The Female Man Essay - Critical Essays

Joanna Russ

Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy The Female Man Analysis

The Female Man appeared during the high tide of the women’s liberation movement. At this time, authors such as Kate Millett published books denouncing the stereotyping of women as inferior and the carryover of these stereotypes into inequitable social practices, such as paying women and men differently for equivalent work. These books were products of a broader social current of women who protested against injustices.

This upheaval sparked a questioning of sexual roles by imaginative writers. During this period, the most acclaimed attempt by a science-fiction author to rethink biological bias was made in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). In the universe Le Guin portrayed, there was no question of one sex dominating, because all the humanoids were hermaphrodites. Joanna Russ’s vision is more combative than this. She is not interested in simply drawing the type of implicit contrast found in The Left Hand of Darkness, in which the viability of a different biological setup is explored. Russ savagely compares contemporary sexism to the milder, freer life on all-female Whileaway.

One of the author’s strengths arises from her need to give an accurate rendering of modern life to serve as a basis of comparison. It is often overlooked that some of the greatest writers of science fiction, such as Philip K. Dick, achieve much of their authority because they bring to their speculative writing realistic...

(The entire section is 556 words.)