Some key issues that arose in Joanna Russ’s The Female Man were gender identity and the role of a male-female nuclear family in society. While researching how these issues came up in the 1970’s I found an interesting panel from 1974 called Sexual Identity and The American Family. In this panel a traditionalist and feminist discussed their differing views on these issues.
The main point of the traditionalist on the panel is that the male and female roles in society have been carved out and are the only way a society can function properly and fix issues such as poverty and crime. He claims males can only be naturally aggressive and need to externally show this with women and that society needs to cater to the aggressive ways of men as well as the submissive sexuality of the woman. The feminist on the panel suggests that the gender roles and typical family need to be forgotten for both men and women. She believes men should not be forced into the aggressive role and that a family can be formed by any group of people not necessarily a man and a woman married in a Christian church.
This article helps to show what Joanna Russ was trying to show with some of the choices made in this book. One of the most obvious is the nuclear family debate that was being had in the 70’s. Whileaway does not have men and therefore can’t have the nuclear family that the traditionalist believed was necessary to society. Russ also looks to highlight the same gender stereotypes that are discussed in the panel and shows through her characters that sexuality is not necessarily as simple as some people believe. Although these ideas seem more normal to us now the panel highlights the popular views she was trying to change in society.