JOANNA RUSS’S THE FEMALE MAN (1975) Utopianism and Feminist Utopianism Joanna Russ, born in 1937 and died in 2011, was born in New York.Studying science in a college, she met the world of literature, then she turnedherself to feminist science fiction in which she would combine her knowledgeabout science and her belief about women’s equality. Sarah LeFanu declared that Russ was the “thesingle most important woman writer of science fiction” (173). According toRuss, “Science fiction is a natural in a way for any kind of radical thought.
Because it is about things that have not happened and do not happen. It’susually placed in future, but not always. It is very fruitful if you want topresent to concerns of a marginal group because you do it in a world wherethings are different” (Delany and Russ 29).
The turbulent period, lasted during the late 1960s and early 1970s,”significantly awakended subversive utopianism” (Moylan 10). Moylan also statesthat utopia becomes a powerful tool in order to oppose to the permanent system”by forging visions of what is not yet realized either in theory or practice.In generating such figures of hope, utopia contributes to the open space ofopposition” (1–2).
He goes on saying:As much as those uprisings, coded around the year 1968 but springingfrom the oppositions of the 1950s and the late 1940s, might have been defeatedby state suppression or contained by ideological reduction to individualnarcissism, hip-capitalism, or even ‘Clean for Gene McCarthy’ reformism,their spirit survived in a continuing activism that marked a return to thehuman agenda of the categories of cooperation, equality, mutual aid,liberation, ecological wisdom, and peaceful and creative living. This revivedlonging for the not yet realized potential of the human community was expressedin many ways in the emerging oppositional culture of the late 1960s and the 1970s.(10)Therefore, the 1970s were tumultuous time, and characterized byrejection of commitment to the absolute truths blended with strict norms. AfterJohn F. Kennedy’s assassination, the era witnessed the student protests of the1968s, and the anti-Vietnam war campaigns.
Moreover, patriarchal socialstructure was also shattered by the footsteps of feminism, women’s movement andcivil rights movement. Therefore, the monotonic social structure of the 1960sturned out to be polyphonic structure. In The Female Man, Joanna, the contemporary women narrator,changes into “a female man” rising up against the imposed gender roles: “I hadjust changed into a man, me, Joanna. I mean a female man, of course; my bodyand soul were exactly the same.
So, there’s me also” (5). She declares that shedoesn’t need to be accepted by others because she embraces herself, “For years I have been saying Let me in, Loveme, Approve me, Define me, Regulate me, Validate me, Support me. Now I say Move over” (140; emphasis in original).
Russ states that sciencefiction gained its independence from male oppression in the 1970s because up tothat time both women and men had to look at the genre from male perspective.However, the revolutionary era- the 1970s- enabled women to prove themselves inthe era. Moreover, they found a chance to deal with the main problem: women’splace in the society. Thus, science fiction was revolutionary in the 1970sbecause it provided feminist writers a chance to create a world where men’sdominance was over, and society was free of inequalities. Russ, in “What Can aHeroine Do?” states that science fiction broadened impacts of feminism byerasing male dominance in the era:Science fiction, political fiction, parable, allegory, exemplum–allcarry a heavier intellectual freight (and self-consciously so) than we are usedto. All are didactic.
All imply that human problems are collective, as well asindividual, and take these problems to be spiritual, social, perceptive, orcognitive …. I would go even farther and say that science fiction, politicalfiction (when successful), and the modes (if not the content) of much medievalfiction all provide myths for this dealing with the kinds of experiences we areactually having now, instead of the literary myths we have inherited, whichonly tell us about the kinds of experiences we think we ought to be having.(92)Not surprisingly, Russ influenced the development of science fiction notonly with her stories but also with her reviews and essays. Her essays “WhatCan a Heroine Do? Or, Why Women Can’t Write” (1972), “The Image of Women inScience Fiction” (1974), and “Towards an Aesthetic of Science Fiction” (1975)are very influential in the field of feminist science fiction. As a feministwriter, she treated these issues in her works. Similarly, in The Female Man,Russ builds a structure based on women’s problems, and she successfullychallenges discourse of patriarchy. The roots of the story has originated in”When It Changed.
” It was published in Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions (1972). Russ gained feminist awareness in a conference held in 1969 at CornellUniversity where Russ was an instructor. In the conference, there were someimportant figures such as Betty Friedan and Kate Millett. For Russ, afterreaching consciousness about feminism, the things were really hard because shefelt hatred for those who claimed dominance over women for years, and shewondered if she could live with that anger. (Perry 291). She also notes thatshe wrote The Female Man because of her anger.
She also states that the anger she felt made her moreenergized, and she adds that the story came “right out of her guts.” Russ completed her novel in 1971, but could publish it four years laterbecause the novel was rejected by many publishers as Russ states they didn’tlike “this sort ofself-pitying whine.” She adds that another publisher rejected the book saying,”We published one already.” I think it was Les Guérillères. I had read LesGuérillères by then” (Perry 296). When the book was finally published in1975, it took a lot of attention because Russ successfully intermingleddifferent worlds with parody.
The book brings four protagonists, Joanna,Jeannine, Janet, and Jael, into the forefront. Despite these four protagonistsare identical, they are from different periods. Russ wants her readers to seethe fact that society constructs gender, sexuality and personality.The novel includes both science fictional and utopian characteristics initself.
In the following pages, I will examine the novel in the light offeminist aspects. In this part, I willdeal with the utopian elements of the novel. Readers have been given four Jsand four worlds between which the characters travel and communicate with eachother. With different backgrounds and life styles, these characters sometimesfail to understand the world where they are visitors.
However, having parallel worlds makes the things much morecomplicated, and this notion is not ordinary for utopia. According to AnneCranny-Francis in Feminist Fiction, when Thomas More’s Utopia hasbeen taken into consideration, in a standard utopian text, there is just one”traveller” travelling between different worlds (Cranny-Francis 112). However,having four characters and four worlds at once, creates a different schema tofollow. Tobegin with, readers see Joanna as a feminist woman living in the 1970s; then ina period before the World War II; in a utopic female world of Whileaway; and ina dystopic future world in which women and men are in a continuous war.
Janet, a resident of Whileaway, visits Joanna’s and Jeannine’srespectively. Joanna is in a world which is similar to the world of 1960s, on the otherhand Jeannine, a domestic young woman, lives in the 1930s’ world where GreatDepression still lasts, generation seems to be lost, and WWII did not startyet.She is forced to get married with any man because in order to prove herfemininity she needs to give birth according to the social norms dictated onher.Janet, the visitor, comes from a utopic world of Whileaway, in which womenenjoy being free from sexual and psychological harassment of patriarchy livingin a one-gendered female society. Janet believes that men in Whileaway died ofa plague nearly 900 years ago. Whileaway women utilizes highly advanced technology,they never spend anything in vain. Everything is done with a purpose. Womenhave wives and children.
Therefore, in the novel women enjoy different kinds ofsexuality. After giving birth to a child, women in Whileaway enjoy being amother spending time with their children for a few years. This process is likenedto “a vacation” by Janet. The children in Whileaway has one biological motherand the other mother. In Whileaway, it is believed that early states inchildren’s lives are crucially important:On Whileaway they have a saying: Whenthe mother and child are separated they both howl, the child because it isseparated from the mother, the mother because she has to go back to work. .
..Little Whileawayans are to their mothers both sulk and swank, fun and profit,pleasure and contemplation, a show of expensiveness, a slowing-down of life, anopportunity to pursue whatever interests the women have been forced to neglectpreviously, and the only leisure they have ever had, or will have again untilold age. (49)In Whileaaway, it is believed that a child’s spiritual needs bear becomemore of an issue than physical needs. Therefore; “Food, cleanliness, andshelter are not the mother’s business; Whileawayans say with a straight facethat she must be free to attend to the child’s “finer spiritualneeds.” Then they go off by themselves and roar” (Russ 50). By eliminating men in Whileaway, Russ also creates a world in whichwomen cannot be evaluated compared to men’s norms and expectations.
This iswhy, Janet fails to adopt herself to the worlds she visits. Joanna takes Janetto a party where women and men are together. While men were trying to flirtwith Janet, she finds this situation irritating, and feels humiliated by men’sbehaviors. When she is asked to spend a night, she finds herself fighting witha man, and takes the revenge of all women by winning the fight.In Janet’s harmonious society, everything cannot be seen fromrose-tinted glasses.
Though the society is free from racial and sexualdiscrimination, occasionally women may fight and kill one another. Jael, who isfrom Womanland, claims that the plague is a big lie, “I know. … Whileaway’splague is a big lie.
Your ancestors lied about it. It was I who gave you your’plague,’ my dear, about which you can now pietize and moralize to your heart’scontent; I, I, I, I am the plague” (211). Jael lives in a separated world, menliving in Manland and women living in Womanland in which Jael says there is “the war between Us and Them, (163)which is 40 years old. In terms of technology, when compared to Womanlanders,”Manlanders have more opportunities but since there are no women in theirworld, they buy infants from Womanlanders.
These infants have something incommon: they are all baby-boys (167). When these boys grow up, if they fail toperform the “necessities” manhood, they are forced to have an operation to be awoman. The ones who refuse the operation experience half change. Surgical interventions start at the ageof sixteen:One out of seven fails early and makes the full change; one out of sevenfails later and (refusing surgery) makes only half a change: artists,illusionists, impressionists of femininity who keep their genitalia but whogrow slim, grow languid, grow emotional and feminine, all this the effect ofspirit only. Five out of seven Manlanders make it; these are “real-men.” Theothers are “the changed” or “the half-changed.” All real-men like the changed;some real-men like the half-changed; none of the real-men like real-men, forthat would be abnormal. Nobody asks the changed or half-changed what they like.
(160-161) On the contrary, in Jael’s world,since there are no men, they prefer men robots similar to Jael’s Davy whom Davycalls, “The most beautiful man in the world” (185). “Stay, Davy.” This is one of thekey words that the house “understands”; the central computer will transmit a patternof signals to the implants in his brain and he will stretch out obediently onhis mattress; when I say to the main computer “Sleep,” Davy will sleep.
Youhave already seen what else happens. He’s a lovely limb of the house. Theoriginal germ-plasm was chimpanzee, I think, but none of the behavior isorganically controlled any more. (191-192) With these different worlds, Russ aims to show the possible problemswith satire. However, readers cannot feel comfortable with both with thefemale-gendered world of Whileaway and the separated world of Womanland becausein all these worlds there is different kind of oppression whether they areutopias or dystopias. Therefore, even utopias include totalitarian aspects. Inthe introduction part of his essay, “Utopia and Totalitarianism,” FredericRouvillois writes; The most blatant utopias, withtheir obsession to rehabilte man and condemn him to happiness, do indeed revealtraits that we habitually attribute to totalitarian systems. In the other hand,totalitarian systems- Fascism, Nazism, Stalinist or Chinese Socialism- evenwhen they don’t acknowledge the connection, invariably remind us of utopias,whose goals, mottoes, and means they appropriate.
… The proximity is toofrequent to be accidental.
Utopia and totalitarianism are both engaged in amirroring game, tirelessly sending the same image back and forth as if utopiawere nothing more than the premonition of totalitarianism and totalitarianismthe tragic execution of the utopian dream. Only the distance that separates adream from its realization seems to stand between the two. (n.p.)Despite the fact that Whileaway is called a utopia, it is alsoreflection of totalitarian regyme as well. There are some stricts rules whichmust be obeyed by everybody living in Whileaway. To give an example, everywomenin Whileaway must give birth to a child at the age of thirty. Children shouldbe under the observation of the biological mother until the age of five, afterthat they are sent to away to take education.
In terms of physical force, everybody must contribute to the society byworking, so there is no option for being unemployed. As Rouvillois states,”Utopias never tire of reiterating that the citizen’s body belongs to thecollective” (….).
Similarly, in Whileaway, if one fails to contribute to the society, she has tobe killed. Every step they have to takeis controlled by the society, which makes the utopia resemble dystopia. They are physically flawless. In order tocarry out missions they are given, the differences among the individuals havebeen eliminated. This situation reminds readers of the Totalitarian regimes. Togive an example, in WWII Hitler’s aim was almost the same. Hitler wanted topractice eugenics for the sake of his concept of “ideal man.” Bammer points out: “AsFreud laid out his vision of utopia as a state in which everything would beorderly, rational, and communally purposeful, he paid a last tribute to thevery ideals of the German Enlightenment that Nazism would for all time pervert.
“(19) Therefore, the message that Russ wants to convey is that despite itsperfection, in every utopia, there is a piece of totalitarianism, which shouldbe traced by the readers carefully. In “Towards an Open-Ended Utopia” (1984)Bülent Somay writes that 1960s and 1970s were the years known to betotalitarian, during those years, people were into dystopian fiction ratherthan utopian fiction:Anti-utopia was a reaction against the “perfection” and passiveness ofthe utopias. All the utopias, written until the 20th century, were describing the worlds ruled bydictatorship.
Only the government members would be chosen from the educatedminorities, instead of rich ones. When it was witness by the people in reallife at the beginning of the century, a minority arose supporting “the mostpowerful one” all the time. That was the moment when utopia became just anightmare. (12)Fed up with the suppression and oppression they faced, women writersturned to the scope of dystopia. Similarly, Russ combined both the trace ofutopia dystopia in her work. In the novel, it is stated that the utopian world,Whileaway, has been built a long struggle. After Jael confessing the truthlying behind the myths of the plague which is told to have wiped out all the menfrom Whileaway, it is underlined that after a long-war between men and women,Whileaway was built: Let me give you something to carry away with you, friend: that “plague”you talk of is a lie.
I know. The world-lines around you are not so differentfrom yours or mine or theirs and there is no plague in any of them, not any ofthem. Whileaway’s plague is a big lie. Your ancestors lied about it. It is Iwho gave you your “plague,” my dear, about which you can now pietize andmoralize to your heart’s content; I, I, I, I am the plague, Janet Evason. I andthe war I fought built your world for you, I and those like me, we gave you a thousandyears of peace and love and the Whileawayan flowers nourish themselves on thebones of the men we have slain.
(205) This situation makes both Whileaway and Womanland equally important.Whileaway and Womanland has experienced nearly the same chronical events.Whileaway, despite its pure perfection, is static, there is no possibility fora change. The dystopic world, Womanland, paves way for the utopic world,Whileaway.
In Womanland, women struggle for a better world for themselves. Butin Whileaway, since the world is utopic, there is no possibility for a change,which makes it an “end condition” (Bammer 17). Jael brings hope for salvationfor other women in a world where;Men succeed.Women get married.Men fail.Women get married.Men entermonasteries.
Women get married.Men startwars. Women get married.Men stopthem. Women get married.Dull, dull.(6.8.
1-6)After meeting Jael, Jeannine and Joanna experiences a kind oftransformation. Joanna, who was a passive woman, describes herself with thesewords now: I’m a sick woman, a madwoman, a ball-breaker, a man-eater; I don’tconsume men gracefully with my fire-like red hair or my poisoned kiss; I cracktheir joints with these filthy ghoul’s claws and standing on one foot like ade-clawed cat, rake at your feeble efforts to save yourselves with my talonedhinder feet: my matted hair, my filthy skin, my big fat plaques of green bloodyteeth. (7.1.8) For thesewomen, Jael is the one who they call “our savior,” and makes them go beyond theborders, break the rules, stop living according to the expectations of others: Goodbye to Janet, whom we don’t believe in and whom we deride but who isin secret our savior from utter despair, who appears Heaven-high in our dreamswith a mountain under each arm and the ocean in her pocket, Janet who comesfrom the place where the labia of sky and horizon kiss each other so thatWhileawayans call it The Door and know that all legendary things cometherefrom. Radiant as the day, the Might-be of our dreams, living as she doesin a blessedness none of us will ever know, she is nonetheless Everywoman (206). Joanna who “likes to be Jael,”(205) feels the need for a change, and as it is stated in this quotation, shesounds like Jael. Jael states that despite coming from different time andplace, they are the same woman: We started the same.
… We ought to beequally long-lived but we won’t be. We ought to be equally healthy but we’renot. … We ought to think alike and feel alike and act alike, but of course wedon’t. … I can hardly believe that I am looking at three other myselves”(155-156). Joanna adds that they are not just three women, they are everywomanbecause everywoman encounters the same problems, and they demand their freedom.In the final part of the book, these four Js come together: thenarrator, Joanna, who bears the same name with the writer of the book: JoannaRuss, therefore, Joanna and her three alter-egos take the responsibility ofchanging society, and act. The narrator, directly, asks the women to findthemselves in the book and struggle for a better future free from patriarchalnorms and oppression because Everywoman has the potential to be a strong figuresuch as Jael. Therefore, “this little daughter book” becomes a path to thefreedom.
Go, little book, trot through Texas and Vermont and Alaska and Marylandand Washington and Florida and Canada and England and France; bob a curtsey atthe shrines of Friedan, Millet, Greer, Firestone, and all the rest; behave yourselfin people’s living rooms, neither looking ostentatious on the coffee table norfailing to persuade due to the dullness of your style … Livemerrily, little daughter-book, even if I can’t and we can’t; recite yourself toall who will listen; stay hopeful and wise.
Wash your face and take your placein the Library of Congress, for all books end up there eventually, both littleand big. Do not complain when at last you become quaint and old-fashioned ..
. Do not get glum when you are no longer understood, little book. Donot curse your fate. Do not reach up from readers’ laps and punch the readers’noses.
Rejoice, little book!For on that day, we will be free. (9.7.29)