Category Archives: Russ
I’m writing in response to your essay, “Pornography for Women, by Women, with Love”, particularly the views you expressed about dominance/submission and SM. It seems that your opinions are somewhat ambivalent. For example, you disapprovingly write about women’s fantasies about submissiveness being rooted in patriarchal values, such as the belief that women should not be the instigators of sexual activity. In the same essay, however, you touch on SM pornography specifically in a slightly more permissive light. Prefacing with a comment about how SM pornography is not so offensive to you, you declare that “male fantasies of violence, either accompanying sexual activity, serving as a precondition for it, or as a cue to it, are attempts to partly undo the violence in the “respectable” part of the culture, where violence has been substituted for sexual enjoyment”. Somehow you make a distinction between violence as a tool for sex and sex as a tool for violence. You seem to be of the opinion that as long as violence is not the goal of these fantasies, then they are at least tolerable, but still not what women want. Am I right?
I’m interested in where you draw the line between violence and the simulation of violence. Do you believe that even just simulation is upholding patriarchal values? Also, do you think that it is impossible for a woman who identifies as masochist or submissive to be acting purely on her own self-interest or pleasure? Also I wonder why (at least in this essay) you attribute only dominance to men and submissiveness to women. In both SM fantasies and realities, there exists the opposite (female dominant, male submissive) and everything in between (lesbian SM, for instance). I know many feminists of your time disapproved of SM in any form because they believed that it always replicated patriarchy, even when men did not participate. What do you think?
Lastly, I’m wondering about whether your views on these subjects changed after your correspondence with Mog Decarnin. From her letters, it appears that she participated in the SM community and was even a member of Samois, a lesbian-feminist BDSM organization. It looks like she’s giving you a lot of information about these lifestyles (Letters from Decarnin to Russ, 1980s). Would this cause you to write your essay differently?
I admire writing as a profession more and more everyday. In a letter to Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany has a brief rant about SF writers who try to be entertaining. He believes that this is a mistake on behalf of the writer because writing that tries to numbly entertain the masses is making a big sacrifice in meaning. Additionally, he thinks that the work of a writer should instead be sought out by the few for whom it is deeply relevant, creating a strong bond between the writer and reader (Delany to Russ, October 26, 1971).
I assume this is a constant struggle working in the humanities, but I feel a similar way about being in the human sciences. The general public often approaches these fields with the hope of learning something novel about the human condition. This can be frustrating because they often don’t see the value in all the hard work we’re putting into the “minutia”. Research in the human sciences is a slow and abstract process, much like that of the “hard” sciences (with which, for some reason, people have a higher tolerance for being boring). I think much of what I study in linguistics would be considered esoteric or useless by the general population. The thing is, however, that we’re not trying to give people some “cute” topic of idle chit-chat for their next brunch parties. We’re trying to push human understanding of these topics forward, and this requires just as much time and patience as it does for any of the other sciences.
Letters from Samuel Delany to Joanna Russ, Coll. 261, Box 3, Folder 1. University of Oregon Archives.
The best-written thing that I have come across is a letter written by James Tiptree to Joanna Russ just when they were beginning to correspond with each other. I do not think that it stands as a piece of literary genius, but think that it is amazingly well-written because it is both real and complex- I think about its content more than that of any of the other letters.
Throughout his personal writings, Tiptree constantly displays intense prejudices against many ethnic groups like Arabs, Catholics, and Germans. He rants about them constantly and generally demeans them.
Yet, strikingly, in a letter to Russ from 1973, Tiptree recognizes these faults and admits that he has many prejudices deeply ingrained into his character!
In this letter, he laments about the oppression of friendly groups while simultaneously expressing his own guilt at oppressing certain groups in particular. This letter is like witnessing the evolution of racism to civil rights in miniature.
How remarkable that Tiptree achieved a level of self-consciousness that allowed him to reflect on his own weaknesses. Usually people are never able to admit that they are wrong, let alone critically examine themselves in a negative light.
Because of this demonstrated capability of self-reflection, Tiptree no longer seems to be mindlessly contributing to oppression. He has gone a step above beyond this in that he has shown that he is capable of looking at himself objectively, comprehending the wrongness of his actions, and demonstrating the ability to overcome social brainwashing.
Russ Papers, in the Joanna Russ and James Tiptree correspondence found in the Special Collections & University Archives, the University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon. See Box 10, File 26. Dated 1 September 1973.
Keep Calm Picture found at <http://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/keep-calm-and-stop-racism-19.png>.
Meme found on ForkParty.com, posted by Drew, <http://www.forkparty.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Say-NO-to-racism.jpg>.