melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote 2017-04-01 02:30 pm (UTC)

I can absolutely see that if you are someone who didn't find Joanna's POV alienating and offputting, it could be an incredibly valuable book, especially if it was your first real exposure to any sort of gender theory.

But if you aren't a Joanna - and to be a Joanna you have to be in that INCREDIBLY specific set of cages - it's a book that's actively contemptuous of you, and that's a problem. (I grew up around the same time as you and spent a lot of time in my mom's hometown about fifty miles up interstate 75, but I suspect the intersection of minor differences in class and culture background and family temperament were enough that the version of womanhood and patriarchy I got, even when I was in rural Ohio, was very different from the one Joanna, or you, did. And that's without bringing in the *major* differences if you look beyond middle-class-ish white women from southwest Ohio in the 80s and 90s.)

And I could go into that at super-long length, and have already deleted two version of it, but I don't think we're that much in disagreement and you probably already know everything I would have said. I am glad the book helped you! It's great that there were books out there to help people like you! There probably are still a lot of women it would help, although hopefully most of them have access to a greater variety of feminisms than we did even in the 90s. But it would be nice if it managed to do that without declaring that everyone who *isn't* a Joanna or a Janet or a Jael is an unperson beneath contempt.

Even in 1975, the version of feminism where everyone who isn't a Joanna or a Janet is an unperson was going to be incredibly alienating to probably the majority of women, *even if* they already agree with most of what she's angry about.

It's true that I was never in that exact particular set of prisons. But most of what she actually experiences as patriarchy - the microaggressions, the constant fear of sexual assault, the limitations imposed by society, the contradictory expectations, I could go on - is still part of my life, it's mostly Joanna's psychological overlay that alienated me. And "you are not in the same prison as me" is not the same as "we are free".

I mean, like I said, I am not really sure how much of my problem with the book is that her version of feminism is one that excludes me, and how much of it is that the book is also part of that New York literary tradition that also actively excludes me and makes me very angry, to the point that I was hoping for awhile it was intentionally parodying it but I don't think it was that self-aware. They both unperson the same kind of people.

(seriously did it have to have the lolita subplot, I realize an affair with icky power imbalance is required for the mainstream critics to like you, but seriously.)

And I am really glad that this gave you a starting point for understanding the concept of gender as socially constructed. Everybody should have one of those. But by the time it was written The Left Hand of Darkness had had its Hugo for five years and I could name probably half a dozen other SF novels that were out by the late 70s that, while they certainly didn't treat gender theory perfectly, managed to address it while being a lot less actively transphobic about it. (I had worn through my 70s paperback copy of tLHoD of before I knew Joanna Russ was given to me by an uncle from rural Ohio, actually.)

...I didn't go into any detail on my problems with the "plot" because tbh I never quite figured out if we were supposed to be treating the plot as a thing that was suppose to abide by anything other than dream-logic or not. If it was just supposed to be a feminist fantasia about how Joanna has been forced into a quadruple consciousness by patriarchy and it's all metaphorical etc., fine, it's not my favorite kind of storytelling but it's an interesting way to do it and it's okay that it's unclear and full of plotholes and self-contradictions and never really explains where it is going. But then just as I was pretty sure we *weren't* supposed to be judging it as an SF novel with an SF plot, there would be a section that was nice solid SF. It didn't quite seem to ever have the conviction that it was one or the other.

And it's quite possible that was intentional and I was just the wrong sort of reader for it literary-wise as well as feminist-wise, but I spent a large part of the book stuck in what one how-to-write-sf book called "The caterpillar bus problem" where once you have a world where it *isn't* always just a metaphor, your readers will never be sure when it's supposed to be a metaphor and when it's actually a bus that's a caterpillar, and you will lose them while they try to figure that out. I am that reader.

(Does Jeannine actually have the ability to shift into furniture? Because if so, a) she is even more awesome than I though, an b) I read that HP fanfic, but sadly I think that's just a cruel metaphor via Joanna. Maybe? Or maybe it is actually a weird effect of the way she's being pulled through time? I can't tell! and by extension if she really is just Joanna's self-hatred personified, okay, patriarchy gives us all an inner self-hatred, but if Joanna actually does believe she's an individual person, Joanna is fucking horrible, there are plenty of us who hate our inner Jeannines while valuing the Jeannines we know in the world.)

It is definitely possible that somewhere in there is an actual, really interesting plot that holds together about how Janet's world and Jael's world are fighting a secret cross-dimensional cold war and we're caught in the middle, but it would take a TON of fanwanking to find it, and require Janet to be lying about basically everything which would undermine her role in the feminist metaphor, and I don't feel like putting in that much effort in for a book where it's maybe just all a metaphor anyway.

(Also unless I really misread how nonlinear the narrative was, Janet didn't appear on Joanna? Or, at least, the time when the military found her and she stayed long-term, she didn't appear near Joanna, she appeared in the Pentagon. Joanna was watching TV interviews with Janet before the male establishment knew Joanna existed; the first time they found out about her was when Janet kidnapped her to go joyriding. And Joanna at least didn't know about the alternate-selves part until Jael told them, so I doubt Janet told the Pentagon either even if she knew. I can totally get the part about the Establishment forcing her into the job just because she's convenient, although it's never actually stated outright whether she was given a choice or not, and it's implied that it was Janet who requested her. But it makes no plot sense regardless that they're forcing Joanna on Janet but not giving her any *other* supervision, which they pretty clearly aren't, given that Joanna is shit at supervising her. It works on the feminist-metaphor level, but if you're trying to make it work as an SF plot it really really doesn't.)

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