When It Changed • 1972 • Feministic short story by Joanna Russ


Synopsis: Janet Evason lives on planet Whileaway, where 600 years ago all men suddenly where extinguished within one generation, and they reproduce by combining ova. All roles in the society are filled with women, but most have to work as farmers to survive.

Katy drives like a maniac

starts the story and gives away Janet’s wife’s character: she’s not the gentle type of female but an aggressive, harsher sort.

Now, they expect the first visit from far away Earth since all those years. And the visitors are male astronauts who are sure that Whileaway misses men.

Review: Joanna Russ is a well known author, most regarded for her novel The Female Man which is written and set after this short story. When it Changed has been published first in Harlan Ellison’s famous anthology Again, Dangerous Visions and won the Nebula Award. In that anthology, Joanna Russ describes her motivation for writing the story as a reaction to Ursula K. Le Guins Hainish-novel Left Hand of Darkness, because she didn’t understand why Le Guin needed to use male and female pronouns for the otherwise nonbinary people in her world.

The result was a world of full gender equality because there only is one gender (written at a time before nonbinary gender became a thing), namely female. Contrasting other imaginations of fluffy, big breasted amazons written by male authors, this world has all sorts of humans: killers, dangerous duellists, caring, and loving females. One sentence struck out, a question not really asked but nearly by one of the visitors: “Which of you plays the role of the man?” And this is a question that could have been asked nowadays, nearly fifty years after this story has been written. While the men recurringly tell that Earth has now gender-equality, we can imagine very well how that would look like: yes, there are female chancellors. But is there equal pay for the same job, are corporations filling important positions with females? We’ve come a long way in society, but it’s still miles to the horizon of equality.

This story is a perfect example for a thoughtful society criticism with interesting characters. It doesn’t need a plot, as the discussions, reactions, and musings are enough to make this story stay with you for a longer time. Because it’s a classic that transports awfully well into our modern days.

Meta: isfdb. First published in Again, Dangerous Visions, I’ve read it it in the Big Book of SF. It won the Nebula and Tiptree Awards.

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20 Responses to When It Changed • 1972 • Feministic short story by Joanna Russ

  1. Andreas says:

    Fine, I just can’t see what this remark has to do with the story here. I‘ll remove that.


  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    Tangent: The Female Man was actually written in 1970 but a press refused to pick it up. Frederik Pohl took what others thought was a risk in 1975.

    I’ve read a ton of her short fiction but not this one.


    • Andreas says:

      Oh, I didn’t know that! So, was this story written before or after the novel (independently of publication date)? I don’t know if those Dangerous Vision stories were commissioned by Ellison or just collected by him. Hmmm, interesting mystery!


  3. pdtillman says:

    The Whileaway stories are my favorite of Russ’s, I think. I’ll have to dig out my copy of ADV & reread this one — along with some of the other classics there. Skipping the many clunkers.
    Actually, I think this one has an online copy? Yup, http://future-lives.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/When-It-Changed.pdf

    Liked by 2 people

  4. bormgans says:

    I’ve enjoyed ‘We who are about to…’ a lot. I had planned to read Female Man soon. Have you read that?


  5. Ola G says:

    Interesting! I’ve heard of this author but haven’t read anything by her. This sounds like a nice entry point – thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jameswharris says:

    I think your readers might appreciate this profile of Russ that was in The New Yorker


    Liked by 1 person

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