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The Female Man

3.55  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,822 Ratings  ·  363 Reviews
Cover Artist: Louise Sullivan

It's influenced William Gibson and been listed as one of the ten essential works of science fiction. Most importantly, Joanna Russ's THE FEMALE MAN is a suspenseful, surprising and darkly witty chronicle of what happens when Jeannine, Janet, Joanna, and Jael--four alternative selves from drastically different realities--meet.
Paperback, Beacon Paperback 721, 214 pages
Published July 20th 1997 by Beacon Press (first published 1975)
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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinLilith's Brood by Octavia E. ButlerThe Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. TepperParable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Feminist Science Fiction Books
8th out of 150 books — 273 voters
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer BradleyThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper
Best Feminist Science Fiction/Fantasy
12th out of 430 books — 362 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 20, 2012 Sara rated it it was amazing
I've seen people argue, both here and elsewhere, that this book is outdated and no longer topical.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
May 04, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've ever read. Uncomfortable, frenetic, literary, and GODDAMNED MAGNIFICENT.
Nate D
Mar 12, 2014 Nate D rated it really liked it  ·  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
Mar 14, 2008 Marie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

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
Jan 12, 2015 Wanda rated it really liked it  ·  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
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Oct 03, 2015 Rachel (Kalanadi) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Suddenly I want to count how many women are in my life. Is my doctor a woman? Yes! Is my dentist a woman? Yes! Were any of my professors women? Yes! Have I ever seen a female janitor or cop? Yes!

Thank GOD a few things have changed since 1976, but still... too much of this felt exactly like the awful things women are still told to accept as their role in the world: Sacrifice yourself for men, who will tell you who you are. When are you getting married so you can be a Real Woman? *barf* People sti
Jan 15, 2014 Nikki rated it it was ok
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
Althea Ann
Sep 26, 2013 Althea Ann rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Apr 29, 2009 Amaha rated it liked it
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
Liz BooksandStuff
Aug 20, 2016 Liz BooksandStuff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-buy, favourites
What it means to be a woman in four different parallel worlds, told from the perspective of four women crossing over to each other's worlds and discovering different views on gender and gender-roles. MIND BLOWN!
Jan 15, 2016 Alexa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-re-read, fab-16
This is quite an unusual piece of writing. For those who turn to it expecting a science fiction novel, as I initially did, it may be quite a disappointment. There is indeed a rough outline of a science fiction plot hiding in there, but mostly it is an extremely ironic set of musings on the state of women in society, very pointed and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. So it might be more fitting to consider this as a work of philosophy, or social satire, or social analysis. At times it can be thoro ...more
Oct 21, 2007 Megan rated it it was amazing
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
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Come for the catharsis ; stay for the fiction.
This book has been on my radar for many years. For a long time I had borrowed it from my brother, but never got around to reading it. I finally returned his copy to him since I picked up an anthology that included this book. And now I've finally gotten around to reading it with another group on Goodreads, and I'm really glad we chose it for this month's fiction read.

It's not a very easy book to review, I will be honest. That's why I finished it on November 12th and am just now getting around to
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
Mar 19, 2013 Lashawn rated it it was ok
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
Jan 29, 2010 John rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf-fantasy, 2009
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
"Remember: 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."

This is a weird book, but I was fascinated. It's a largely stream-of-consciousness narrative from the perspectives of Jeannine, a WPA librarian living in an altered history where WWII never happened and the economy never recovered from the Great Depression (she liv
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
Jul 11, 2011 Hazel rated it it was ok
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
Joanna Russ is brilliant and she gets men. So I'm not surprised that many men think that this book is overly simplistic or ridiculous or outdated. (Russ anticipates these complaints in the book). It's the same deal with Margaret Atwood, tbh.

I do wish I understood what was going on better though. Scifi isn't my gig.
Jan 27, 2015 fromcouchtomoon rated it it was amazing
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.
Leo Robertson
Jul 23, 2015 Leo Robertson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great fun, great anger, great points- how happy they must have been to be able to classify this vitriol as sci-fi!
This is an extraordinary book - both as a feminist treatise on the state of the world 1975, and as a unique entry into the genre of science fiction. Because of this, it is not an ordinary book, so if you are expecting it to follow conventional science fiction parameters, or even literary parameters, you are in for a rude awakening. The effect can be very confusing, but it is indeed memorable, as its inclusion on many lists floating around the Internet indicate:

History’s 10 greatest sci-fi novels
Oct 12, 2015 martha rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, feminism
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
Feb 09, 2015 Heather rated it it was ok
Shelves: kindle-reads, sci-fi
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
Aug 17, 2016 Ademption rated it really liked it
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,
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500 Great Books B...: The Female Man - Joanna Russ - Alexa 1 10 Jan 16, 2016 03:43PM  
The F-word: November FICTION selection THE FEMALE MAN 47 66 Jan 15, 2016 07:18PM  
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Joanna Russ (February 22, 1937 – April 29, 2011) was an American writer, academic and feminist. She is the author of a number of works of science fiction, fantasy and feminist literary criticism such as How to Suppress Women's Writing, as well as a contemporary novel, On Strike Against God, and one children's book, Kittatinny. She is best known for The Female Man, a novel combining utopian fiction ...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.” 103 likes
“This is the underside of my world.

Of course you don’t want me to be stupid, bless you! you only want to make sure you’re intelligent. You don’t want me to commit suicide; you only want me to be gratefully aware of my dependency. You don’t want me to despise myself; you only want the flattering deference to you that you consider a spontaneous tribute to your natural qualities. You don’t want me to lose my soul; you only want what everybody wants, things to go your way; you want a devoted helpmeet, a self-sacrificing mother, a hot chick, a darling daughter, women to look at, women to laugh at, women to come for comfort, women to wash your floors and buy your groceries and cook your food and keep your children out of your hair, to work when you need the money and stay home when you don’t, women to be enemies when you want a good fight, women who are sexy when you want a good lay, women who don’t complain, women who don’t nag or push, women who don’t hate you really, women who know their job and above all—women who lose. On top of it all, you sincerely require me to be happy; you are naively puzzled that I should be wretched and so full of venom in this the best of all possible worlds. Whatever can be the matter with me? But the mode is more than a little outworn.

As my mother once said: the boys throw stones at the frogs in jest.

But the frogs die in earnest.”
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