Within the Utopias built by the work of Joanna Russ in “The Female Man,” and “When It Changed;” and Alice Sheldon’s “Huston Do You Read,” the authors are effective in their effort to overturn gender bias, gender stereotypes, and overcome several assumptions about the role and personalities that women can potentially fulfill within society. Their imaginative creations breathe life into the possibilities of a more empowered woman, one who is not subservient to a man or dependent upon him for livelihood or personal identity. However, one frustration with the themes of the narratives is that the authors paint masculinity, and femininity with a broad brush creating a false dichotomy between men and women. This seems to argue the perception that masculinity and femininity are black and white, and opposite each other on a scale. The narrative also creates a world void of possible cooperation between men and women, and frames the ideal utopia as a zero sum game in which women seek revenge by dominating men. Because of those elements, the authors seems to have created a dystopia, rather than a utopia.
A common mistake of gender misidentification is assuming certain traits are associated with certain genders. Moreover, this mistake is multiplied by a thought pattern of dichotomy in which certain traits must fall into one category or the other. Masculinity and femininity ought to be viewed as a “dimmer switch” rather than an “on-off switch,” incorporating an unlimited range where an individual may fall, rather than forcing them into just one category or the other. In other words, is anyone “all masculine” or “all feminine?” More importantly, if someone does identify as masculine or feminine, should they then shoulder the burden of all the traits associated that identity? For example is rape and violence a masculine trait, or can it also occur within femininity? Can strong masculinity also be associated with soft temperament? The depiction of antagonist male characters seems to violate feminist values of defeating gender stereotypes, and the heroines seem to promote sexism in a way that advantages females, but ridicules males and masculinity.
My strongest reaction associating the authors’ world as seemingly dystopian rather than utopian stems from the dichotomy between men and women. Intuitively it would seem more ideal to have utopia represented by a universe where both sexes live in harmony and cooperation. Neither sex trying to dominate the other or seek revenge, but rather each sex trying to promote the other as well as themselves. The commentary in each story bares resemblance, instead, of militant estrangement, and hyper sexism against men.
However, I recognize that my utopia does not achieve the authors end, nor express the subjectively experienced features of the actual world the author lived in. The gender role reversal literary element indicates that the authors must have experienced a high level of oppression from the opposite sex. It is useful in gauging life for women in the 1960s and 1970s. The retaliatory message is a legitimate reaction towards an acknowledged institutional sexism, and normative gender stereotyped society at the time the works were written.
Russ, Joanna. “The Female Man.” Boston: Beacon Press, 1975.
Russ, Joanna. “When It Changed” New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009
Tiptree Jr., James. “Houston, Houston, Do you Read?” Sauk City: Arkham House Publishers Inc, 1990
“When your institution ‘gets’ sexism.” Elise Chenier.com http://elisechenier.com/201
“U.S. Women’s Rights Movement Timeline 1848-2016.” Pro President Obama Blog.org. https://propresobama.org/2013/03/28/us-womens-rights-movement-timeline-1848-2016/6/02/04/when-your-institution-gets-sexism/