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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I was born on a farm on Whileaway. When I was five I was sent to a school on South Continent (like everybody else) and when I turned twelve I rejoined my family. My mother's name was Eva, my other mother's name Alicia; I am Janet Evason. When I was thirteen I stalked and killed a wolf, alone, on North Continent above the forty-eighth parallel, using only a rifle. I made a travois for the head and paws, then abandoned the head, and finally got home with one paw, proof enough (I thought). I've worked in the mines, on the radio network, on a milk farm, a vegetable farm, and for six weeks as a librarian after I broke my leg. At thirty I bore Yuriko Janetson; when she was taken away to a school five years later (and I never saw a child protest so much) I decided to take time off and see if I could find my family's old home — for they had moved away after I had married and relocated near Mine City in South Continent. The place was unrecognizable, however; our rural areas are always changing. I could find nothing but the tripods of the computer beacons everywhere, some strange crops in the fields that I had never seen before, and a band of wandering children. They were heading North to visit the polar station and offered to lend me a sleeping bag for the night, but I declined and stayed with the resident family; in the morning I started home. Since then I have been Safety Officer for the county, that is S & P (Safety and Peace), a position I have held now for six years. My Stanford-Binet corrected score (in your terms) is 187, my wife's 205 and my daughter's 193. Yuki goes through the ceiling on the verbal test. I've supervised the digging of fire trails, delivered babies, fixed machinery, and milked more moo-cows than I wish I knew existed. But Yuki is crazy about ice-cream. I love my daughter. I love my family (there are nineteen of us). I love my wife (Vittoria). I've fought four duels. I've killed four times.
Jeannine Dadier (DADE-yer) worked as a librarian in New York City three days a week for the W.P.A. She worked at the Tompkins Square Branch in the Young Adult section. She wondered sometimes if it was so lucky that Herr Shicklgruber had died in 1936 (the library had books about this). On the third Monday in March of 1969 she saw the first headlines about Janet Evason but paid no attention to them; she spent the day stamping Out books for the Young Adults and checking the lines around her eyes in her pocket mirror (I'm only twenty-nine!). Twice she had had to tuck her skirt above her knees and climb the ladder to the higher-up books; once she had to move the ladder over Mrs. Allison and the new gentleman assistant, who were standing below soberly discussing the possibility of war with Japan. There was an article in The Saturday Evening Post.
"I don't believe it," said Jeannine Nancy Dadier softly. Mrs. Allison was a Negro. It was an unusually warm, hazy day with a little green showing in the park: imaginary green, perhaps, as if the world had taken an odd turning and were bowling down Spring in a dim bye-street somewhere, clouds of imagination around the trees.
"I don't believe it," repeated Jeannine Dadier, not knowing what they were talking about. "You'd better believe it!" said Mrs. Allison sharply. Jeannine balanced on one foot. (Nice girls don't do that.) She climbed down the ladder with her books and put them on the reserve table. Mrs. Allison didn't like W.P.A. girls. Jeannine saw the headlines again, on Mrs. Allison's newspaper.
WOMAN APPEARS FROM NOWHERE ON BROADWAY, POLICEMAN VANISHES
"I don't —" (I have my cat, I have my room, I have my hot plate and my window and the ailanthus tree.)
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Cal outside in the street; he was walking bouncily and his hat was tipped forward; he was going to have some silly thing or other to say about being a reporter, little blond hatchet face and serious blue eyes; "I'll make it some day, baby." Jeannine slipped into the stacks, hiding behind Mrs. Allison's P.M.-Post: Woman Appears from Nowhere on Broadway, Policeman Vanishes. She daydreamed about buying fruit at the free market, though her hands always sweated so when she bought things outside the government store and she couldn't bargain. She would get cat food and feed Mr. Frosty the first thing she got to her room; he ate out of an old china saucer. Jeannine imagined Mr. Frosty rubbing against her legs, his tail waving. Mr. Frosty was marked black-and-white all over. With her eyes closed, Jeannine saw him jump up on the mantelpiece and walk among her things: her sea shells and miniatures. "No, no, no!" she said. The cat jumped off, knocking over one of her Japanese dolls. After dinner Jeannine took him out; then she washed the dishes and tried to mend some of her old clothing. She'd go over the ration books. When it got dark she'd turn on the radio for the evening program or she'd read, maybe call up from the drugstore and find out about the boarding house in New Jersey. She might call her brother. She would certainly plant the orange seeds and water them. She thought of Mr. Frosty stalking a bathrobe tail among the miniature orange trees; he'd look like a tiger. If she could get empty cans at the government store.
"Hey, baby?" It was a horrid shock. It was Cal.
"No," said Jeannine hastily. "I haven't got time."
"Baby?" He was pulling her arm. Come for a cup of coffee. But she couldn't. She had to learn Greek (the book was in the reserve desk). There was too much to do. He was frowning and pleading. She could feel the pillow under her back already, and Mr. Frosty stalking around them, looking at her with his strange blue eyes, walking widdershins around the lovers. He was part Siamese; Cal called him The Blotchy Skinny Cat. Cal always wanted to do experiments with him, dropping him from the back of a chair, putting things in his way, hiding from him. Mr. Frosty just spat at him now.
"Later," said Jeannine desperately. Cal leaned over her and whispered into her ear; it made her want to cry. He rocked back and forth on his heels. Then he said, "I'll wait" He sat on Jeannine's stack chair, picking up the newspaper, and added:
"The vanishing woman. That's you." She closed her eyes and daydreamed about Mr. Frosty curled up on the mantel, peacefully asleep, all felinity in one circle. Such a spoiled cat.
"Baby?" said Cal.
"Oh, all right" said Jeannine hopelessly, "all right."
I'll watch the ailanthus tree.
Janet Evason appeared on Broadway at two o'clock in the afternoon in her underwear. She didn't lose her head. Though the nerves try to keep going in the previous track, she went into evasive position the second after she arrived (good for her) with her fair, dirty hair flying and her khaki shorts and shirt stained with sweat. When a policeman tried to take her arm, she threatened him with le savate, but he vanished. She seemed to regard the crowds around her with a special horror. The policeman reappeared in the same spot an hour later with no memory of the interval, but Janet Evason had returned to her sleeping bag in the New Forest only a few moments after her arrival. A few words of Pan-Russian and she was gone. The last of them waked her bedmate in the New Forest.
"Go to sleep," said the anonymous friend-for-the-night, a nose, a brow, and a coil of dark hair in the dappled moonlight.
"But who has been mucking about with my head!" said Janet Evason.
When Janet Evason returned to the New Forest and the experimenters at the Pole Station were laughing their heads off (for it was not a dream) I sat in a cocktail party in mid-Manhattan. I had just changed into a man, me, Joanna. I mean a female man, of course; my body and soul were exactly the same.
So there's me also.
The first man to set foot on Whileaway appeared in a field of turnips on North Continent. He was wearing a blue suit like a hiker's and a blue cap. The farm people had been notified. One, seeing the blip on the tractor's infrared scan, came to get him; the man in blue saw a flying machine with no wings but a skirt of dust and air. The county's repair shed for farm machinery was nearby that week, so the tractor-driver led him there; he was not saying anything intelligible. He saw a translucent dome, the surface undulating slightly. There was an exhaust fan set in one side. Within the dome was a wilderness of machines: dead, on their sides, some turned inside out, their guts spilling on to the grass. From an extended framework under the roof swung hands as big as three men. One of these picked up a car and dropped it. The sides of the car fell off. Littler hands sprang up from the grass.
"Hey, hey!" said the tractor-driver, knocking on a solid piece set into the wall. "It fell, it passed out!"
"Send it back," said an operator, climbing out from under the induction helmet at the far end of the shed. Four others came and stood around the man in the blue suit.
"Is he of steady mind?" said one.
"We don't know."
"Is he ill?"
"Hypnotize him and send him back."
The man in blue — if he had seen them — would have found them very odd: smooth-faced, smooth-skinned, too small and too plump, their coveralls heavy in the seat. They wore coveralls because you couldn't always fix things with the mechanical hands; sometimes you had to use your own. One was old and had white hair; one was very young; one wore the long hair sometimes affected by the youth of Whileaway, "to while away the time." Six pairs of steady curious eyes studied the man in the blue suit.
"That, mes enfants," said the tractor-driver at last, "is a man.
"That is a real Earth man."
Sometimes you bend down to tie your shoe, and then you either tie your shoe or you don't; you either straighten up instantly or maybe you don't. Every choice begets at least two worlds of possibility, that is, one in which you do and one in which you don't; or very likely many more, one in which you do quickly, one in which you do slowly, one in which you don't, but hesitate, one in which you hesitate and frown, one in which you hesitate and sneeze, and so on. To carry this line of argument further, there must be an infinite number of possible universes (such is the fecundity of God) for there is no reason to imagine Nature as prejudiced in favor of human action. Every displacement of every molecule, every change in orbit of every electron, every quantum of light that strikes here and not there — each of these must somewhere have its alternative. It's possible, too, that there is no such thing as one clear line or strand of probability, and that we live on a sort of twisted braid, blurring from one to the other without even knowing it, as long as we keep within the limits of a set of variations that really make no difference to us. Thus the paradox of time travel ceases to exist, for the Past one visits is never one's own Past but always somebody else's; or rather, one's visit to the Past instantly creates another Present (one in which the visit has already happened) and what you visit is the Past belonging to that Present — an entirely different matter from your own Past. And with each decision you make (back there in the Past) that new probable universe itself branches, creating simultaneously a new Past and a new Present, or to put it plainly, a new universe. And when you come back to your own Present, you alone know what the other Past was like and what you did there.
Thus it is probable what Whileaway — a name for the Earth ten centuries from now, but not our Earth, if you follow me — will find itself not at all affected by this sortie into somebody else's past. And vice versa, of course. The two might as well be independent worlds.
Whileaway, you may gather, is in the future.
But not our future.
I saw Jeannine shortly afterward, in a cocktail lounge where I had gone to watch Janet Evason on television (I don't have a set). Jeannine looked very much out of place; I sat next to her and she confided in me: "I don't belong here." I can't imagine how she got there, except by accident. She looked as if she were dressed up for a costume film, sitting in the shadow with her snood and her wedgies, a long-limbed, coltish girl in clothes a little too small for her. Fashion (it seems) is recovering very leisurely from the Great Depression. Not here and now, of course. "I don't belong here!" whispered Jeannine Dadier again, rather anxiously. She was fidgeting. She said, "I don't like places like this." She poked the red, tufted leather on the seat.
"What?" I said.
"I went hiking last vacation," she said big-eyed. "That's what I like. It's healthy."
I know it's supposed to be virtuous to run healthily through fields of flowers, but I like bars, hotels, air-conditioning, good restaurants, and jet transport, and I told her so.
"Jet?" she said.
Janet Evason came on the television. It was only a still picture. Then we had the news from Cambodia, Laos, Michigan State, Lake Canandaigua (pollution), and the spinning globe of the world in full color with its seventeen man-made satellites going around it. The color was awful. I've been inside a television studio before: the gallery running around the sides of the barn, every inch of the roof covered with lights, so that the little woman-child with the wee voice can pout over an oven or a sink. Then Janet Evason came on with that blobby look people have on the tube. She moved carefully and looked at everything with interest. She was well dressed (in a suit). The host or M.C. or whatever-you-call-him shook hands with her and then everybody shook hands with everybody else, like a French wedding or an early silent movie. He was dressed in a suit. Someone guided her to a seat and she smiled and nodded in the exaggerated way you do when you're not sure of doing the right thing. She looked around and shaded her eyes against the lights. Then she spoke.
(The first thing said by the second man ever to visit Whileaway was, "Where are all the men?" Janet Evason, appearing in the Pentagon, hands in her pockets, feet planted far apart, said, "Where the dickens are all the women?")
The sound in the television set conked out for a moment and then Jeannine Dadier was gone; she didn't disappear, she just wasn't there any more. Janet Evason got up, shook hands again, looked around her, questioned with her eyes, pantomimed comprehension, nodded, and walked out of camera range. They never did show you the government guards.
I heard it another time and this is how it went:
MC: How do you like it here, Miss Evason?
JE (looks around the studio, confused): It's too hot.
MC: I mean how do you like it on — well, on Earth?
JE: But I live on the earth. (Her attention is a little strained here.)
MC: Perhaps you had better explain what you mean by that — I mean the existence of different probabilities and so on — you were talking about that before.
JE: It's in the newspapers.
MC: But Miss Evason, if you could, please explain it for the people who are watching the program.
JE: Let them read. Can't they read?
(There was a moment's silence. Then the M.C. spoke.)
MC: Our social scientists as well as our physicists tell us they've had to revise a great deal of theory in light of the information brought by our fair visitor from another world. There have been no men on Whileaway for at least eight centuries — I don't mean no human beings, of course, but no men — and this society, run entirely by women, has naturally attracted a great deal of attention since the appearance last week of its representative and its first ambassador, the lady on my left here. Janet Evason, can you tell us how you think your society on Whileaway will react to the reappearance of men from Earth — I mean our present-day Earth, of course — after an isolation of eight hundred years?
JE (She jumped at this one; probably because it was the first question she could understand): Nine hundred years. What men?
MC: What men? Surely you expect men from our society to visit Whileaway.
MC: For information, trade, ah — cultural contact, surely. (laughter) I'm afraid you're making it rather difficult for me, Miss Evason. When the — ah — the plague you spoke of killed the men on Whileaway, weren't they missed? Weren't families broken up? Didn't the whole pattern of life change?
JE (slowly): I suppose people always miss what they are used to. Yes, they were missed. Even a whole set of words, like "he," "man" and so on — these are banned. Then the second generation, they use them to be daring, among themselves, and the third generation doesn't, to be polite, and by the fourth, who cares? Who remembers?
Excerpted from "The Female Man"
Copyright © 1975 Joanna Russ.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Female Man by Joanna Russ ¿ Disappointing I wanted to like this book, I really did. I have a special interest in sci-fi written by women, and I was vaguely surprised that I had never read any of Joanna Russ¿s books before. So I was looking forward to reading it with pleasurable anticipation.However, I was really disappointed, and gave up about half way through. (I won¿t summarise the plot here, as that has been done exceedingly well in another review ¿ so will move quickly on to my own personal responses to the book). For a start, I found the writing style exceedingly difficult to get on with; quite a lot of the time it¿s hard to tell who is talking (or being narrated), but more importantly, there¿s no clear connection between different parts. And so, because you can¿t work out who is talking, or why they are saying/doing what they are, you can¿t get to know and understand the characters. What¿s more, there¿s nothing even remotely resembling a plot (not that I found, anyway)!Yes, it¿s true that there are sections of dialogue which are witty and satirical ¿ it was these that kept me reading as far as I did get. And yes, I suppose it is ideologically interesting, but there¿s far too much pontificating about male behaviour ¿ or at least the author¿s idea of it, which I thought was overly stereotyped (yes, I know she is making a point, but I think she is too heavy handed about it).All in all, I found this book to be bewildering and uncoordinated. For me it didn¿t work either as science fiction, or as ¿women¿s literature¿.
Stop feeding the infection.