, reassuringly static world, where the pecking order is clear: he comes above her.

They deserve no one better than their dopey Stepford wives.

This article first appeared in the 17 February 2003 issue of the New Statesman, As the world protests against war, we hear again the lies of old