Posted by A. Gresham on 3/26/2001
A woman from a world without men. A feminist during the Women's Liberation in the 70s. A woman trying her best to fit in to her patriarchal society in the 60s. A female assassin from a period where men and women are warring against each other. What do they all have in common? Well, you'll have to read Joanna Russ' THE FEMALE MAN for the answer to that question, but you'll be glad you did. Russ' science fiction novel compares the lives of four women from parallel universes and their relations - or lack thereof - with men. Written during the height of the women's lib movement in 1975, The Female Man boldly attempts to reconsider our patriarchal society and to question woman's place in this world. I found this book extremely intelligent, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Russ created highly plausible and interesting characters with which I could relate and found believable. While much of the novel deals with feminist issues, it is done in a reasonable fashion and yet it creates controversy at the same time - a good duo in my opinion. I found Russ' writing style of jumping back and forth between character, narrator, and time period very confusing at first, but after a while I was able to catch on just fine. I really liked this method of telling the story because Russ allows you to enter into the mind of all the characters so as to get a different perspective on the same incident and to further one's understanding of the characters and events. I would highly recommend this book to anyone - male or female - who claims to like science fiction and especially those who say they do not - I'm converted!:-)
What do the women in Whileaway do with their hair? ?
Posted by Anonymous on 2/10/2003
... They chop it off with clamshells. There was a time when speculative-fiction (or science-fiction, pick your term) was filled with writers who experimented and challenged the status quo. These writers, people like Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delaney, and Joanna Russ, are challenging, talented, and even funny when they want to be. If you are open minded, try reading them and their peers.
That background out of the way, of all the books in the speculative fiction genre I've read, this is my favorite. First off, yes, "The Female Man" is a feminist book. Guys, getting scared off at this point would be a bad idea. Jeannine's tragic life is something anyone forced into a role they can't stand will identify with. Janet's life is hilarious and exhilarating, filled with Whileawayan philosophy and sayings. Jael, aka "Sweet Alice", lives in a world that is as dark as Jeannine's and as strange as Janet's, but she has the power to take control of it. Lastly, Joanna, the author's mouthpiece, is the glue that ties the other three women together. The book is entertaining and nearly impossible to put down. The humor is perfect and the feminist ideas presented by Russ are still relevant today. Be happy that Russ has the ability to fling her readers across time and space then shoot them back, because few can make a book this fun and yet this sad.
Many of the reviews here on Amazon.com are from people who just don't seem to "get it". Russ and her peers didn't always write novels that were neat and orderly, and this one in particular can drive the close-minded insane. Russ' style is closer to a James Joyce than a Charlotte Perkins Gillman or an Isaac Asimov, so be willing to read this book on her terms and hers alone. If you can do that, there is little to fear. Russ is a rebel, and at one point in the novel she even predicts the negative reaction of literary critics on her book and provides examples of the reviews she believed they would write. Think about that for a minute, she put fake negative reviews for "The Female Man" in "The Female Man" itself to prove a point about our uptight society. That's just a classic moment, and when you see that it perfectly mingles with the rest of the content and doesn't upset the flow, you can bow before this great novel yourself.
Thought provoking, for all genders
Posted by Michael Battaglia on 7/5/2000
I'm a guy. Just thought I'd get that out of the way before I write this. I knew this was considered a classic of science fiction before I even found a used copy, but I have to admit that I wasn't looking all that forward to reading it. For one the cover (the old original one on the paperback) is a garish thing, basically a feathered woman putting on another skin. Plus I knew the book was about female issues and specifically issues that came up during movements that started in the seventies, when the book was written. At least it was short, I told myself. I'd get it over with quick. Boy, was I surprised. Not only does this rank among the best books I've ever read, but it gave me a lot to think about. Part of that has to do with Russ' style, she cascades all sorts of chapters together, bouncing back and forth, her prose is excellent, not just femenist rhetoric, she brings up all sorts of points about everything. And her contrast of the different worlds, there's Joanna's world, which is like ours (she's the female trying to be liberated), and Jeannine's world, where the Depression never ended (she's meek and just wants to go along with the group, essentially), then there's Janet's, where men don't exist at all (my favorite scene is where the newspeople ask how she has sex if there are no men and Janet explains to their dismay). There's one other too but that's a surprise. The style is sometimes confusing at first, sometimes you don't know who is narrating or which character is which but after a while it all starts falling together. Russ peppers it with her own observations throughout, my favorite being when she anticipates the reviews the book is going to get (not good ones). Is it angry? Sure but back then she had a lot to be angry about, and she comes across rationally through, her anger is righteous and not of the "all men should die!" type of rage. Like I said, it gives guys and gals lots to ponder and deserves to be wider read. The style may be off putting but the message is clear as anything. You just have to dig a little with thought to figure it out.
Russ Destroys the "Star Wars" Patriarchy Single Handed!
Posted by Eric Hartlep on 11/27/1999
Most "classic" science fiction uses the devices of the genre - alien monsters, lightspeed ships, evil empires to be overcome - to mask the basic fact that, despite the high-tech window dressing, the books still promulgate the old ways of doing things: man on top, woman making the coffee and changing the diapers (even if she wears a space suit at the time). Not surprisingly, Joanna Russ will have none of that in any of her books, but particularly not The Female Man, which may be her best (though "Souls" in her award-winning volume (Extra)Ordinary People may be an easier read for some - and still just as hard-hitting). In The Female Man, Russ uses the very old SF device of time travel to bring contrasting characters together for the sheer pleasure of watching the man-centered universe fly wildly apart.
///Sidebar: What male-centered science fiction universe? Try reading Russ's take on the Star Wars phenomenon (the original episode), in her essay SF and Technology as Mystification (in To Write Like a Woman, U of Indiana Press): "After the hero's mother (disguised as his aunt) dies, there is only one woman left in the entire universe (Princess L.)." Yes, Star Wars came out after Female Man, but it's all-male premise was born many decades before.///
I must dismiss any cries of complaint about the "disjoined" sequence of events in Female Man. The time-shifting she used is little different from that in such classics as Conrad's The Secret Agent (where anarchist bombs constantly disrupt the PHYSICAL plotting of the book)or Philip K. Dick's Martian Time Slip (which is constantly jumping about in time and space); nor is it much different from the movie Pulp Fiction, which broke & rearranged the narrative at several points. As for Jael, the violent, psychotic assassin of The Female Man's later chapters, it will do the reader good to notice that her earlier incarnations - especially Jeannine, from 1970s earth - find her violence just as horrifying as does any reader! I suspect that if Jael had been male, her combination of "time-travelling secret agent" and "openly sadistic murderer" would not have seemed so out of line. After all, most of the Cyberpunk genre is filled with similar (male) characters, and nobody flinches a bit. No, the beauty and value of a book like this is that it upsets so many on the one side, while making the rest shout "Finally!" The Female Man remains unrelenting and unrepentant - attributes many find acceptable (even positive) in males, but dangerous and "anti-feminine" in females. If nothing else, The Female Man asks one simple question: Can Science Fiction (and/or the world) progress while still shackled by the rotting corpse of the feminine mystique?