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The Female Man

3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  2,942 ratings  ·  257 reviews
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 ea ...more
Paperback, SF Masterworks, 224 pages
Published November 11th 2010 by Gollancz (first published 1975)
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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Snow Queen by Joan D. VingeWild Seed by Octavia E. ButlerBloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. ButlerThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Feminist Science Fiction Library
15th out of 63 books — 11 voters
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Author Cameo
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Community Reviews

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I've seen people argue, both here and elsewhere, that this book is outdated and no longer topical.

I'm really confused what rose-colored glasses they're wearing, because as far as I can tell, the majority of this book is still far too true. I've been in these places far, far too often to write off the circumstances in this book as some so flippantly have.

"Give us a good-bye kiss," said the host, who might have been attractive under other circumstances, a giant marine, so to speak. I pushed him a
This book is a complex and fascinating examination of gender roles and ideology. In it, Russ contrasts and intertwines the stories of Joanna (a 1970s feminist of a world much like, if not identical to, our own), Jeannine (a young, fairly stereotypical woman of an alternate timeline in which the Depression never ended), and Janet (a woman from the distant utopian future of Whileaway, a world with no men and only women), showing multiple variations on the issue or problem of sex difference alongsi ...more
Jan 12, 2015 Wanda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: NPR list of classic science fiction and fantasy
Feminism has evolved and changed over the decades and this book was written during the Second Wave of Feminism (often referred to as Women’s Lib) during the 1960s-1970s. I know that it is difficult for young women born in the 1980s and later to believe some of these things, but there was a time when your career options as a woman were very limited—you could be a nurse, teacher, secretary, or a housewife. When I was in high school in the 70s and making high academic marks, I was strongly discoura ...more

This book had promise - and about 10% of it is good science fiction. The other 90% is unnecessary polemic, thankfully out-of-date (at least I hope so!) I don't object to her feminism so much to the way she doesn't go anywhere with it. "The Left Hand of Darkness" did a much better job of using science fiction to explore gender roles and identities.

That said, there are two, yes, two, awesome scenes, and for them alone I kept reading. The first is an interview of the Woman from the Planet of th
Nate D
Mar 12, 2014 Nate D rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: humans
Recommended to Nate D by: Four parallel worlds of equal insistance
Messily inventive, exuberantly expansive in design despite (or because of) its passionately angry core, vital and urgent and brilliant. This is 70s post-modern feminist science fiction, so basically hits most of what I want to be reading all in one go. It overextends, perhaps, but in ways that suit its ambition and force of intent.

Of course, this was written in the 70s: since then everything has changed.
Of course, this was written in the 70s: since then nothing has changed.

Russ has many point
I think people are wrong when they say this book is out of date. Many of the feminist issues Russ engaged with are still with us today, the double-standards women are held to and the things men expect of them. That part of the book seemed perfectly reasonable to me: a little out-dated, perhaps, as all of this sort of thing will become in just a few decades, but not irrelevant.

The story, however... I found it incomprehensible, buried under the weight of the feminist concerns and issues raised. I
Daniel Roy
If I taught SF literature in high school, I'd make this book mandatory reading, knowing my students would hate me for it. it's not an easy book by any means; its structure is complex and obfuscated on purpose, and its subject matter is uncomfortable and necessary. But really, this is why SF exists in the first place.

The book has been heralded as the quintessential feminist SF, and it saddens me to know that this automatically reduces its reach. It's true that the book is singularly concerned wit
Apr 29, 2009 Amaha rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of feminist science fiction, fans of early experimental fiction
Brilliant, important, and (for me) highly enjoyable book, if not an unqualified success. One of the defining works of science fiction (particularly the 1970's 2nd-wave feminist variety) as well as an early pioneer of "postmodern"/ narratively experimental fiction.

The experimentation, which brings to mind Pynchon, Samuel Delany and Kathy Acker, is both the most interesting aspect of the book and what can make it hardest to enjoy as a good read. The story revolves around several female characters
Lit Bug
New addition to the old review:

I'd wished to prove myself wrong in less than a year by declaring that I was in love with this book. Sadly, I'm even more indignant. The issue is topical. It isn't that it is outdated nearly 40 years after its publication. The issue is that the same ideas have been depicted in a far more interesting way in fiction since it was written.

It was radical at that time - Russ was one of those few female writers writing hard SF good enough to take credit for inspiring Gibs
I rarely read books these days where it feels like the author actually *needed* to write their book. I sometimes finish a book and think "that was clever" or "that was well-written" or "that was exciting," but rarely do I think "holy shit, that was so fucking necessary!" The Female Man is one of those rare necessary books. Reading it, I got the sense that these words were burning a hole in the author's stomach lining, so desperate were they to escape.

Which is not to say that I didn't feel offend
Althea Ann
This book won a Nebula Award, and is considered to be a classic of feminist science fiction.

I remembered that long ago I had read a short story collection by Russ (Extra(ordinary) People) and really disliked it. I also read her novel ‘We who Are About To' and was seriously unimpressed. But I didn't think I'd read The Female Man, so I was willing to give it a go due to its classic status and all... Reading it, I realized that I had actually started reading it long ago - but I think I QUIT part wa
This is my first and, most likely, last experience of the writing of Joanna Russ.

This is not so much science fiction that explores themes of gender but rather a feminist tract with occasional use of SF tropes. Large parts of the narrative form an undisguised polemic railing against the condition of women in society and the way that this condition is maintained by men.

The plot, such as it is, involves four different versions of the same woman but from different parellel planes of existence comin
I'm still trying to decide if I liked this book.

Being a meta lover, I dug Russ's writing style. It had this wonderful stream of consciousness that reminded me of Virginia Woolf, particularly during Jeannine's parts. I also kind of liked the whole breaking the fourth wall aspect, though it made for difficult reading. I remember when it came to me like a jolt that all three characters were the same person. And I felt proud for recognizing that.

But aside from the writing style, I grew bored with th
Oct 21, 2007 Megan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: you
This book is written in blood.
Is it written entirely in blood?
No, some of it is written in tears.
Are the blood and tears all mine?
Yes, they have been in the past. But the future is a different matter. As the bear swore in Pogo after having endured a pot shoved on her head, being turned upside down while still in the pot, a discussion about her edibility, the lawnmowering of her behind, and a fistful of ground pepper in the snoot, she then swore a mighty oath on the ashes of her mothers (i.e., he
Katie M.
This is an important book for feminist science fiction, but it's not an entirely successful one. It's all polemic and very minimal plot. Much of the book is just description of the society of Whileaway, a future version of the world in which the human species is entirely made up of women. I love worldbuilding, but there was too much tell and not enough show. The narrative of The Female Man is hard to follow as it switches between narrators and between first and third persons. The book's message ...more
Four different women from alternate Earths discuss their lives. One is from the far distant future. One is a librarian from an alternate early 1960s where the depression never ended. One is from present day. One is from a nearer future, has claws like Wolverine, and was the impetus for Molly from Neuromancer, another beclawed female assassin.

Four stars, because The Female Man is a 1970s book with all the glory and messiness of that era. The book is sci-fi, feminist critique, literary critique,
4 stars as a stand-in for of 4 and a half stars, here! I enjoyed "The Female Man" immensely, but I know if I passed it to my sister, she'd put it down fairly quickly, and we can't "spread the word" if the word is set in a structure that many readers would not persevere with! The passionate message of this slap-to-the-face story is chopped up and mixed around, the author tripping playfully from POV to POV, defiant in an "I don't have to make it easy, you work it out" kind of way.

But I guess I can
Jul 11, 2011 Hazel rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Students of recent history
Shelves: never-finished
Chris has reminded me that I didn't finish this. I found it too dated; a useful reminder of feminist history, but not relevant to our lives today.

But you know, a few weeks ago I took on a new professional role and introduced myself to a colleague who announced that he'd known I was new, because I was only the second woman doctor he'd worked with in 30+ years. The first, he'd met the previous week; another in my cohort of new recruits.

He then proceeded to enquire whether I was Dr Miss X or Dr M
Jun 06, 2007 graycastle rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: feminists, scifi fans, people who like narrative experimentation
Shelves: scifi, feminism
This book is just so smart: witty, powerful, and acrobatic. It bends over backwards to anticipate its own reviews, the dismissals of its feminist message, and its eventual obsoleteness. I mean this in a great way: the book is very meta, experiments with levels of narrative (including a character who is the author) and does extremely new and interesting things with scifi conventions of time travel and alternate universes. What I love most about this book is the way in which it uses conventions an ...more
Mar 28, 2013 Cheryl marked it as skimmed-reference-dnf  ·  review of another edition
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 probabl
How did I miss this in college? How did this never make it to my mother's shelves? The genre divide is dangerous when a book like this is overlooked by the literary and socio-political establishments. A must read for its historical significance, but still relevant when examining the current state of gender relations. We're not there yet.
Tansy Roberts
Unforgettable, powerful, utterly dreadful book. I loved it sometimes and hated it at others. I also read it cover to cover with no breaks. The best thing about the book is that it has dated; one of the worst things is that parts of it have not.

The casual hatred and dismissal of motherhood was a body blow. The depiction of transsexuals is just plain awful, though Russ herself later came to realize this. It is a fiercely intelligent book, but unkind to all of us. I will be thinking about it for so
Jenny (Reading Envy)
An interesting concept, I only wish it was clearer who was narrating at any given moment, since it changes frequently and is confusing in that way. Pretty typical feminist science fiction tactic, where the worlds with different views of gender try to get along with the "normal" worlds.

This is one of those odd tales - female keeping males as pleasure pet; they kept them docile and biddable by lobotomizing them and controlling them by implants connected to a computer. O.O

I should have read previous reviews of this before I decided to pick it up. What a waste of my time!
It had so much potential and I kind of feel bad that I am not sticking with it as a part of me wants to know the ending but I just couldn't stand the characters and layout!

To explain further, it's confusing layout was the main reason why I had to put this book down as they didn't note who was talking at what time, they barely noted any imagery so I didn't even know where the characters were or wh
Unfortunately I didn't think this book was dated. Some of the points made by Russ still rung true although admittedly not all if them. Even if the feminist ideals had been outdated I still would have given this book a low rating.

I had 2 main problems. Firstly the plot. Whilst I thought the concept was brilliant I didn't feel anything happened. I like plot driven novels with actions and a beginning, middle and end. This book just had a middle but with very little direction and I feel the concept
Did I never add this book to goodreads?! Oh, that's right: I read it about a year and a half ago and had so many things to say I got overwhelmed about writing them down.

This book is difficult: I mean it's not an easy read in terms of comprehension. It leaps around between characters and universes and monologues and there were times I was really frustrated that she hadn't conveyed the framing story more clearly. She makes you work for it and sometimes you still don't get there.

This was kind of ma
This Is Not The Michael You're Looking For
I had a really hard time with this novel. Some books are primarily about story, while others are primarily about message, while others fall in between. I tend to prefer books that lean more toward the story end of the scale. This book is almost entirely about message. It is virtually plotless, using SF constructs and an at times almost incoherent writing structure to relentlessly drum a message into the reader. An important message, absolutely. A dated message...not precisely. The message feels ...more
This book dragged me along with it kicking and screaming. I did not like it in the beginning or the middle or the end, I complained loudly the whole time I was reading it that it was a TERRIBLE and FRUSTRATING book and OH MY GOD WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE WRITTEN IN SUCH A FRAGMENTED, CONFUSING MANNER.

But by the time I finished it I was feeling a sense of accomplishment, as well as a sense that it had all been worthwhile, like I'd just run a marathon.

The good: seldom has a book been written that i
Allan Dyen-shapiro
Joanna Russ's 1975 classic of feminist science fiction would seem a little dated today if one were reading solely for the politics. Back then, society probably needed a smack in the face with these ideas. The idea of a lesbian relationship as shocking, for example, would be laughable to this generation.

However, this is still very worth the read for the radical leaps she takes in style. I love how she creates ambiguity with her shifts in point-of-view, as this is the tale of four women who are r
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Joanna Russ was an American writer and feminist. She is the author of a number of works of science fiction, fantasy and feminist literary criticism and is best known for The Female Man, a novel combining utopian fiction and satire. It uses the device of parallel worlds as a form of a mediation of the ways that different societies might produce very different versions of the same person, and how al ...more
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“As my mother once said: The boys throw stones at the frog in jest. But the frogs die in earnest.” 76 likes
“I'm not a girl. I'm a genius. ” 36 likes
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