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The Female Man (Bluestreak) Paperback – March 17, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


As hard and mean and fine as Flannery O'Connor. . . . I wish that everyone would read Joanna Russ' books. -Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

"Joanna Russ offers a gallery of some of the most interesting female protagonists in current fiction, women who are rarely victims and sometimes even victors, but always engaged sharply and perceptively with their fate." -Marge Piercy

"A stunning book, a work to be read with great respect. It's also screamingly funny." -Elizabeth Lynn, San Francisco Review of Books

"A work of frightening power, but it is also a work of great fictional subtlety. . . . It should appeal to all intelligent people who look for exciting ideation, crackling dialogue, provocative fictional games-playing in their reading." -Douglas Barbour, Toronto Star

About the Author

Nebula and Hugo Award winner Joanna Russ is the author of The Adventures of Alyx, Extra(Ordinary) People, and To Write Like a Woman, among many other books.


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Product Details

  • Series: Bluestreak
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (March 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807062995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807062999
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

139 of 149 people found the following review helpful By Michael Battaglia on July 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'm a guy. Just thought I'd get that out of the way before I write this. I knew this was considered a classic of science fiction before I even found a used copy, but I have to admit that I wasn't looking all that forward to reading it. For one the cover (the old original one on the paperback) is a garish thing, basically a feathered woman putting on another skin. Plus I knew the book was about female issues and specifically issues that came up during movements that started in the seventies, when the book was written. At least it was short, I told myself. I'd get it over with quick. Boy, was I surprised. Not only does this rank among the best books I've ever read, but it gave me a lot to think about. Part of that has to do with Russ' style, she cascades all sorts of chapters together, bouncing back and forth, her prose is excellent, not just femenist rhetoric, she brings up all sorts of points about everything. And her contrast of the different worlds, there's Joanna's world, which is like ours (she's the female trying to be liberated), and Jeannine's world, where the Depression never ended (she's meek and just wants to go along with the group, essentially), then there's Janet's, where men don't exist at all (my favorite scene is where the newspeople ask how she has sex if there are no men and Janet explains to their dismay). There's one other too but that's a surprise. The style is sometimes confusing at first, sometimes you don't know who is narrating or which character is which but after a while it all starts falling together. Russ peppers it with her own observations throughout, my favorite being when she anticipates the reviews the book is going to get (not good ones). Is it angry?Read more ›
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
... They chop it off with clamshells. There was a time when speculative-fiction (or science-fiction, pick your term) was filled with writers who experimented and challenged the status quo. These writers, people like Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delaney, and Joanna Russ, are challenging, talented, and even funny when they want to be. If you are open minded, try reading them and their peers.
That background out of the way, of all the books in the speculative fiction genre I've read, this is my favorite. First off, yes, "The Female Man" is a feminist book. Guys, getting scared off at this point would be a bad idea. Jeannine's tragic life is something anyone forced into a role they can't stand will identify with. Janet's life is hilarious and exhilarating, filled with Whileawayan philosophy and sayings. Jael, aka "Sweet Alice", lives in a world that is as dark as Jeannine's and as strange as Janet's, but she has the power to take control of it. Lastly, Joanna, the author's mouthpiece, is the glue that ties the other three women together. The book is entertaining and nearly impossible to put down. The humor is perfect and the feminist ideas presented by Russ are still relevant today. Be happy that Russ has the ability to fling her readers across time and space then shoot them back, because few can make a book this fun and yet this sad.
Many of the reviews here on are from people who just don't seem to "get it". Russ and her peers didn't always write novels that were neat and orderly, and this one in particular can drive the close-minded insane. Russ' style is closer to a James Joyce than a Charlotte Perkins Gillman or an Isaac Asimov, so be willing to read this book on her terms and hers alone. If you can do that, there is little to fear.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By the27th on March 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
Joanna Russ invented snark -- though she'd want to attribute it to de Stael.

In the small but active world of 70's SF, Russ was the radical. She once called Ursula K. Leguin an "Aunt Tom." She was also a literary scholar; of the many definitions of SF floating around, her insight that it was "didactic literature," like Piers Ploughman, stands out above the crowd. And this is a didactic book, like most of her work; it is feminist, explicitly so, and reading it is not just following a story but dissecting an argument.

The Female Man is told in episodic bursts, by four narrators, four copies of the same woman in alternate universes. There's Jeannine, dreamy, lazy, and inhibited, in an alternate 1960's where the Depression never ended; Janet, strong and practical, a visitor from a semi-utopian planet of women; Joanna, a feminist in our own world of 1969; and the monstrous Jael, a supernatural assassin from a world where the battle of the sexes is literal and Manland is the enemy.

Janet Evason is from the all-female planet Whileaway, which Russ introduced in her short story "When it Changed." The short story is better: slight, haunting, reminds me of the best Russian SF, a little like Olga Larionova. Like many SF writers, Russ worked more in the short story form, and it shows when she writes a novel -- though unlike most, she has the sense to keep the novel short and episodic. We see more of Whileaway in The Female Man. The men died in a plague nine hundred years ago; the women have wives and children, work relentlessly, and are free of the fakery and enforced passivity that women experience here. Whileaway is not quite a utopia -- it's a little more subtle than that -- but it's almost one, and not only a feminist utopia but a loner's and nomad's utopia.
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