Alright so I haven't posted here for over a week, and I'm taking a really long time to get through Joanna Russ's The Female Man.[1. Russ, Joanna. The Felmale Man. Boston: Bantam Books, Inc. 1975.] The problem is basically that I've over-committed to stuff right now, and that means I spend like a third of the time I could be spending working on projects, instead hiding under blankets and hovering on the edge of weeping. Note: This post, like most of the posts in this series, is going to contain spoilers.
I think that The Female Man is an important book for me to read for this series, but I'm not sure how much I'm actually going to be able to use its content in the presentation. It's not exactly about gender -- it's about patriarchy and misogyny and gender norms, and little to none of the book's content is actually irrelevant, but with the book Russ is making an argument, and that argument isn't "Look how silly the gender binary is," it's "Look how fucked up the way we treat women is."
The biggest sci fi element of The Female Man, so far, is a woman named Janet Evason, who comes from a future in which men have been entirely wiped out by disease, and the whole of civilization on earth is populated entirely by women. Janet comes from a time hundreds of years since men were a part of culture.
Like The Left Hand of Darkness, The Female Man gives an example of a culture with no gender -- insofar as a culture with one gender is a culture with no gender; it's impossible to construct a concept of 'woman' that means anything other than 'person' without the construct of 'man' to which to contrast it.
I was assigned to the male gender at birth, and the people in my life throughout my childhood attempted to indoctrinate me into the narrative of masculinity. Part of that indoctrination is actively avoiding understanding how hugely different the narrative of femininity is. More so, I think, than any other book I've read, The Female Man seems like it was written for people whose frame of reference is the narrative of femininity.
I was aware of this disconnect before now, but it's never not weird and disturbing to face the reality that all the media I've ever consumed is, at best, gender-segregated, and at worst, written for men to the exclusion of women.
There was a pretty big chunk of the book that took place in the head of a character who experienced some pretty substantial dissatisfaction with her gender role, but it's unclear whether what's going on is gender dysphoria or frustration with the limitations put on women.
When I was five I said, "I'm not a girl, I'm a genius," but that doesn't work, possibly because other people don't honor the resolve. Last year I finally gave up and told my mother I didn't want to be a girl but she said Oh no, being a girl is wonderful. Why? Because you can wear pretty clothes and you don't have to do anything; the men will do it for you. She said that instead of conquering Everest, I could conquer the conqueror of Everest and while he had to go climb the mountain, I could stay home in lazy comfort listening to the radio and eating chocolates. She was upset, I suppose, but you can't imbibe someone's success by fucking them. Then she said that in addition to that (the pretty clothes and so forth_ there is a mystical fulfillment in marriage and children that nobody who hasn't done it could ever know. "Sure, washing floors," I said. "I have you," she said, looking mysterious.
It goes on for a couple pages like that, and it's all really good but I have to be somewhere in an hour and can't keep typing.