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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Femninist Sci-Fi Classic, But So Very 70s, 23 Mar 2009
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This review is from: The Female Man (Paperback)
Jael and Janet are from the future (but not our future), Jeannine is from the present (but of another past), and Joanna is from now (or, rather from 1970). They meet, interact and communicate: the plot as such doesn't exist. We are very much in the realm of 70s cutting-edge, modernist sci-fi.

This novel is a modern classic in at least two categories: it's a notable sci-fi title, and an important feminist novel. But most of all it's such a typical book from the 70s!

The style is what might be called innocently modern, with a mixture of stream of consciousness, straight first person and even third person narration. The transition between perspectives is very fuzzy, often times one doesn't know which exactly of the four alternative characters (Jael, Janet, Joanna and Jeannine) is talking/being narrated. It actually reminded me quite strongly of this other 70s cult title, The Dice Man, not because it's actually technically similar, but because it stems from the same spirit of the time.

Russ concentrates on the cultural and psychological side of male dominance: and occasionally, especially when sketching little scenes of a male-female dialogue, the satirical edge is brilliantly sharp and very funny.

Ideologically, it's interesting: firstly, because it's a historical account of feminist concerns at a particular time in a particular social grouping; and secondly, because it allows us to look from the perspective of almost 40 years (Russ's book was originally written in 1970) and try to judge to what extent the concerns are still valid.

Possibly surprisingly, the biggest difference is perhaps in the attitudes to homosexuality; and possibly unsurprisingly, the least progress is in the women's own attitudes to marriage and breeding.

Most still are, but most seem, at least to me, rather petty: there is no mention of the ACTUAL discrimination, of the effect of poverty on women, of reproductive rights, of equal pay, of colonisation of women's bodies...of hundreds of concerns that seem rather more valid to me than cultural dominance of the idea that woman who doesn't marry and have children is a failure as a human being. It is possible of course that the fact that I see is a petty is one of the symptoms of progress we have achieved. I personally think it's more a question of Ross's concentration on issues important for middle class Westerners, so typical for a lot of feminist movement in general, and especially in those times.

As a sci-fi, the book works only to some extent: there is too much psychological and ideological rumination and not enough world building or plot.

It's really 3.5 stars not 4, but Amazon won't let me have a half point rating, so I decided to be charitable.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 May 2012 15:29:46 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 May 2012 15:41:59 BDT
mad_mushroom says:
Having Googled the term 'colonisation of women's bodies' I am none the wiser. What does the phrase mean in this context (Westernized society of the late 20th century)? Discounting the cosmetic surgery definition, the impression I have is that it has something to do with children. However, colonisation carries unequivocally negative connotations. So does this mean that feminists believe children are 'bad'? How can children be 'bad'? Without children the human race would die out (clones don't count, and there certainly weren't any human clones in the 1970s). Unless it means that children are tools of oppression - preventing women from gaining their freedom. This sounds suspiciously like stereotypical generalisation: remember, this is Western society in the 1970s, not Africa in the 21st century. But then feminists have no compunctions about being hypocritical: e.g. justifying the killing of 180,000 unborn children every year in the UK by saying it's a woman's right to choose. How about the rights of unborn children - a group even more defenceless than women? After all, having the Catholic church on your side these days is a bit of an own goal.
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