Utopias Module Week 7: Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975)

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

The Female Man (1975) is Russ's third novel, foreshadowed in the short story "When It Changed" (1972).

What Tom Moylan describes as a "critical utopia."
"She uses utopia as a literary practice; she does not asset utopia as a literary object. ... Whileaway is not the answer, but rather the vision that provokes change." (Demand the Impossible, pp. 56-57)

To adapt Marx (These on Feuerbach): The sf writers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it. See Russ's important essay "The Image of Women in Science Fiction" and Susan Wood's reponse "Women and Science Fiction". Russ says: "There are plenty of images of women in science fiction. The are hardly any women."

How is Russ engaged with using science fiction as a polemical tool?

Multiple viewpoints, from different probabilities:
* Joanna the author in -- more or less -- our world of capitalism, male supremacy, struggling with the contradictions of being on the surface independent but defined by masculine viewpoints. "False promise" (Moylan). It is Joanna who sends the characters -- via her book -- out into the world.
* Janet from the utopian society -- "whom we don't believe in and whom we deride but who is in secret our savior from utter despair."
* Jeannine representing the "enslaved", passive woman from a society where World War Two has not happened and the Depression has continued. (She is not even known by her name: "My whole world calls me Jeannie.") She welcomes Jael's proposition ("You can bring in all the soldiers you want.") as does, in a more oblique way, Joanna: "I committed my first revolutionary act yesterday. I shut the door on a man's thumb."

For much of the book the viewpoint shifts between these characters. But there is also:
* Jael, from the dystopian war between Manland and Womanland. The activist and fighter.

The ending of the book suggests that all stances are needed. All these characters are variants of the same "self".

"Whileaway's plague is a big lie." (Jael) While the separatist utopia might be desirable, we need to consider how we move to there from the "real world".

* Is Russ interrogating sf stories such as Wyndham's "Consider Her Ways" or Philip Wylie's The Disappearance in which the future or alternate world is separated from ours by a "marvel"?

Multiple viewpoints, also multiple styles:
* Humour: satiric vignettes.
* Polemical anecdotes: the child in the car insisting that she overtake -- "beat 'im"
* Factual essay: "My doctor is male. My lawyer is male ..."
* The domestic novel: the pressure upon Jeannine to get married.
* Science fiction: the invention of Whileway: Davy the "sex doll".
* Mock reviews (p. 141)

How far is The Female Man and other feminist utopias shaped by the American Women's Movement? Russ ("Recent Feminist Utopias") suggests that they could not have existed without it: "the works I discuss here are not only contemporaneous with the modern feminist movement but made possible by it." Russ identifies a number of common strands which most feminist utopias adhere to:
* Communalism / tribalism
* Ecology
* Classlessness: of the utopias she cites only Delany's Triton is straitified.
* Sexually permissive (most of the works cited are separatist/Lesbian)
* Female bonding -- opposed to identities (sexual or otherwise) being imposed by men.
* "The rescue of the female child" -- Russ cites, among others, a scene in Woman on the Edge of Time and her 1978 novel The Two of Them but there is also the "Laura" character in TFM.

Whileaway is not a blueprint utopia. How far is Whileaway itself a utopia?

"You cannot fall out of the kinship web" but the "sulky" adolescents are assigned to the labour force where needed. "There were four persons of Three-Quarters Dignity in the car, all quiet, wretched with discontent." Janet has fought duels. She is a cop and is assigned to contact alternative probabilities because she is expendable and "stupid". But compared to the worlds of Joanna and Jeannine?

Jeanne Cortiel, Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ, Feminism, Science Fiction
Tom Moylan, Demand the Impossible
Joanna Russ, "The Image of Women in Science Fiction" in Vertex (Feb 1974)
Joanna Russ, "Recent Feminist Utopias" in Marlene Barr ed., Future Females: A Critical Anthology
Joanna Russ, To Write Like a Woman
Susan Wood, "Women and science fiction" in Algol/Starship (Winter 78/79)

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...