The Literary Horizon: The Female Man

The Female Man by Joanna Russ

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 earth with separate-and warring-female and male societies. When these four women meet, the results are startling, outrageous, and subversive.

via Amazon

Joanna Russ casts a long shadow on feminist-minded speculative fiction, from her fictional works to her literary criticism (sf literary criticism? Just hit me directly in the face with that, thank you, amazing). I was sad to hear of her passing last year, especially because I’d never gotten a chance to read her work while she was alive. But there’s no time like the present, and The Female Man is the only novel from Russ on my reading list.

Brit Mandelo, writing for, finds it fantastically executed, emphasizing its historic status as queer feminist SF while also noting the transphobic heritage of the second wave expressed within. The webmaster at creativetendency enjoyed it, noting how Russ can make the novel feel like a manifesto without sliding into ranting territory. Melusine, writing for the GLBT Fantasy Fiction Resources (how awesome is it that that exists?!), enjoyed it, noting its difficulty and its essential nature. Unfortunately, I can’t find a fourth review, as I opened one written by a gentleman that declared sexism over circa this decade, and I decided that I don’t have to deal with that sort of thing.

The Female Man was published in the February of 1975.

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