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The Female Man by Joanna Russ
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The Female Man (1975)

by Joanna Russ

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Whileaway

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1,488334,992 (3.59)1 / 114
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Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Can't call this one an enjoyable read, but that doesn't seem to be what it's aiming for any way; disjointed, confrontational, purposefully baffling and subversive. Originally gave this 4 stars primarily for being an important book that was a complicated and challenging text about gender and society. Now that some time has passed (four months), I have to revise it down to 2 stars. There's just too much that squicks me out, and basically being intellectually meaty and complex doesn't make up for it's significant problems. It's as problematic a text for me as much of Heinlein's work, so if I'm going to call him out for it, then I can't give Russ a pass.

For its time, I think it was a more relevant text that it is now. Not because women don't still face many of the challenges outlined in the text, but because it tries so hard to not be a standard patriarchal text that it's entirely configured in opposition to expectations rather than actually accomplishing anything new.

The character voices were so similar, virtually indistinguishable in the first two thirds of the book, to the extent I could not tell who was talking. An argument could be made that this is a method of undermining the need for a traditional self, undermining the expectations of the (male) reader or any number of other approaches, but ultimately too frustrating for me as a reader.

Despite the many worlds and travelling between them, this is not what I would call a science fictional book. It is speculative, certainly, but primarily a polemic, and ultimately an unsuccessful polemic.

I feel that the authors agenda, if you can even talk about that anymore, must have been to promote a classic radical feminist society - one with no men - and secondarily to blur and frustrate and confuse expectations so as to be seen as not a man. But what I came away with was that even in her societies with no men, there are traditionally masculine behaviors displayed and engaged in, and there are still awful immoral things that are done by people who are biologically female. It does a passable job at exposing societally based concepts of gender roles, but not gender itself. The text values the biologically female over the biologically male, which I felt undermined the work. These societies are all different from ours, but quite obviously not better in many ways.

Fatal blows for me (and probably for many readers): (1) the one fully realized (graphic?) sex scene in the book is a middle-aged adult person (female) seducing a (female) teenager (age uncertain but almost certainly still a high school student) which was written as a beautiful experience rather than a pedophilic one and (2) in one world there were men who take subservient roles, wear dresses and makeup, and are sex objects for the more "masculine" men, and the degree to which the female characters are disgusted by this and the text ridicules these men seems now a particularly nasty portrayal of queer men that was rather sickening. ( )
1 vote kbellwether | Apr 16, 2018 |
(Nebula Award Nominee: 1975)

Just too disjointed for me to connect with the characters. Ms. Russ is clearly very intelligent, and she writes some very funny dialogue and situations. However, the sporadic nature of the narrative coupled with the constant jumping between protagonists and settings left me more confused than entertained. I'm glad I read this book, but I am unlikely to ever read it again. ( )
  ScoLgo | Jun 23, 2016 |
Feminism is still relevant. This particular brand of it, thankfully not so much. Just - odd. I did not find it enlightening enough to fight past 20% with the almost simultaneous points-of-view. I don't care if all the women are aspects of the same person, or whatever; I still want to know who's thinking & doing what at any one time.

I bet that when I was 19 or 20 I would have absolutely been blown away. If you're young, open to creative writing, interested in feminist history, you'll probably like this. I'm too old and cranky to work this hard for the scraps of enlightenment I can get more pleasurably from other books.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
I don't feel like giving the book a rating, but it was a worthwhile read.

If it hadn't been for the fact that I wanted to tick it off of a list I'm going through, I might not have finished it. It seemed bonkers, and the style certainly made it impossible for me to read it terribly closely and to make sure I understood who was who - quite frankly, I can't say there is any plot in there. But there are some brilliant explorations of different male / female interactions at varying degrees of unhealthiness which at the end make up for the difficulties - which I don't put it past Russ to have deliberately ...plotted.

On second thought: I'll give it a four star rating. ( )
1 vote zangasta | May 29, 2016 |
Of all the books that I read for the SF Reading Challenge on Shelfari, I have to say that this is the worst (and that's saying something considering how much I disliked both Artificial Kid and Neuromancer). The writing style is difficult to read and understand, there are few reasons to like the characters, and I'm just not into all the feminist BS.

I would definitely NOT recommend this book. ( )
  bhabeck | Mar 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joanna Russprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bontrup, HiltrudTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clute, JudithCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drews, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harman, DominicCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, GwynethIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vasilakis, AnastasiaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
This book is dedicated to Anne, to Mary and to the other one and three-quarters billions of us.
First words
I was born on a farm on Whileaway.
Quotations
“I didn’t and don’t want to be a ‘feminine’ version or a diluted version or a special version or a subsidiary version or an ancillary version, or an adapted version of the heroes I admire. I want to be the heroes themselves.”
As my mother once said: the boys throw stones at the frogs in jest.

But the frogs die in earnest.
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Book description
Four women living in parallel worlds, each with a different gender landscape. When they begin to travel to each other's worlds each woman's preconceptions on gender and what it means to be a woman are challenged. Acclaimed as one of the essential works of science fiction and an influence on William Gibson, THE FEMALE MAN takes a look at gender roles in society and remains a work of great power.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807062995, Paperback)

Living in an altered past that never saw the end of the Great Depression, Jeannine, a librarian, is waiting to be married. Joanna lives in a different version of reality: she's a 1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man's world. Janet is from Whileaway, a utopian earth where only women exist. And Jael is a warrior with steel teeth and catlike retractable claws, from an earth with separate-and warring-female and male societies. When these four women meet, the results are startling, outrageous, and subversive.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:43 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"Living in an altered past that never saw the end of the Great Depression, Jeannine, a librarian, is waiting to be married. Joanna lives in a different version of reality: she's a 1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man's world. Janet is from Whileaway, a utopian earth where only women exist. And Jael is a warrior with steel teeth and catlike retractable claws, from an earth with separate--and warring--female and male societies. When these four women meet, the results are startling, outrageous, and subversive"--Cover p. [4].… (more)

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Beacon Press

An edition of this book was published by Beacon Press.

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