The Female Man by Joanna Russ
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think I wanted to like this much more than I did. It was published in 1975 and seems to have made its rounds as something of a classic feminist novel. It brings up a lot of the usual ideas in feminism, blaming the patriarchy, blaming women who agree with letting themselves be subjugated, and wondering what their role should be if they did cast off the yoke. These are, of course, the same issues still in circulation today.
This novel hasn't taken the rounds of a radicalized political feminist movement since then or has seen the schools all favor women over men since the 1980s, so it's fair to forgive the book for not having anticipated feminism's real rise or to discover that the pendulum can swing too far in either direction. This was written from the heart of someone lost in real disaffection.
The book, from a pure entertainment viewpoint, succeeds fine if you like stream-of-consciousness writing, letting us explore four different kinds of women from four alternate worlds, all of which could have been the same woman.
I think I liked the IDEA of this better than the execution. I also take a bit of umbrage at the lack of discussion about general dual-standards. Women's studies cannot be learned in a vacuum, no matter how much one might wish otherwise, and its narrative conclusions are almost embarrassingly naive. Conceptualized women-only societies could never be this uniform or simple. People are people, and we always make things difficult. It doesn't matter what sex we are.
Even so, I can still give props to this book for being at the past forefront of feminist thought. I just had to read it as if I was unearthing some historical curiosity and ignore the fact that another sex is almost completely missing from the pages except as a creature who brutalizes, rapes, or is the object of financial security for the woman who has no choice in this world but to marry.
Good points, all, but still unjust.
Not all men spout talk of equality but then refuse to listen before eventually attempting to rape the object of their attention. The opposite idea, where women can become just as militant and behave like assassins, rather defeats the purpose of equality as well. Just as women shouldn't have to behave like men to get along in a man's world, there is no talk about how men shouldn't have to behave like women to get along in a woman's world. My issue here is that there is no common ground.
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