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If you are curious as to why I don’t put the authors name in the blog title, it is because I want you to read the articles about the writers you may not know, not just read the ones you might have heard of.

I have read SF stories about manless worlds before; they are either full of busty girls in wisps of chiffon who slink about writhing with lust (Keith Laumer wrote a charming, funny one called “The War with the Yukks”), or the women have set up a static, beelike society in imitation of some presumed primitive matriarchy. These stories are written by men. Why women who have been alone for generations should “instinctively” turn their sexual desires toward persons of whom they have only intellectual knowledge, or why female people are presumed to have an innate preference for Byzantine rigidity, I don’t know. – Joanna Russ

Joanna was the best kind of feminist, the kind that walked the walked and backed up her beliefs with ideas and stories that few could argue with. The above quote was written as an afterword for her story “When It Changed”. “When It Changed” was written to challenge ideas in science fiction that had not, at the time of writing, been addressed. These ideas were related to the way women – and societies consisting solely of women – were handled by writers who are male.

The story is told from the perspective of Janet Evason. It takes place on a human colony on another planet, called Whileaway. 30 generations earlier, a plague killed off all the men and the population now consists only of women, who have figured out how to combine eggs to produce offspring. It is a largely agricultural society, and the whole range of human behaviors exhibited by men and women on earth are now in evidence within the all-female society. For example, Janet has fought several duels, and girls love to hunt and have adventures. When astronauts from earth arrive, they are bemused by the all-female society, find it quaint, are sure that the women must be missing men, and that the society must be deficient in some way due to the lack of men. Janet doesn’t at first understand that she is being treated insultingly, and does not understand the men’s amusement. The men for their part leer at the women and look forward to having children with them. Janet’s wife tries to kill the men. Janet stops her, but then that night a part of her regrets doing so. She muses upon how things will change once the men are there.

Yeah, I thought it sounded a lot like Y The Last Man too. Along with her work as a writer of prose fiction, Russ was also a playwright, essayist, and author of nonfiction works, generally literary criticism and feminist theory, including the essay collection Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & PervertsHow to Suppress Women’s Writing; and the book-length study of modern feminism, What Are We Fighting For?. Her essays and articles have been published in Women’s Studies QuarterlySignsFrontiers: A Journal of Women StudiesScience Fiction Studies, and College English. Russ was a self-described socialist feminist, expressing particular admiration for the work and theories of Clara Fraser and her Freedom Socialist Party. Both fiction and nonfiction, for Russ, were modes of engaging theory with the real world; in particular, The Female Man can be read as a theoretical or narrative text.

Russ’s writing is characterized by anger interspersed with humor and irony. James Tiptree Jr, in a letter to her, wrote, “Do you imagine that anyone with half a functional neuron can read your work and not have his fingers smoked by the bitter, multi-layered anger in it? It smells and smoulders like a volcano buried so long and deadly it is just beginning to wonder if it can explode.” In a letter to Susan Koppelman, Russ asks of a young feminist critic “where is her anger?” and adds “I think from now on, I will not trust anyone who isn’t angry.”

Words to live by.

Short fiction collections