Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed,” is similar to Gilman’s Herland in the way it discusses male/female hierarchy and gender role. In both stories, male component have been extracted from the women world; women have been given a new way of production, then portrayed as a population who have succeeded in life without men, actually became a better world. The Question is: Why do we see male component as a negative factor in in both stories? Why males, only males, became the main cause for the backwardness of our life.
I think, they author in both stories are not blaming “males” for this miserable, capital, unequal life. But they are trying to convey a message that half of this world female, and could contribute in building this world, just like male, only if they had chance and been treated equally to men. In other words, they are discussing the idea of “technology of gender.”
If we take in consideration that this piece was written in 1972, we will understand why this piece discusses the technology of gender. Teresa de Lauretis says in her book, Technology of Gender, that
“in the feminist writings and cultural practices of the 1960s and 1970s, the notion of gender as sexual difference was central to the critique of representation, the rereading of cultural images and narratives, the questioning of theories of subjectivity and textuality, of reading, writing and spectatorship” De Lauretis.
So, it was an intellectual movement to critique the construction of gender and differences of sexes. This work is a product of that era, and that may explain why it had been nominated for different awards and won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story 1972. It was the best story in the best time. I am not arguing that it is not as good as it was back then, but the way we look at it now is different than it had been looked at back then.
For de Lauretis, “gender” is a preferable term to “sexual differences” and she thinks “gender” conveys an ongoing process of social construction. And I think that this ongoing social construction is the basic of this story. The female “gender” with time and with different social variable became capable of reproducing offspring without their need to the male seed. They have adopted a new gender role! Also, they have adopted masculine “gender” roles, such as “driving like a maniac,” or “taking the whole car apart and put it together again.” In another words, this story is the same message of its time, female are capable of taking male place, only if they were given the chance and time: “There was no need to sacrifice the quality of life for an insane rush into industrialization. Let us go our own pace. Give us time” (3).