my monkied brain (katekat1010) wrote,
my monkied brain

Why every body should read at least one Joanna Russ book

Ok, so, maybe you're not a reader of science fiction. Maybe it turns you off. One of the most consistent points of view I hear from people who don't like science fiction is that it's too hard to get into because it's not relevant. Because it's made up. Because it takes place in a world that doesn't exist.

And, unfortunately, I'd have to disagree with that idea, because of Joanna Russ. Sure, she writes about worlds that don't seem like they'll ever exist. One character from The Female Man is from a society where they have no men (they reproduce by mitosis. Look, it's not that far fetched. Chickens do it. )

People seem to get hung up on the reproductive thing. People definitely get hung up on the 'no men' thing. What they seem to miss is what Russ is trying to explore. It's the idea that maybe we do let all kinds of socially constructed standards manage our lives. She's not constructing this fantastic society because it may be what happens someday, out there, where we colonize the stars.

She's constructing it to question just how it is we construct our society NOW. How we build in these perceptions of "must" and "tradition" and inequality - build them into our very bones, teach them to our children, pass them to our daughters and our sons, confirming the status quo.

And, frankly, there's something wonderful about someone who can question the status quo like that. Who can ask "what if." Who can poke holes in our traditions and our customs; who shows just how silly some of those conventions really are by giving us an alternative to them. And who does it with wit and humor and some damn fine anger too.

That's another thing that seems to turn people off of fiction labeled 'feminist'. They don't like it because it has it's share of anger. It confuses me - why shy away from anger? We've got hate and violence in equal measure in horror and your so called 'normal' fiction, but because she's angry that women are considered less than men, she shouldn't be read? I say to that: come on, now, let's stop being silly kiddies and hiding our heads in the sand, and read something that's just a little provocative and just a little passionate and more than a little interesting.

Because, after all, is there any good reason why women can't be strong? Is there any reason why it's wrong for women to be angry (men, after all, can be angry all the time)? Is there any good reason not to explore the why's and wherefores of the society we live in?

Or should we just lap it up, like happy kittens, drinking our outdated prejudices and our outmoded biases along with the cream?

If you don't believe me, check out what some other people think:

No summary can do justice to the complexity and energy of this novel. Whileaway is engagingly detailed in bits and pieces throughout the book; the first-person narrator switches from character to character with occasional intrusions by the author; Russ jumps from genre to genre (indeed, the label "utopia" is reductive); and there's good sex to be had, both lesbian and robotic. [from here]

Quote from J.Russ herself ~
If any theme runs through all my work, it is what Adrienne Rich once called "re-vision," i.e., the re-perceiving of experience, not because our experience is complex or subtle or hard to understand (though it is sometimes all three) but because so much of what's presented to us as "the real world" or "the way it is" is so obviously untrue that a great deal of social energy must be mobilized to hide that gross and ghastly fact. As a theatre critic (whose name I'm afraid I've forgotten) once put it, "There's less here than meets the eye." hence, my love for science fiction, which analyzes reality by changing it. [from here]

For further (randomly partially associated reading):

An Open Letter to Joanna Russ, by Jeanne Gomoll, about feminism in science fiction writing
A short bio of J.Russ from the GLBTQ Encyclopedia
J. Russ Bibliography
The Creative Joanna Russ
Tags: review

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