Joanna Russ

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Joanna Russ (February 22, 1937 – April 29, 2011) was an American writer, academic and feminist. She is the author of a number of works of science fiction, fantasy and feminist literary criticism and is best known for The Female Man, a novel combining utopian fiction and satire.


  • The trouble with men is that they have limited minds. That's the trouble with women, too.
    • Existence (1975)

Picnic on Paradise (1968)[edit]

All page numbers from the paperback edition published by Ace Books #66021 (Dec. 1974)
  • “And you think they’ll let you,” said Machine. It was a flat, sad statement.
    “No,” she said, “but nobody ever let me do anything in my life before and I never let that stop me.”
    • p. 119

And Chaos Died (1970)[edit]

All page numbers from the paperback first edition published by Ace Books
  • Sit a man on his ass with nothing to do but eat and the first thing that goes is his mind. It never fails.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 42)
  • He wished his imagination would not take so impressionistic a turn. It never fails.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 110)
  • Houses stretched off on all sides, sometimes dipping below the ground and sometimes emerging out of it, piling themselves into pyramids, into almost toppling waves, never one rooftree more than eighty yards from the next. The planet was covered. There were the old, open-air cities planted with whatever would grow, mountains honeycombed, resorts in Antarctica, covered roads crammed with carrier traffic only, hovercraft, sea-craft, masses, structures, and installations under the sea, nets of algae towed in the air, some insects and no animals whatever, but people, people, people everywhere.
    What’s the opposite of the Garden of Eden?
    • Chapter 3 (p. 120)
  • “Rational people,” said the man, “realize that their lives must be made meaningful. Meaning isn’t just given us.”
    • Chapter 3 (p. 155)

The Female Man (1975)[edit]

All page numbers from the paperback first edition published by Bantam Books
  • How withered away one can be from a life of unremitting toil.
    • Part 2, Chapter 5 (p. 22)
  • Dismissing the whole thing as the world’s aberration and not mine, I went back to bed.
    • Part 2, Chapter 8 (p. 25)
  • There are more whooping cranes in the United States of America than there are women in Congress.
    • Part 4, Chapter 8 (p. 61)
  • Anyway everyboy (sorry) knows that what women have done that is really important is not to constitute a great, cheap labor force that you can zip in when you're at war and zip out again afterwards but to Be Mothers, to form the coming generation, to give birth to them, to nurse them, to mop floors for them, to love them, cook for them, clean for them, change their diapers, pick up after them, and mainly sacrifice themselves for them. This is the most important job in the world. That’s why they don’t pay you for it.
    • Part 7, Chapter 1 (p. 137)
  • Fucking, if you will forgive the pun, is an anti-climax.
    • Part 7, Chapter 2 (p. 139)
  • “Well, hell,” said Jael more genuinely, “the war. If there isn’t one, there just was one, and if there wasn’t one, there soon will be one. Eh? The war between Us and Them.
    • Part 8, Chapter 6 (pp. 163-164)
  • I told him to open his eyes, that I didn’t want to kill him with his eyes shut, for God’s sake.
    • Part 8, Chapter 8 (p. 181)
  • Remember, I don’t threaten. I don’t play. I always carry firearms. The truly violent are never without them.
    • Part 8, Chapter 8 (pp. 181-182)
  • If you want to be an assassin, remember that you must decline all challenges. Showing off is not your job.
    If you are insulted, smile meekly. Don’t break your cover.
    Be afraid. This is information about the world.
    You are valuable. Push yourself.
    Take the easiest way out whenever possible. Resist curiosity, pride, and the temptation to defy limits. You are not your own woman and must be built to last.
    Indulge hatred. Action comes from the heart.
    Pray often. How else can you quarrel with God?
    • Part 8, Chapter 9 (p. 191)
  • As my mother once said: The boys throw stones at the frogs in jest.
    But the frogs die in earnest.
  • Remember: I didn’t and don’t want to be a “feminine” version or a diluted version or a special version or a subsidiary version or an ancillary version, or an adapted version of the heroes I admire. I want to be the heroes themselves.
    What future is there for a female child who aspires to being Humphrey Bogart?
    • Part 9, Chapter 4 (p. 206)

On Strike Against God (1980)[edit]

  • Leaning her silly, beautiful, drunken head on my shoulder, she said, "Oh, Esther, I don't want to be a feminist. I don't enjoy it. It's no fun." "I know," I said. "I don't either." People think you decide to be a "radical," for God's sake, like deciding to be a librarian or a ship's chandler. You "make up your mind," you "commit yourself" (sounds like a mental hospital, doesn't it?). I said Don't worry, we could be buried together and have engraved on our tombstone the awful truth, which some day somebody will understand: WE WUZ PUSHED.
  • After a while you tame your interior monsters, it's only natural. I don't mean that it ever stops; but it stops mattering.


  • In the field of science fiction or fantasy, morality—when it enters a book at all—is almost always either thoughtlessly liberal (you can’t judge other cultures) or thoughtlessly illiberal (strong men must rule) or just plain thoughtless (killing people is bad).
    • "Books" (review column), The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1968
  • Perhaps it’s because I was brought up with no religion at all that I detest the science-fiction tropism towards re-writing Christianity from what one might call the village-atheist point of view. Although (Robert Sheckley's) “Budget Planet” and Fritz Leiber’s “One Station on the Way” are colorful and active enough, there seems to me to be no point in flogging dead fundamentalist doctrines so late in the day.
    • "Books" (review column), The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1970
  • There are plenty of images of women in science fiction. There are hardly any women.
    • "The Image of Women in Science Fiction" (1970)
  • Only those who have reviewed, year in and year out, know how truly abominable most fiction is.
    • "Books" (review column), The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1979
  • If any theme runs through all my work, it is what Adrienne Rich once called "re-vision", i.e., the re-perceiving of experience, not because our experience is complex or subtle or hard to understand (though it is sometimes all three) but because so much of what's presented to us as "the real world" or "the way it is" is so obviously untrue that a great deal of social energy must be mobilized to hide that gross and ghastly fact. has a theatre critic (whose name I'm afraid I've forgotten) once put it," There's less there than meets the eye". Hence, my love for science fiction, which analyses reality by changing it.”
    • To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction (1995)
  • here, of course, we come to the one occupation of a female protagonist in literature, the one thing she can do, and by God she does it and does it and does it, over and over and over again. She is the protagonist of a Love Story.”
    • To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction (1995)

How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983)[edit]

  • At the level of high culture with which this book is concerned, active bigotry is probably fairly rare. It is also hardly ever necessary, since the social context is so far from neutral. To act in a way both sexist and racist, to maintain one's class privilege, it is only necessary to act in the customary, ordinary, usual, even polite manner.
  • Ignorance is not bad faith. But persistence in ignorance is.
  • Minority art, vernacular art, is marginal art. Only on the margins does growth occur.
  • The idea that any art is achieved 'intuitively' is a dehumanization of the brains, effort, and the traditions of the artist, and a classification of said artist as subhuman. It is those supposed incapable of intelligence, training, or connection with a tradition who are described as working by instinct or intuition.
  • I think from now on, I will not trust anyone who isn't angry.
  • When the memory of one's predecessors is buried, the assumption persists that there were none and each generation of women believes itself to be faced with the burden of doing everything for the first time. And if no one ever did it before, if no woman was ever that socially sacred creature, "a great writer," why do we think we can succeed now?
  • The re-evaluation and rediscovery of minority art (including the cultural minority of women) is often conceived as a matter of remedying injustice and exclusiveness through doing justice to individual artists by allowing their work into the canon, which will thereby be more complete, but fundamentally unchanged.
  • middle-class women, although taught to value established forms, are in the same position as the working class: neither can use established forms to express what the forms were never intended to express (and may very well operate to conceal).
  • Fantasy is reality...Surely the mode of fantasy (which includes many genres and effects) is the only way in which some realities can be treated.I grew up in United States in the 1950s, in a world in which fantasy was supposed to be the opposite of reality. 'Rational,' 'mature' people were concerned only with a narrowly defined 'reality' and only the 'immature' or the 'neurotic' (all-purpose put-downs) had any truck with fantasy, which was then considered to be wishful thinking, escapism, and other bad things, attractive only to the weak and damaged. Only Communists, feminists, homosexuals and other deviants were unsatisfied with Things As They Were at the time and Heaven help you if you were one of those. I took to fantasy like a duckling to water. Unfortunately for me, there was nobody around then to tell me that fantasy was the most realistic of arts, expressing as it does the contents of the human soul directly.”
  • The impulse behind fantasy I find to be dissatisfaction with literary realism. Realism leaves out so much.

Much anti-feminist criticism of feminist writing can best be answered with, 'Yeah? And where were you at the time, twinkletoes? Writing your ten-thousandth essay on King Lear?”



in Dream Makers Volume II by Charles Platt (1983)

  • after having had contact with students for so many years, I think it's a lot harder to change somebody's life than people think. People will say they've been changed, but what they really mean is they read something which crystallized an awful lot of things they were already feeling. I don't think books really change people's minds very often; I think that's awfully rare.
  • What we have to watch out for, to keep from being suckered in, is when someone purports to explain not one particular concrete thing, but the way in which a whole species works.
  • There's an awful lot of mythology hidden in science. The pathology that was hidden behind nineteenth-century science is beginning to be fairly obvious. I think that the same thing goes on today in sociology and psychology, even in biology.
  • The abortion question is illustrative of this. Women say, 'We want the right to own our own bodies.' And the opposition, the Moral Majority, say things like, 'When does life begin?' That's not the point. I don't give a damn when it begins. I don't give a damn what the real differences between men and women are. I just don't want to be stepped on when I walk out into the street. I don't want to have to go out at night in terror. I don't want you to tell me that you won't give me a decent job. I don't want to have a low salary. I don't want to be maltreated.
  • The same professors who talked about literature as an absolute value never talked about the sexist messages we were getting from it. The rules of conduct of that time, in the 1950s, were completely different for women, on campus, from what boys were permitted to do. There was a peculiar kind of tacit agreement to pretend that the absolute values were classless and sexless, even though they aren't.

Interview (2011)[edit]

  • You notice that some of the stuff by men that I would call certainly pornographic, Henry Miller, for instance, is taken very seriously. It’s all so obvious. When women do it, it’s silly, when men do it, it’s serious.
  • The mystery stories are very interesting because again, often the ones that women write are as good as or not as good as the ones the guys write, but the women write about personalities, about characters, and what is character-driven. The men tend not to; they are more comfortable apparently with technical problems. I think the best writers are the kind who do both at the same time.
  • Every culture will find justification for everything they believe or want to believe. I still think that a lot of the world is still in shock, and I think probably what brought it on was easier birth control. The sort of, where are we, what do we do now?
  • It’s still very much a different world for men and women.
  • It’s that idea of disguise that I find myself coming back to. You can really, in a sense, be anybody or anybodies, plural, in writing.
  • this is a public discourse in which female sexuality really doesn’t exist...If you believe the public discourse then you have to also believe that female sexuality is a dreadful thing and must be squashed at all costs, and so on. I just hope there are many, many more young people who are growing up without that, without all of it, anyway.
  • One thing I have tried to do when I write...was take the sex in my stories and simply make it part of the whole fabric. It’s not special, it’s not sacred, it’s not demonic, it just happens. It’s as much an ordinary part of life as heating your dinner up, or something, and I always worked very hard to get that over.
  • What I think of the mystification I was exposed to, it was just hard. I’m seventy, but this must have started when I was eleven or twelve, being squashed. Somebody was saying that for gay women to come out, they usually do it a good bit later than gay men, because you can’t get a picture of yourself at all, one way or the other.

Quotes about Joanna Russ[edit]

  • All my early fiction tends to be rather male-centered. A couple of the Earthsea books have no women in them at all or only marginal woman figures. That's how hero stories worked; they were about men. With the exception of just a few feminists like Joanna Russ, science fiction was pretty much male-dominated up to the 1960s. Women who wrote in that field often used pen names.
  • Joanna Russ told me the same thing that when she was in high school she thought if she didn't write about men going off to war or hunting big game then she didn't have anything significant to say.
    • Larry McCaffery, 1988 interview in Conversations with Octavia Butler (2009)
  • Joanna Russ has written in "Recent Feminist Utopias": "I believe that utopias are not embodiments of universal human values, but are reactive; that is, they supply in fiction what their authors believe society lacks in the here and now. The positive values stressed in the stories can reveal to us what, in the authors' eyes, is wrong with our society. Thus if the stories are familial, communal in feelings, we may safely guess that the authors see our society as isolating people from each other, especially (to judge from the number of all-female utopias in the group) women from women. If the utopias stress a feeling of harmony and connection with the natural world, the authors may be telling us that in reality they feel a lack of such connection."
    • Marge Piercy "WHY SPECULATE ON THE FUTURE?" in My Life, My Body (2015)
  • All of Joanna Russ's novels are interesting beyond the ordinary. They ask nasty and necessary questions. They are always asking who owns things and what does it cost to survive, how and what do you eat and who do you use, what do you dare to do to make your own choices. They offer a gallery of some of the most interesting female protagonists in current fiction, women who are rarely victims and sometimes even victors, but always engaged sharply and perceptively with their fate...One advantage of working in a genre is that things have to happen, you must create a moving plot, and that discipline keeps Russ's springy intelligence at least somewhat anchored. If she is like any other writer, she makes me think sometimes of Swift. She is as angry, as disgusted, as playful, as often didactic, as airy at times and as crude, as intellectual. The quality of outraged, clear-sighted, pained intelligence, at once incandescent and exacerbated, is one of the major experiences for me in reading her work. Her critical essays tend to be witty and savage. Boredom is a torture to which the world obviously condemns her a lot.
    • Marge Piercy "An Appreciation of Joanna Russ" in Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt (1983) First published as "From Where I Work," in American Poetry Review 6, no. 3 (1977).

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