Janet, Jeanine, Jerissa, Jolissa,Janissa…Making Sense of It All

The first assigned part of The Female Man was by far one of the hardest, weirdest, and most confusing passages I’ve read in a long time. The highly unusual style of the novel coupled with the confusing character names, timelines, and worlds make for a seemingly convoluted narrative with little rest.

First there’s Janet. She’s the one from Whileaway, the place where there aren’t any men. At all. This world is definitely sometime in the future, but it’s unclear when. (Or if it is clear, I didn’t catch it.) Then there’s Jeanine, who lives in New York City in 1969 and has a boyfriend she doesn’t really care for and a cat she cares perhaps too much for. There’s also Joanna, the “female man”, as she calls herself. We see her point of view in 1st person most of the time I believe, and she is tired of being oppressed as a woman in 1970’s New York. There is one more character, Jael, who we haven’t met yet. (Or have we?) I’m not too sure about what her timeline is yet though…

While it’s very difficult to distinguish who is narrating what, where, and when at first, it’s essentially the message that each woman has to offer which is important to the story. Considering the author’s feminist influences, it’s interesting to think about what messages she may try to convey with these characters. How would a woman who grew up without gender oppression differ from a woman who did and submits to it? And how would they differ from someone who wants to change their position? What is there to be learned from their interactions with each other and society? Hopefully it will get easier to understand as the story goes along….

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