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Science-Fiction Studies




In The Female Man Russ contrasts our present-day heterosexual society with two revolutionary alternatives: a utopian world of women and a dystopian world of women warring with men. The novel functions as what Monique Wittig calls a "literary war machine" because it tries "to pulverize the old forms and formal conventions." Specifically, Russ critiques the "straight mind"—heterosexual institutions that regulate gender—by showing how two representatives from "our world" respond to those institutions. She also shows two alternative worlds that further undermine, but do not solve, the way heterosexual institutions regulate gender.

In responding to the straight mind and to the consequences of being the female Other, one character from "our world," Joanna, changes into a female man. Joanna becomes the female man by appropriating language and therefore "resolv[ing] contrarieties, [by] unit[ing] them in her own person," and in this way she destroys gender as Wittig describes by "lay[ing] claim to universality."

Russ contrasts Joanna’s solution with the alternative worlds inhabited by Janet (on the all-women utopian Whileaway) and by the cyborg Jael (on the dystopian world of warring Manland and Womanland).

Russ’s literary war machine deploys various weapons against the Straight Mind. Of these, the most successful is language, which allows women to kill the myth of Woman and to abolish the class of women. In short, Russ demonstrates Judith Butler’s suggestion that women can "speak their way out of their gender." (SA)

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