I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of parallel universes, and I was really impressed with the way Joanna Russ incorporated this into The Female Man. Once Jael said that Janet and the other women are not pieces of Joanna- though as the end is in some ways left to the interpretations of readers they still could be (albeit personas, fictions of her mind, or facets of her personality)- but just different variations of the same ‘type’ of woman in these differing worlds, I was instantly intrigued. In fact, I’m sitting here kicking myself for not even really considering this idea when it appeared on page 6 as an explanation for the different yet similar women. Jael explains how she understands the idea of “universes of probability” as it being an unlimited number of possible world lines that the women could come from or be on and that different factors in their lives are why they are slightly different from each other (160-163). I’ve always personally thought along the lines of each action we do having a different possible world line come from it, and in the world that we ourselves are born from is the original. In my idea, there’s the universe itself, containing multiple worlds, and each world has multiple world lines. For example, there could be, as in the case of the characters, multiple versions of someone similar to me in the universe but I myself am the only ‘me’ in my world. Then as I make decisions the world of ‘me’ begins to branch off, still in my only world in the universe but in a different world line. In one world line, I could be writing this about blog post about a specific character (which I had considered), or I could be not writing it at all. Yet the first ‘me’, the one that is my present reality, is the only one that I am conscious of, the split going unnoticed by myself. This means that, much as Jael says you can’t change your past because you’d just end up slipping into the universe of an altered version of yourself, you would not in my idea even remember that anything had been changed when back in your present, though Jael seems to feel you’d regain your own memories from switching lines (161) whereas I think you would not unless you altered something major.
The inclusion of this idea, in my opinion, really adds something to the novel. I feel as if looking at these variations of women (all the same yet different) and considering how their worlds influence them makes a point about how upbringing influences a person. If Jeannine had been born the character that we know her as in Jael’s world, she actually likely wouldn’t be the character we know much as if Jael had been born in Jeannine’s, she wouldn’t be herself either. By using this idea of probable universes to comment on this factor, I think the author could both be blunt with the idea of society’s huge influence on a person as they develop- with her having all the women be the same, this is especially intriguing- and yet distance herself enough by making alternate worlds to show this on. It goes back to the idea of almost a nature vs nurture thing, and to me it was really cool to see the idea played out in the book through these probable universes.
As a side note, there’s an anime that came out a few years back that plays with this same sort of idea that Jael has in understanding probable universes. In the show Steins;Gate, the lead male character accidentally changes the past after sending a text message, and in doing so has shifted world lines, which he then continues to do just to see if he can, at first. He himself is conscious of this change each time it happens, though to everyone around him the world is how it is supposed to be. They don’t remember certain people or events that he does because they never encountered them. Without spoiling much of the show, I’ll just say that he discovers his meddling with time has severe repercussions and he has to find a way to return to the world line he was on before he sent the text. I drew a comparison with this show almost instantly when Jael talked about world lines, which is probably why I had a relatively easier time understanding what was happening throughout the novel after I made that connection and I started to process things out more and think about them in my own understanding of world lines.
Russ, Joanna. The Female Man. Beacon Press, 1975
Nomura, Mika and Yoshinao Doi, producers. Steins;Gate. White Fox Productions, 2011