Joanna Russ Michael Goodwin - Essay

Michael Goodwin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Female Man] is not a novel—it's a scream of anger, sustained for 214 pages. It's unfair, it's maddening, it's depressing. I hated it for months after I read it.

There's no plot, just four women whose names begin with "J" (Joanna, Jeannine, Janet and Jael) free-floating through a mirror-maze of events and characters. Some of the book is set in the present, some in a recognizable future, some in alternate presents and futures. Hatred of men is the only element that holds it together….

Russ is a militant feminist, and her writing has always reflected it—but nothing in her previous work prepares us for this bitter fantasy of reversed sexual oppression. Russ has excluded men from participation in her novel, either as readers or characters (except, perhaps, as the intended victims), and while that may be fair, it's still nasty.

And yet, a year after reading it, The Female Man remains perfectly clear in my mind—seductive, disturbing and hateful. I'm not sure whether that makes it a good book or not, but I think it makes it an important one. (p. 63)

Michael Goodwin, "One Giant Step for Science Fiction," in Mother Jones (copyright © 1976 by the Foundation for National Progress), Vol. I, No. VI, August, 1976, pp. 62-3.∗